Cover Genevieve Peggy Jeffs with President Halimah Yacob at Singapore Red Cross Benefit Gala 2019.

From virtual events to deploying technology, charities are finding new ways of doing good, that are probably more economical too

As Singapore grapples with the economic and social repercussions of the pandemic, there is no doubt that needs in the community have increased. Families and individuals are struggling with the loss of livelihoods, including those in the non-profit sector, which is battling to keep its employees and continue its outreach programmes.

There is one silver lining in this Covid-19 cloud though: Individuals and corporations in Singapore have proven to be a big-hearted lot when it comes to stepping up to the philanthropic plate. And instead of being a dampener, the lack of physical fundraisers has become an impetus to think creatively so that doing good doesn’t stop.

The Ministry Of Social And Family Development revealed that from January to May 2020, Singaporeans gave about $90 million to Community Chest, the Sayang Sayang Fund and through

This amount was equal to the overall donations received by Community Chest and the portal for the whole of 2019. More than 13,300 people also signed up to volunteer at during these five months, an 18 per cent increase compared to the same period last year.

During the circuit breaker period of March to May, we saw a decrease of 56 per cent in donations compared to the same period last year. In May, it was 83 per cent.

—Ho Ching Lin

On the other hand, while giving to Covid-19 causes has increased, donations to causes that are not directly related have decreased. Community Chest has projected a 20 to 30 per cent drop in donations this year for its funded programmes. The National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre has seen as much as an 80 per cent reduction in donations for charities in sectors not directly linked to Covid-19.

This year, glittering charity galas and balls that are a familiar part of Singapore’s society calendar have all but cancelled or moved online. These include those of Kidz Horizon Appeal, which attends to the medical needs of needy children and women with chronic illnesses; Crib, a social enterprise that empowers female entrepreneurs; and The Halogen Foundation, which builds up young leaders and entrepreneurs.

Paige Parker, who sits on the board of several non-profit organisations such as Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) and United Women Singapore (UWS), shared that SDT’s annual The Moon and Stars Gala will now be a half-hour virtual fundraiser on July 31 with tickets priced at $500 and $1,000.

For UWS, it is raising funds with Elan, a social platform supporting fashion, design and philanthropy, for Star Shelter’s outreach to victims of family violence through a cooking competition with kitchenware brand Tott.

As for the Snow (Say No to the Oppression of Women) Gala scheduled for November 27, Parker said that they are “exploring how to proceed, perhaps with online platforms for both the auction and donations.”

The Peranakan Association Singapore’s Peranakan Ball, which is chaired by Genevieve Peggy Jeffs, has been postponed to May 15, 2021.

Jeffs shared that the programme included a raffle, a bazaar and a fashion and jewellery show by artisans such as kebaya maker Raymond Wong and Foundation Jewellers. It is now counting on private donations to continue its programmes to preserve and promote Peranakan culture, with plans to do online fundraising too.

Parker said: “I don’t think anyone feels comfortable going to a large-scale event at the moment. We know the virus is a serious issue, so we must be wise about where we go and how we spend our time. Beyond that, to hold a lavish affair, when people are suffering, losing jobs and facing all sorts of anxiety, feels completely wrong and out of sync with what is happening. Kind, philanthropic people do not give because of the parties, they give because they believe in the organisation that is hosting the event.”

Another initiative affected by donations is VisionSave, a joint project by the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) and the Singapore Eye Research Institute to provide financial assistance for patients with sight-threatening diseases, as well as public education, research and innovation.

Adjunct Associate Professor Ho Ching Lin, Director of Philanthropy at SNEC, shared that donations have dropped, as many of their donors are business owners. “During the circuit breaker period of March to May, we saw a decrease of 56 per cent in donations compared to the same period last year. In May, it was 83 per cent.”

With the cancellation of its annual The Eye Ball, SNEC launched two fundraising campaigns online. One is the Solidarity Fund for SNEC patients who need financial assistance, while the other is the Heroes Fund, which aims to raise $1 million by January 31, 2021, to strengthen Singapore’s defence against epidemics through research, healthcare knowledge and advanced clinical care.

Ho said: “We are looking into organising virtual donor appreciation events and gatherings online with food and beverages. These may be tied up with entertainment, interactive activities and auctions on a virtual platform.”

Going virtual has its advantages. With lower manpower and venue costs, a larger share of the sum raised can go directly to the beneficiaries.

During the circuit breaker, ACI Singapore – The Financial Markets Association hosted ACI Live Aid, where over 500 guests participated and over $500,000 was raised for various charities on Zoom and via livestreaming. Table donors and guests had their own breakout rooms for networking, similar to how guests would share a table of 10 at a live gala event.

One charity has even found that going digital has not only helped to shore up its fundraising efforts, but also made it more efficient in monitoring its beneficiaries’ welfare.

Food from the Heart (FFTH) raises about one-third of its operational expenses through its annual The Passion Ball. Its CEO Sim Bee Hia shared that as the team observed a drop in fundraising events and food drives traditionally organised by corporations to raise funds and food items for their beneficiaries, FFTH started three campaigns on to finance different purposes such as its Community Food Pack programme and its operational costs in supporting 44,600 beneficiaries.

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Above Food From The Heart CEO Sim Bee Hia. (Image: Food From The Heart)

Sim said, “These campaigns have been well-received. We are also glad to see new donors starting their own campaigns to support us. A lot of them showed concern and asked how they can help with our cause.”

The charity’s latest fundraising campaign on is for its Project Belanja! The initiative, which started in January 2019, makes use of technology to enable beneficiaries who are unable to cook to have regular hot meals whenever they want, at the nearest hawker centre. If the meals are not claimed for a significant period of time, an alert is automatically sent to FFTH, who will send someone down to check on the beneficiary.

Sim said, “The technology has proven to be especially useful during this Covid-19 period. It takes little for hawkers and donors to help, and beneficiaries don’t have to travel far from where they live to get food.”

But don’t hang up that tuxedo or ball gown just yet. Jeffs believes that charity galas still have their place and will be welcome once social distancing measures are lifted. She shared that even during the circuit breaker, people were buying tables and over 500 guests have confirmed their attendance for next year’s Peranakan Ball. 

“People still love to come together for a common cause and are looking forward to coming out.”

Access is a collaboration between Singapore Tatler and CNA Luxury.