The Commissioner of Charities (COC) Annual Report for the year ended 31 December 2018 revealed that the charity sector received S$20.5 billion in receipts in financial year 2017. This is an increase of 24% from the previous year and a testament that trust in the charity sector has strengthened. This is positive news for the sector, and we should leverage on continuous improvement when the going is good. Hence, during the July “In Conversation with the Commissioner” event, the “7 Disciplines for High Performing Charities” was introduced with the aim to help charities focus on the important aspects of the organisation, so that they can operate effectively and efficiently, and meet the growing expectations of the donors and general public. We hope that with this framework in mind, the sector will continue to do good well, and also maximise every dollar to be given back to help the community.

The 7 Disciplines for High Performing Charities are summarised in Figure 1.

Figure 1 7 Disciplines For High Performing Charities


In every organisation, leadership is key as leaders are the drivers of change and drivers of getting things done. However, in the charity sector, the core of our work is for the community, and passion driven. Some of the things that are being done may not be clearly defined or spelled out in the rules and regulations; hence, there is a need for leadership, which is led by rules only, to stewardship, which is driven by ethics.

This shift is also being implemented in the sector by the Commissioner. COC has plans to move beyond rules and pure compliance to an ethics-based structure. This would mean less prescriptive and more principles-based guidelines, supported by best practices, that charities could interpret and implement according to what is best for the organisation, within reasonable means.


The vision of COC is to nurture a well-governed charity sector with strong public trust and confidence. Besides putting in place a strong framework of laws and regulations, COC recognises that stakeholders of the charity sector, such as the donors, charities, intermediaries and beneficiaries, have important roles to play. Hence, the COC approach in recent years has shifted from that of a regulator to co-regulator, initiating and acknowledging the partnership efforts of all the major stakeholders (Figure 2).

Figure 2 Co-Regulation with major stakeholders


One of the challenges faced by the charity sector is that while we provide assistance at the places which are most visible, there may be gaps in certain communities or households that are not filled. Hence, instead of the sector working on its own, it is highly encouraged for charities to collaborate in a many-helping-hands approach (Figure 3).

Figure 3 Collaboration: Many-helping-hands approach

To help the sector in this aspect, the SG Cares movement has also developed the local Volunteer Centres. One of the roles of the Volunteer Centre is to coordinate and match demand to supply within the geolocation. Currently, there are two towns in Singapore, Bedok and Jurong East, which are piloting the Volunteer Centres, and we expect another five towns to come onboard by the end of 2019. We aspire to roll out the Volunteer Centres islandwide across all 24 towns.

With this collaborative strategy, it is hoped that no one gets left behind.


While structures and processes are being developed to uplift the sector, we must not neglect the core drivers of the charity sector – our people. People matter in our charities, and they all have the passion to make Singapore a better place for everyone. But sometimes, there may exist a knowledge gap of our people between the structures and processes in place. One common grouse heard on the ground is, “It’s not that we don’t want to do it, it’s because we don’t know how to do it.”

Plugging the knowledge gap: Dr Ang Hak Seng, Commissioner of Charities, sharing a case study at a governance seminar for Hindu organisations

To bridge this gap, the sector has been provided with episodic learning from various training providers over the years. However, it is critical to move the sector towards a more structured learning approach, such as through the use of case studies relevant to, or from, the sector itself. This will enable those in the sector to garner relevant insights and grow stronger together.

In July 2019, COC signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) for the provision of shared services in training. Partnering with a local university emphasises COC’s focus on the people capabilities and capacities to do better for the sector. It is a strategic aim for SUSS to provide a structured, tiered and affordable training programme for key personnel of charities.


One of the most often asked questions of charities by stakeholders is, “How are charities maximising the impact of $1?” Stakeholders expect charities to be more productive, which generally means doing more with less. One way to increase productivity is to be “asset light, programme heavy”. Being asset light is an opportunity for a shared economy for the charity sector as it can result in the pooling of resources, to be used by many.

COC had sought feedback from charities on the common resources that charities require assistance in. The results showed that charities require support in areas such as administrative matters, accounting and financial management, talent recruitment and training. With these broad needs of the sector identified, COC began developing partnerships to provide shared services for charities in 2018. The first phase focused on helping charities ease their resource constraints and meet basic regulatory and governance requirements. So far, over 600 representatives from various charities have benefited from the training sessions, consultation clinics and other shared services provided by our shared services partners. We hope to extend the outreach to more charities, especially the smaller ones.

To enable charities to be well governed and productive, COC has partnered the following organisations (Figure 4) which are committed to provide assistance and support to the charities at no or low cost. COC is continuously working on identifying new potential partners from the private and community sectors to partner the government to make a positive impact on our community.

Figure 4 Partners for shared services


With Singapore’s push to become a Smart Nation, and the disruptive nature of technological change, it is critical for charities to view the advent of technology as an opportunity. Charities should embrace and harness digital tools to achieve the right optimisation. However, it is also equally important that charities are not going digital for digital’s sake. Instead, charities should go digital at their core, that is, at the most important aspects of the charities’ work. Some examples are:

  • Accounting and Finance Charities could make use of accounting software or cloud accounting to ensure recordkeeping is kept regularly updated, and provides for ease of audit.
  • Fund-raising With the push for a cashless society, charities should consider using digital means for fund-raising, for example, via online crowdfunding platforms or the use of QR Code for direct donations.
  • Volunteer management Volunteers are one critical and unique resource in the charity sector. Applications such as the SG Cares app could be leveraged upon for charities to list, and for potential volunteers to find, volunteer opportunities based on preference, location or other criteria.

More importantly, while going digital, charities should ensure that data security is top-of-mind, and protect organisations from data breaches. On this note, COC circulated an infographic which lists six simple things charities should note, to protect personal data (Figure 5).

Figure 5 Protecting personal data


In my previous article, published in this IS Chartered Accountant Journal, May 2019 issue, I introduced the Visibility Guide which aims to enhance the capabilities of our charities to communicate their impact and governance to donors and stakeholders. In addition to this guide, we recently launched the Annual Report Illustrative Template Guide (AR Template).

This AR Template (Figure 6) comprises mandatory disclosure requirements under the Charities (Accounts and Annual Report) Regulations, as well as best practices from the Code of Governance for Charities and IPCs. It serves as a comprehensive template that charities of all sizes can take reference from to meet the annual reporting requirements, and also to better disclose information to their stakeholders. The AR Template is published on the Charity Portal.

Figure 6 COC’s annual report template guide


With the 7 Disciplines for High Performing Charities, together with co-regulation among the stakeholders – donors, charities, intermediaries and beneficiaries – taking ownership and playing their parts to ensure that donations are used for genuine charitable purposes, greater trust can be engendered. Together, a thriving charity sector with strong public confidence can be achieved.

Dr Ang Hak Seng, FCA (Singapore), is Commissioner of Charities, and Adjunct Professor, Nanyang Technological University.