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BUY A T-SHIRT online for S$20, and stand a chance to win a Mercedes-Benz CLA 180 Coupe. While doing your bit for charity at the same time. If it sounds like a scheme to virtually bribe you into giving money for a good cause, it is, in a way, but Charles Tan believes that the end justifies the means.
There are similarities to charity raffle tickets, or buying from socially conscious retailers who donate a portion of their sales to NGOs, but Mr Tan, 33, takes it a step further. He is the co-founder of The Given Company, a newly set up technology firm that helps charities to raise funds more efficiently, effectively and sustainably. The former investment analyst set up the company with his wife, Cao Xin Xin, also 33.
Paying back to society is nothing new to Mr Tan, who recalls benefitting from bursaries and scholarships while he was a student. He also volunteers at the Marine Parade Residents' Committee, with the Halogen Foundation, a charity dedicated to transforming the lives of young people through leadership and entrepreneurship development, and with Life Community Services, a charity that provides student care services.
At The Given Company, potential donors browse through the various prize draws that are listed on its website, to learn more about the charities that it is raising funds for. Once they find a draw they like or a charity they want to support, they buy a raffle ticket, starting at S$20. Draws are automatically conducted on a specific date and winners are informed via email or SMS. Each ticket has an equal chance of winning a prize.
What sparked off the concept for The Given Company?
There was no aha moment, but it was through conversations with friends and charity directors that we realised that charities do face a problem raising funds. They get plenty of in-kind donations, such as clothing and food. But at the end of the day, monetary funds are more helpful, so that the charity can employ the right people, and the beneficiaries can buy what is truly needed.
I wanted to marry what I've learnt in crowdfunding and in e-commerce to raise funds online. Each draw is like a crowdfunding event, where we set ourselves a target and get people to make contributions to reach that target.
I also wanted to show that donations don't have to be in physical cash, but can be done by buying an e-ticket.
How do you pick which charities to help?
There is no hard-and-fast rule, and there are many charity organisations in Singapore. We selected those that have Institution of Public Character (IPC) status. We also focused on small- to medium-sized charities that do not get funding from the government. The charities we are helping now are Life Community Services Society, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Alzheimer's Disease Association and Children for Children by The RICE Company Ltd.
The prizes in your draws include luxury cars and a condominium. Where do you get the money for big-ticket prizes?
We work with sponsors for these prizes. These companies also have a corporate social responsibility programme in place, so they also see contributing prizes to us as a way of giving back to society. Our prizes are our niche, but we want to create a win-win situation for all, from the companies who sponsor the prizes, to the beneficiaries and the donors.
Shouldn't giving to charity be an altruistic behaviour rather than an incentive?
I don't want to pass judgement, but we want to get people to donate for the long term. We don't want to corrupt the concept of giving, but rather to incentivise people to try something that is perhaps not second nature to them, in the hope that this will get them on the longer journey of donation. Before we started the company, we did a survey with over 1,800 people, on what they thought of the concept. Almost 80 per cent liked it, with about 70 per cent saying they would donate more with incentivised giving.
Are Singaporeans a generous lot?
We are, and we are not. We are generous in the amount of money that we give, whether to local or overseas charities. But when compared to other countries, I feel we can do better. Countries such as Myanmar and Indonesia are more generous in that they donate a bigger portion of their income, and also they donate more regularly.
Your fundraising method has triggered the concern of the authorities, with the Commissioner of Charities (COC) saying it is looking into the matter. What does this mean for you?
Our operating model is relatively new in Singapore and it may therefore take some time before it gains mainstream acceptance.
With regard to the COC statement, I believe we are in accordance with all relevant legislative requirements - this includes written agreements which The Given Company has established with the four charity organisations listed on our platform We have been in touch with the COC since May and will continue consulting with them to ensure we remain compliant with all relevant legislative requirements.
You volunteer your time, but say that donating funds is better. Do you practise what you preach?
I'll be honest and say I used to donate a lot more but I've cut back. Xin Xin and I have used a large part of our savings to start the company, and we are not drawing any salary now. Like everyone else, we have bills to pay and a mortgage, and also a one-year-old son to bring up. So because of The Given Company, we have cut back on our donations. But it is our intention to donate money again, and to do what we advise others to do.