Making collaboration a reality
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Making collaboration a reality

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Collaboration for social change has been a hot topic of late. Collaboration’s appeal is apparent in a world beset by complex and evolving social issues — alone we can only do so much, but work together, and look at the change we can achieve.

In the same vein, Colabs, a philanthropic initiative by the Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS) and National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), drives collaboration by bringing together the public, private and social sectors to tackle complex social issues. In particular, Colabs aims to empower givers to discover the roles they can play alongside existing efforts by government and non-profits.

Colabs currently focuses on three groups: disadvantaged children and youth, persons with disabilities and seniors.

Our first group kicked off by taking a look at the issues facing disadvantaged young people. We were thrilled that a total of 115 individuals and 62 organisations came to share and learn. We discussed existing support for disadvantaged young persons, our present-day challenges, while opening up future opportunities to work together.

If collaboration is to move from a mere aspiration to a reality, we encourage everyone to seriously consider these factors.

Fostering trust
It is often said change moves at the speed of trust. Collaboration requires recognition of each others’ strengths, and a shift away from a competitive mindset. Establishing a clear and common agenda and openly communicating in a safe environment are essential elements in any collaborative effort.

Trust is the key to understanding each other, exchanging ideas and expertise and talking about challenges. On this foundation, we can build a body of knowledge and a culture of transparency for effective collaboration and outcomes we want to achieve.

A shared journey of equals
In the face of complex issues, it’s easy to think the solution lies with someone else. When we enter a collaboration, we need to believe change begins with us. If trust is the glue that keeps collaborative efforts together, then shared ownership and responsibility is the compass that guides our intentions.

To act in the best interests of people affected by social issues, we have to embark on a journey of equals, recognising every party brings unique assets and voices to the table. When the going gets tough — and it will — all parties in the collaboration must be committed to dedicating the resources necessary to deliver change.

Innovation is not new
Change often requires innovation, which isn’t necessarily about inventing something new, but about looking for better ways to do things. Collaboration offers us a diversity of knowledge and expertise to generate new insights and explore improved or more sustainable solutions.

At CFS, we count it a privilege to be able to facilitate the meeting of like-minded people who want to live and give meaningfully. The successes of enabling hope, realising aspirations and rebuilding lives with dignity in our communities are a result of many collaborations and partnerships between our donors and charities.

We are grateful to all our partners for adding to the richness of this journey through your presence, perspective, and perseverance in building a stronger community. The journey has just begun; the best is yet to be.

Joyce Teo
Deputy CEO
Community Foundation of Singapore

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Start a donor-advised fund: plan your giving flexibly and sustainably

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The breakfast huddle with Catherine Loh: A group of individuals gathered around a table, engaged in a morning discussion.

CEO Catherine Loh goes on Money FM 89.3 to speak about the donor-advised funds.

Elliott Danker: Funds such as DAFs are especially needed during the current COVID-19 pandemic because that’s where you have more people in need. Many charities have shared that donations have been falling.

Manisha Tank: A DAF allows donors to give in a more informed, structured and sustained manner over time. As of March 2020, there are 143 DAFs set up with CFS, which is double the number in March 2015. How does a DAF actually work and why has there been an increase in the number of DAFs over the years?

Elliott: With us is Catherine Loh, CEO of the Community Foundation of Singapore. We’ve been trying to describe and nail down the meaning of donor-advised funds or DAFs. It’s like a personal charitable savings account; is there anything more you could tell us about DAFs?

Catherine Loh: It’s easier to give you a concrete example. One such DAF is the SR Nathan Education Upliftment Fund, which was set up by our late president when he retired in 2011. As he had received help himself back when he was young, Mr Nathan wanted to set up a fund to help students at risk of dropping out of school due to financial difficulties.

So through this one endowment fund established with us, he was able to reach out to many educational institutions like ITE (Institute of Technical Education), various polytechnics and universities to support students in need. Some special schools like the Mountbatten vocational school and even the four self-help groups have benefitted.

