If you haven’t heard, the voluntary sector in Singapore is on fire — they’re in the midst of a full-scale effort to reach the ambitious goal of 70% volunteer participation across their citizenry. And, they’re already making headway.
A few years ago, the volunteer rate for this small city-state was around 10%. With an infusion of funding, training for leaders of volunteers, exploratory new models, and a broad coalition of nonprofits, they have increased this rate to about 30% in only a few years and are well on their way to their realizing a “giving nation.”
This week, I spoke at the Global Leaders Series for Nonprofits. The series is funded by the Tote Board (Singapore’s national gaming organization), and organized by the Singapore Institute of Management in collaboration with SG Cares and the National Council of Social Service.
A quick overview of the seminar series topics gives you some idea of the impressive, forward thinking agenda the sector has set for itself. This week’s seminar, “The Future of Resource Mobilisation: Civic Entrepreneurship and Community-Driven Development,” was no different. Throughout the day, we heard from business, government, and nonprofit leaders about how to engage the community in purpose-driven work. It was an inspiring mix and an ambitious undertaking.
The Needs of the Voluntary Sector in Singapore — 8 Key Takeaways
One of the most refreshing takes was by Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, a Speaker of the Singapore Parliament, who shares a deep understanding of the challenges of volunteer engagement and the real needs of the sector.
As I often find when I travel internationally and speak with leaders of volunteers and their champions in the voluntary sector, we share similar challenges and aspirations. We really are a global sector, more alike than different.
Speaker Chuan-Jin had some incisive, insightful, and bold recommendations to attendees. You’ll see, he really gets it. Below are my notes from his talk:
- Collaboration and relationship building is challenging. It is messy, i takes time, and it doesn’t always work. But, this kind of leadership is important. Turf battles and silos within the nonprofit sector only hold us back, and dedicating yourself to de-escalating conflict through time and space is the way forward.
- Volunteer projects that involve private sector businesses need to be needs driven, rather than “projects in search of needs.” Corporations should seek to work with nonprofits to pre-emptively pick up on community needs and add value to addressing them through their domains of expertise where the demands exist.
- The giving space needs better organization. Broker organizations should works match community demand and supply of volunteer talent. They can also work to lower barriers to giving and volunteering, including those that are geographic. But finding opportunities between school-work-home, even busy volunteers can find convenient ways to weave volunteering into their lifestyles.
- Givers need to be organized, as well. Corporates and groups need to optimize how they interface with organizations so that their tie is well-used and result in true impact. Corporates have a value-add to bring to the table in terms of existing infrastructure and expertise. However, misaligned expectations get in the way of success and processes sometimes need to be re-engineered to gain a positive return on the partnership.
- As for nonprofit service beneficiaries, we mustn’t forget that individual givers are also impacted, as well as they engage in philanthropy. And this, in and of itself, builds stronger communities.
- Mobilizing a community doesn’t require a complex myriad of initiatives to be successful. Rather, organizations would do well to focus on building a limited series of community-driven solutions that focus on sustainability, scalability, and replicability.
- Nonprofits, too, need to level-up their mobilization and collaboration skills through volunteer management playbooks, professional certification and developing a deeper understanding of their impact.
- Finally, by being involved in our communities, we remember our gifts. When individuals change, society changes. When volunteers feel their work has value, they return and bring friends. And, when nonprofits are able to articulate and mobilize the community around a transformative vision, everyone wins.
Singapore in Action – Watch this Space!
Singapore’s big, bold bet on philanthropy and volunteerism is an experiment we should all keep our eyes on. In the end, their network of nonprofit, corporate, and government champions has big plans.
Their dedication to building a stronger community and civic entrepreneurial spirit is not only an inspiration, but there will also be valuable lessons learned that may help us all.
Note: Special thanks to all of the wonderful leaders and conference organization who made my visit a true joy, and to Mr Kenny Gan from the London Speakers Bureau, who arranged all the details of my visit and travel in comfort.