“Older people have more prior knowledge to call on to identify opportunities. They also have deeper networks, more capability in managing teams, and skills to deliver results” (Wanted by Non-Profits: Corporate Leaders, Mr. Laurence Lien).
Mr. Laurence Lien of the Lien Foundation calls for experienced leaders from the corporate sector – with “deeper networks, more capability in managing teams, and skills to deliver results” (ST, Sept. 27) – to move into non-profit organisations (NPOs). However, this search for talents must go pragmatically beyond those in leadership positions. Individuals in these non-profits “must have ambitious and challenging agendas”, Mr. Lien added, “and NPOs need to upgrade their organisational capacities, beyond improving the pay packet”.
Yet increasing the remuneration of those who work in social service agencies should be the first step. For a long time the Singapore Association of Social Workers has campaigned for more competitive pay for professionals in the sector, despite the insistence that these professionals should not be motivated by the salaries they receive. With deliberations from the National Wages Council the National Council of Social Service has guidelines on compensation for personnel of different occupation groups, although the consistency in application is less clear. What do employees of the voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) and the NPOs think? How can organisations improve pay packets to attract young employees?
As a graduate to-be, despite an interest in socio-political issues and brief history of service as a volunteer in non-profits, a comparatively lower salary and fewer benefits make it hard for me to pursue a career in a NPO or VWO. Along the same tangent the perceived lack of routes for career advancement is a concern too.
I may not be the target audience of Mr. Lien’s commentary, and my pragmatism may not be representative of my contemporaries, but within a developing field it is not just about “attracting senior corporate people” to helm the NPOs and VWOs. Any change envisioned from the top – to craft sustainable missions and to shape organisations – must be matched by the abilities of those on the ground. Non-profits in Singapore face more challenges besides the recruitment and retention of staff members: training and development of employees, greater emphasis on performance measurement and management of the organisations, as well as academic research on philanthropy and impact investing of the industry.
Let the industry develop organically. The diversity of causes means that NPOs and VWOs will always be staffed by diverse individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, experience, and even age. Those with a passion will find their own incentives, yet organisations can also do a little to nudge more people in particular directions.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.