Even though he is no longer with us, we work with a committee comprising a family member, close friends and those who have a deep interest in the community to guide the fund. Over the years, thousands of students have obtained their diplomas and degrees with the support from the Fund. Hopefully from the example you can see that for a donor-advised fund, donors get to name their fund, to choose the causes that they are interested in supporting, and they can use the fund to support more than one charity. There’s a lot of flexibility here.

Manisha: Is a DAF only for the wealthy?

Catherine: There is a minimum amount to set up a donor-advised fund. The minimum amount is $200,000 but a donor can start off with $50,000 and fulfil the pledge over a period of time.

Elliott: How big is the concept of a DAF in Singapore when compared to the rest of the region or the world?

Catherine: This concept is pretty new. In Southeast Asia, we are one of the few established community foundations. However, in the US community foundations are very well established and donations into donor-advised funds are large.

Manisha: If you’re someone who’s decided on having a DAF to take care of your charitable causes and your contributions, is the due diligence all done for you?

Catherine: Before we talk about a charity or their programmes to a donor, we would have done the basic due diligence; checking up on their finances, making sure it is a charity that is doing good work. When we recommend, we try to match the donor’s interest with what the charities can offer and really helping the donors achieve their objectives.

Manisha: Do the donors come to you for different reasons, or some have just come into money and have decided to do something useful with it?

Catherine: People come with their personal reasons, but most do want to do good and they do want to give. The whole purpose is to ensure that their money is put to good use. They want to have the peace of mind that the charities are doing the work that they are supposed to do. This is where we can help to provide the professional advice and to give them the peace of mind.

Elliott: You talked about the minimum amount to start a DAF. How do you start one, and if I’m opening one with CFS, do I have to pay a fee?

Catherine: It is signing a deed and that’s it. It takes about two to four weeks depending on the complexity of the donor’s unique circumstances and what their requirements are. But it is definitely easier than setting up your own family foundation or a corporate foundation.

Manisha: Why has there been an increase in the number of DAFs?

Catherine: We have seen an increase in awareness as we have also been more active in explaining this concept to the public. Over the years, we’ve had happy donors referring their friends and colleagues to us and we’re glad that we’ve gained the trust of our donors and charity partners alike

We’ve also seen an increase in demand because this structure meets the needs of many donors. We’ve established funds for both individuals and businesses; individuals set up memorial funds to remember a loved one or to celebrate significant events like retirements, birthdays and wedding anniversaries. DAFs are useful for financial and legacy planning as well, because donations into a fund can be eligible for two and a half times deduction off taxable income. It can be used as an instrument for tax planning. It can also be named as a beneficiary in a will or a trust. Increasingly, we work with lawyers and executors of wills to administer money left behind for charity.

Very often executors are left vague instructions to just gift the money to charity, and by working with us they have the peace of mind that there are professionals working to identify the right charities and programmes for them.

Manisha: What are the differences between giving to charity and setting up a DAF?

Catherine: If the donor is interested in accountability and transparency and they want to keep track of the donations for regular, long term and more strategic giving, then a DAF is very useful. What we want is for the donor to understand the cause or causes that they are interested in, to get to know the charities and the types of programmes that are out there. Once the donor gets involved, they are more likely to support their causes for a long period of time.

Manisha: One of the best things to donate is time; does that happen and do the donors get involved with these causes and turn up in person to see what’s on the ground?

Catherine: We do have donors who do that whenever they have the time. They are busy professionals who may not have a lot of time and they just give with money first. But we do encourage them to get involved and not just themselves but with their families. Very often we want to not only engage the donors but their family members as well, to get them to understand what they are really helping. In so doing, they would be the ones coming up with new ideas and working directly with the charities to create positive social change. This is a culture that we want to build in Singapore.

Elliott: Some charities are suffering during this COVID-19 pandemic, unable to have fundraising dinners; what has the impact of the pandemic been on DAFs? Should people consider going into a DAF during this pandemic because it’s more focused and safer with due diligence all done?

