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Co-regulation: Future of governance in charities

Co-regulation: Future of governance in charities

Source: Business Times
Article Date: 18 Sep 2019
Author: Ang Hak Seng & Gerard Ee

In recent years, governance has shifted from a sole regulatory approach to that of co-regulation, initiating and acknowledging the partnership efforts of all the major stakeholders.

Charities play a critical role in society - meeting the needs of communities, impacting the lives of Singaporeans, and ensuring that no one gets left behind. And in order to get better at doing good, charities must be forward-looking, have the willingness and risk appetite to adapt and grow with the ever-changing social and technological environment.

The vision of the Commissioner of Charities (COC) is to nurture a well-governed charity sector with strong public trust and confidence. Supporting the COC in achieving this vision is the Charity Council. Besides putting in place a strong framework of laws and regulations, the COC works closely with the Charity Council to promote and encourage the adoption of good governance standards and best practices among charities. This effectively helps to enhance public confidence and promote self-regulation in the long run in the charity sector.

The stakeholders of the charity sector, such as the donors, charities, intermediaries and beneficiaries, have important roles to play. Hence, the governance approach from the COC in recent years has shifted from a sole regulatory approach to that of co-regulation, initiating and acknowledging the partnership efforts of all the major stakeholders.

Co-regulation with donors: Safer giving

Our donors have always been one of the core segments to engage and educate on the notion of Safer Giving. In recent years, we have observed an increase in fund-raising appeals via social media and crowdfunding platforms, usually accompanied by vivid photos or videos featuring the plight of the sick or needy. This has led to increased scrutiny by members of the public and the media, with questions being raised over how the funds have been utilised, and whether the appeals are genuine. Hence to continuously educate our donors, the COC rolled out the Safer Giving campaign in September 2018 which has reached out to at least 1.7 million Singaporeans.

The campaign reminded Singaporeans that giving is powerful, and that their generosity can only create an impact when it reaches their intended beneficiaries or causes. By asking the right questions and conducting checks before giving, donors can play a role in upholding good governance.

Safer Giving can be practised through three simple steps: "Ask, check, give".

  • Ask before giving to find out more about the beneficiary;
  • Check to ensure the organisation is a legitimate charity; and
  • Give with peace of mind.

With these, we hope that more donors are reminded to give with both the head and the heart. Empowered donors can influence the direction taken by charities through their donations, showing support for the more meaningful programmes.

Co-regulation with charities: Self discipline

Our charities must also take ownership and practise self-discipline in complying with the Charities Act and Regulations, and strive to adhere to the good governance practices as provided in the Code of Governance for IPCs and Charities.

Resources are provided to charities to assist them in understanding and implementing good governance practices in their organisations. This is done by strengthening the governance capabilities of charities through training, talent injection, and the COC's suite of shared services which now has seven partnering agencies.

The Charity Council also organises governance seminars, an annual Charity Governance Conference and informal dialogues with charities to let charities keep abreast of the current and future trends in the sector. The Charity Portal (www.charities.gov.sg) and Charity Council website (www.charitycouncil.org.sg) also host an array of sample policies and standard operating procedures which are free for download.

With good governance, coupled with good transparency disclosure practices, our charities can continue to build and sustain the trust and confidence of their donors in supporting the charities' charitable purpose and to do good well for the community.

Co-regulation with intermediaries: Quality assurance

Today, online crowdfunding platforms and commercial fund-raisers often act as intermediaries. To safeguard the interests of charities and donors when giving online or through traditional methods, the COC developed two Codes to provide guidance on areas in which these intermediaries should practise due diligence.

In 2018, the COC developed the Code of Practice for Online Charitable Fund-Raising Appeals. Four online crowdfunding platforms - Give.asia, Giving.sg, The Ray of Hope Initiative Limited and SimplyGiving - have subscribed to the Code. As subscribers to the Code, they must ensure that appeals hosted on their platforms are legitimate, transparent and accountable.

In 2019, the COC published the Code for Commercial Fund-Raisers which highlights both the legislative requirements they are subject to, as well as the professional standards that should be adhered to when conducting fund-raising such as not exerting undue pressure on others to donate, or engaging in any behaviour that harms the reputation of the charity that it is fund-raising for. The Code also serves as a useful reference for volunteers of charities who help in fund-raising.

By co-regulating the fund-raising space with these intermediaries, it is the hope of the COC and the Charity Council to provide the general public a safe giving environment.

Co-regulation with beneficiaries: Receivers become givers

Our beneficiaries are also a major stakeholder in the charity sector. Not only do our beneficiaries benefit from the charity's giving, they are also a resource to give back, or pay it forward, in their own ways. This provides them with ownership and, more importantly, dignity.

Involving our beneficiaries is part of the national movement of care, known as Singapore Cares (SG Cares), which pools the strengths from partners of various sectors such as charities, social enterprises, and public sector agencies to build a more caring and inclusive society. SG Cares also aims to create a conducive environment to promote the growth of inclusive volunteerism.

Conclusion

Charities are the platform of opportunities for people to come together, to do good for the society, in the best way that they can, through money, time and skills.

A charity sector that has strong governance, high trust and confidence from the people will thrive and be able to meet the needs of the vulnerable communities and ensure that no one gets left behind.

  • Dr Ang is Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, and Commissioner of Charities. Dr Ee is Chairman of the Charity Council.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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