Philanthropy in Singapore has been growing steadily. Based on annual reports from the Commissioner of Charities (COC), total donations received by registered charities in Singapore increased from S$1.8 billion in 2009 to S$3.2 billion in 2019, an annualised growth of 6.0% over 10 years. Tax deductible donations grew at an annualised rate of 4.0% in the same 10-year period from S$0.7 billion in 2009 to S$1.0 billion in 2019. Philanthropists in Singapore are a diverse group of individuals and organisations. They can give directly or through a variety of vehicles including foundations, trusts and donor advised funds. Philanthropic organisations include family and corporate foundations, donor-advised fund sponsors and faith-based funds and foundations. Complementing these philanthropic organisations are government bodies and affiliated organisations that provide the biggest share of funding to charities in Singapore.
In recognition of the diversity of grantmakers, this year’s list goes beyond the traditional foundations to include other grantmakers. The list is also updated to target private philanthropy (thus excluding government affiliated grantmakers). The list of philanthropic organisations continues to rely on publicly available information and is based mainly on organisations listed in the Charity Portal as well as the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore’s (IRAS) list of qualifying grantmakers. An increase in data collection efforts have also resulted in greater granularity of data to rank organisations by their latest available annual grant disbursement compared to annual expenditures used in the last year’s ranking.
101 philanthropic organisations that gave a total of S$220 million were identified. Among them, 31 philanthropic organisations gave more than S$1 million in grants each during the period under review. They deployed a total of S$204 million in philanthropic funding. The ten biggest philanthropic organisations gave a total of S$163 million in grants. Among the top 10, four are affiliated to corporates, three to families, two are donor-advised fund sponsors and one is a clan affiliated philanthropic organisation. The top giver is The Ngee Ann Kongsi, a Teochew philanthropic organisation, which gave S$37.7 million in 2021 to educational, cultural and other charitable causes. Its grantees include Ngee Ann Polytechnic, LASALLE College of the Arts and the Singapore Institute of Technology. Its incorporation ordinance requires 75% of its annual net income to be set aside for charitable causes, particularly education. The second biggest giver is the Lee Foundation which disbursed S$32.3 million in 2021 to a diverse list of charities and causes. This is followed by the Lien Foundation, which disbursed S$23.3 million in 2021 to tackle the roots of social problems related to eldercare, early childhood development, water and sanitation and palliative care. Dr Lee Kong Chian and Dr George Lien Ying Chow founded the Lee Foundation and the Lien Foundation in 1952 and 1980 respectively. Both were prominent bankers cum businessmen in 20th century Singapore.
The fourth and fifth organisations on the list are donor-advised fund (DAF) sponsors – SymAsia Foundation and The Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS) which allow donors to set up donor-advised funds. SymAsia Foundation’s donors gave out S$21.1 million in 2021, of which 58% was to Institutions of Public Character in Singapore (IPC) and 42% to charitable work globally. The Community Foundation of Singapore, the pioneer DAF sponsor in Singapore, focused primarily on charities in Singapore and disbursed S$18.3 million in grants to 254 organisations and individuals in 2022. Charities in the social and welfare sector received the most funding from CFS’ donors at 28.3% of total funding followed by those in the health sector (25.3%) and the education sector (22.5%). The next five biggest philanthropic organisations disbursed total grants between S$3.7 million to S$10.7 million in 2021. Ho Bee Foundation, the philanthropic arm of real estate developer Ho Bee Group, disbursed S$10.7 million to various charitable causes. Singapore Business Federation Foundation, which was set up by the business community, disbursed S$6.3 million to champion the social, vocational and educational upliftment of disadvantaged Singaporeans. The Shaw Foundation, a family foundation set up in 1957 by the Shaw brothers, disbursed S$5.0 million to various charities. Finally, NTUC FairPrice Foundation and CapitaLand Hope Foundation, the corporate philanthropy arms of NTUC FairPrice and CapitaLand disbursed S$4.7 million and S$3.7 million respectively in 2021.
Emergence of Philanthropic Ecosystem Enablers
The past decade has seen an emergence of philanthropic ecosystem enablers that support philanthropists. These include donor-advised fund (‘DAF’) sponsors that administer multiple charitable funds on behalf of philanthropists that could be organisations, families or individuals. Economies of scale are achieved as philanthropists rely on the DAF professionals to handle regulatory matters; shape philanthropic mandates; identify non-profits in their target cause areas; conduct due diligence; disburse donations as well as subsequent monitoring of the impact of their philanthropic dollar. Examples of DAF sponsors that have emerged in the past decade include the Community Foundation of Singapore, SymAsia Foundation (operated by Credit Suisse) and the UBS Optimus Foundation. CFS is the pioneer in Singapore and primarily serves the community in Singapore. Since its founding in 2008, it has accumulated a deep understanding of local issues and needs and is able to identify gaps and opportunities for more effective giving.