Catherine: We have seen activity throughout this whole year, so activity hasn’t slowed down for us at all. In fact, donors are talking to use because they want to know how they can help over the longer term; they want to know what are the underfunded sectors and the pressing issues that need
support going forward.

What this pandemic has taught is that it is good to be prepared. As the pandemic continues, we have rising unemployment, health risks and donations from the general public that have decreased. For the donors who have planned their giving and established their donor-advised funds in the past with us, this is an opportunity where they have stepped up. Over the past few months, we have seen a very significant amount being given out from our existing donor-advised funds to COVID-19 related causes.

Manisha: What about businesses?

Catherine: We have quite a few businesses who have established donor-advised funds with us as well. There are many reasons for doing so. There is more marketing mileage with a named fund; this can be a starting point to learn about philanthropy before setting up their own corporate foundation. They use it for planning and tracking their charitable budget, and also to give more strategically by tapping on our knowledge, experience and network in the sector.

Elliott: Is it more high network individuals that are taking part in donor-advised funds?

Catherine: For the Community Foundation of Singapore, a donor-advised fund is just one product which we offer; these are targeted at those who have more to give and they want to give in a longer term manner, so their own named fund is suitable. However, we established our own Community Impact Funds (CIF) in response to social issues that we want to address; you may have heard of the Sayang Sayang Fund which was set up in February as an emergency response fund in the wake of COVID-19.

These kinds of Community Impact Funds receive thousands of donations with thousands of donors donating to these funds. These people could be anywhere from students to retirees, anybody who is linked or feels close to the cause.

Listen to the full interview here:

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The competition was organised by City Harvest Community Services Association and received support from FUN! Fund, a Community Impact Fund jointly established by the Community Foundation of Singapore and the Agency for Integrated Care, with the aim of addressing social isolation among the elderly.

Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Communications and Information & Ministry of National Development Mr Tan Kiat How attended the event. He encouraged the elderly to stay physically and mentally well, as well as urging them to participate in community activities and enjoy their golden years together.

Learn more about FUN! Fund at https://www.cf.org.sg/fun-fund/.


The programme provides the children with a non-threatening platform to connect with peers and have positive conversations. In addition, it exposes them to different people who can assist to broaden their perspectives.

L.S., a volunteer with the Reading Odyssey programme @ Spooner Road



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Homeless during the pandemic: how our Sayang Sayang Fund responded with agility

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When Singapore locked down during the pandemic, homelessness became a visible, urgent issue. Cross-border commuters and people that had lost their housing due to irregular income or family conflict joined the rough sleepers who scrape by on the margins of our society.

But with any crisis, there is an opportunity to make things better. In this instance, the authorities and social service organisations moved quickly, joining forces to provide temporary shelters. “The rapid expansion of overnight shelter capacity – from around 60 places at the start of 2020 to a peak of 920 during the circuit breaker – was a considerable feat and evidence of what can be achieved with bureaucratic will and an active civil society,” notes a new study called Seeking shelter: Homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic in Singapore.

Conducted by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP), this landmark study was funded by the Community Foundation of Singapore’s Sayang Sayang Fund(SSF). SSF decided to fund this research project to gain deeper insights into the issue of homelessness and how charities can better meet this critical gap.

The study involved a nationwide street count in 2021 and in-depth interviews and was led by Dr. Ng Kok Hoe, a senior research fellow and head of the Social Inclusion Project at LKYSPP. Dr. Ng and his team found that in 2021, the number of homeless people who took refuge in temporary shelters shot up six-fold to 420 compared to 2019. 

Shelters offer greater safety, protection from the elements, and access to basic amenities. At one point during the circuit breaker, homeless shelters reached capacity. “Homelessness is one of the harshest forms of social exclusion,” the study points out. To be homeless in a pandemic, it adds, is to experience even sharper dislocation and hardship.  

Protecting people living on the streets during a public health crisis was one of the many challenges SSF stepped in to address swiftly. SSF was launched in February 2020 as an emergency Community Impact Fund (CIF) during the early days of Covid-19. It was designed to support frontline and healthcare workers.

