“The proportion of donors in the survey fell to its lowest in a decade, with 83 per cent of those surveyed this year saying that they gave to charity” (More Money Given to Charity, But Fewer Volunteering: Survey, Kelly Ng).
When asked about the findings of the 2014 Individual Giving Survey – which, in particular, revealed fewer donors and volunteers in Singapore – director Hosea Lai of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) spoke of engaged volunteers who “can move mountains for the charities and causes they support”, and how “monitoring their perceptions and experience is important for non-profits who want to build their community of givers” (TODAY, Dec. 20).
Yet none of the tangential comments on the training and development of volunteers addressed the sharp drop in total volunteer hours from 91 in 2012 to 66 million hours in 2014. Singaporeans volunteered for 89 million hours in 2010. In its media release the NVPC was quick to justify that although the volunteerism rate has fallen, it is still higher than its pre-2010 levels. Nevertheless, the volunteerism rate of 17.8 per cent in 2014 is significantly lower than the rates of 23.3 and 32.3 per cent in 2010 and 2012 respectively.
In other words, fewer than one in five persons in Singapore volunteer.
Questions should be raised about the difference of 25 million hours. As far as the study goes, retaining volunteers does not appear to be as serious a problem. The mean volunteer hours per individual increased from 72 in 2012 to 93 hours in 2014, and more are putting these hours into organisations. Compared to 47 per cent in 2012, 75 per cent of respondents volunteered through formal means. In this vein the difficulty for the non-government organisations (NGOs) and voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) is not necessarily retention per se, but also attracting more and new volunteers.
Furthermore, it would make sense to survey a few VWOs and NGOs, to ascertain the impact of the fall in total volunteer hours. Has the number of active or first-timer volunteers been affected, and to what extent? How are they coping with the lower volunteer rates, and are there plans to encourage more to join their organisations? Besides having “no time” – the top reason many individuals gave in the NVPC survey – do they struggle with other commitments? If resources are available, we could even study whether these downward volunteerism trends are uniform across the sectors and areas of impact.
In its past iterations, the Individual Giving Survey has been criticised for presenting slightly skewed results across demographic segments. Youths and students aged between 15 and 34 years – who account for 28 per cent of the sample – are either directly involved in or have been influenced by the community involvement programme and service-learning endeavours in their schools. How many of them, burdened by new obligations, continue to contribute time and effort? The challenge is even more acute now, and unless reasonable explanations are sought for the decrease in volunteer hours and rates, we will head nowhere.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.