For SymAsia Foundation and UBS Optimus Foundation, they have ties to private banks and provide DAF services to the high-net-worth clients of these banks who are looking to give in Singapore and globally. The Majurity Trust is an example of another type of philanthropic ecosystem enabler that has emerged in the past decade. It works with donors including corporate to establish and administer named funds and grants such as The Maybank Momentum Grant. It provides philanthropic advice guided by research and supported by deep understanding of grantees. The board and a small group of donors cover its operating cost to allow 100% of philanthropic dollars to be channelled to grantees. Philanthropic networks such as AVPN and the Asia Philanthropic Circle also play a critical role in the ecosystem by supporting networking as well as enabling learning and collaboration between philanthropists.
This is the second year that Soristic is publishing this report. The report has been renamed “Singapore’s Biggest Philanthropic Organisations” as it looks beyond the traditional philanthropic foundations that were the focus of the prior year’s report to cover the diversity of private grantmakers. Philanthropic organisations registered on IRAS’s grantmakers and/or the COC were considered. We excluded organisations that derived most of their income from public donations and philanthropic organisations that were politically affiliated, faith-based and government-related. Faith-based and politically affiliated grantmakers are excluded as many of them neither publicly disclose their grantmaking amount nor grantmaking activities. In addition, some provide grants only to grantees from the same faith. Funds and trust registered entities (such as the various school funds) that are reserved exclusively for the beneficiaries of the charities and not involved in grantmaking to other organisations are also excluded from the list. Government-affiliated grantmakers were excluded as the list focuses on private philanthropy. A total of 101 philanthropic organisations remained. Data on the philanthropic organisations was compiled from publicly available information such as annual reports, Charity Portal and official websites of the philanthropic organisations. The data was collected from March to September 2022 and standardised to Singapore dollars.
The list of philanthropic organisations is based on publicly available data. There are philanthropic organisations in Singapore that may not be registered as a charity with the COC or a grantmaker with the IRAS Grantmaker List. These can include family offices that allocate a portion to grantmaking as well as philanthropic funds set up by wealthy donors that are operated by private banks in Singapore. Due to the lack of public information on their grantmaking, they are not included in the list. The section below briefly covers the government as well as faith-based affiliated grantmakers that are excluded but play a significant role in financing the social sector in Singapore.
Government affiliated grantmakers
Besides philanthropy, charities and social enterprises are supported with funding from government bodies and affiliated organisations such as the National Council of Social Service, Temasek Foundation and Tote Board. Their funding range from subsidising services of eligible beneficiaries and providing grants for operations and capacity building. For many registered charities, government grants is the single largest source of funding. Government grants contributed 40% to 50% of annual income of all charities in the decade between 2009 and 2019. Philanthropic donations represented only between 15% to 20% of annual income while other income, including fees and charges for services, made up the remainder.
Religious charities received a significant proportion of all donations in Singapore. Based on available data for the period 2013 and 2019, they received between 38% and 45% of all donations given to charities. Some of these organisations have also become significant grantmakers to other charities. Examples are Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple and Caritas Singapore which gave out S$8.1 million and S$7.0 million in 2021 to various charities respectively. Some of the notable philanthropic activities of Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple over the years include funding the set-up of a Kidney Dialysis Centre at Simei and establishing bursary awards in many institutions of higher education. Caritas Singapore is the social and community arm of the Catholic Church in Singapore that manages and gives out grants to Catholic charities and organisations under its umbrella. These charities and organisations cover a wide range of causes from poverty, people with disabilities and migrant workers.
Based on the latest donation data from the COC, donations to charities as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stood at 0.6% in Singapore in 2019. There is thus room for philanthropy to grow to a more significant percentage of GDP to a level observed in some countries like the United States of America (at 2.1% in 2021). Philanthropy in Singapore is set to thrive with growing wealth in the region, the development of philanthropic ecosystem and the drive by the Singapore Government for Singapore to be a regional hub for philanthropy. The number of philanthropic organisations is poised to increase. There is potential for growing support for social innovations that can address and transform social and environmental issues in Singapore and the region.
Most of the foundations registered with the Commissioner of Charities have significant presence in Singapore. Some foundations in Singapore, particularly those focused on overseas grant-making, may not have been registered with Charity Portal and they were excluded from the study.
The Community Foundation of Singapore is a grant-making public charity that facilitates and pools funds from donors to address community needs. It currently manages more than 160 donor advised funds and has given out more than S$114 million in grants since 2008. (The Community Foundation of Singapore, 2021).
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