Donors responded with overwhelming generosity to our appeal. SSF raised a total of $9.6 million from multiple platforms, tripling our initial target. A campaign on Giving.sg alone raised $1 million in donations from the public. All this helped turn SSF into our largest and most impactful pooled fund to date. 

As the pandemic unfurled, unmet needs among vulnerable groups in Singapore escalated. Our deep understanding of on-the-ground issues and strong relationships with charities and government agencies meant CFS could form strategic partnerships to channel funds to the needy in the fastest and most effective way. 

As part of its SafeSleep@Home initiative, SSF gave a $417,000 grant to four charity partners – AMKFSC Community Services, Good News Community Services, Methodist Welfare Services, and New Hope Community Services. The money covered daily necessities, furnishings, and other costs associated with sheltering over 476 rough sleepers.

As of December 2020, about 10% gained permanent housing. 

“Collaboration and trust are key in times of crisis,” says Joyce Teo, executive director at the Centre for Applied Philanthropy at CFS. Aside from rallying donor support, CFS tapped on its extensive cross-sector network to generate diverse perspectives, allowing SSF and other stakeholders to respond efficiently and collectively to the homelessness dilemma. 

To date, SSF has launched ten programmes. The fund has also worked with 891 grantee organisations and touched the lives of 359,302 beneficiaries. It is a powerful example of how collaborative philanthropy can tackle societal problems with agility. 

“The crisis created opportunities for different stakeholders and built new partnerships. It was also a useful learning curve,” notes Joyce. The learnings from this, plus the research findings from Seeking shelter, put CFS in a better position to deliver services to the homeless. “All these work together to help us build a more resilient community better equipped to deal with future crises,” she adds. 

To learn more about the Sayang Sayang Fund and its impact, please click here.

This article was written by Sunita Sue Leng, a former financial analyst and journalist who believes that the written word can be a force for good. She hopes to someday write something worth plagiarising.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CFS or its members.


Ng, K. H., & Sekhon Atac, J. S. (2022). Seeking shelter: Homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic in Singapore. Singapore: Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. https://lkyspp.nus.edu.sg/research/ social-inclusion-project

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Collaborative Giving to build Community Mental Health Champions

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The Community Mental Health Champions Initiative, a collaborative project by the Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS) and Empact and supported by our corporate partner. It aims to recruit, train and retain 1,000 community mental health champions. Through this initiative, we will build a pool of mental health champions. These champions will actively support the sandwiched generation with a listening ear and signposting to professional services when needed – helping more people prevent or access support for mental health issues. 

The Community Mental Health Champions Initiative is carried out in two phases – Design Phase and Implementation Phase. During the design phase, eleven organisations will come together for a series of workshops to share their knowledge and build a collaborative understanding on issues regarding mental health and how to equip these champions. These eleven organisations are Be Kind SG, Bettr Lives, Caregivers Alliance, Community of Peer Support Specialists, Growthbeans, Loving Heart, O’Joy, Psychological Initiative, SG Assist, Singapore Anglican Community Services, Singapore University of Social Sciences. 

These workshops enable the organisations to align a common vision – mental health promotion intervention – and create opportunities for shared knowledge. Started on 9 July, the first workshop began by defining the Sandwiched Generation. Last week during the second workshop, the organisations shared about mapping and understanding the overall mental health support ecosystem. 

Find out more about how you can be part of this initiative or about collaborative giving here.

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How much does a Singapore household need for a basic standard of living?

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In a study of household budgets by Dr Ng Kok Hoe (Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy), A/P Teo Youyenn (Nanyang Technological University), Dr Neo Yu Wei (National University of Singapore), Dr Ad Maulod (Duke-NUS), Dr Stephanie Chok and Wong Yee Lok (LKYSPP), a basic standard of living means “…more than just, housing, food, and clothing. It is about having opportunities to education, employment, and work-life balance, as well as access to healthcare. It enables a sense of belonging, respect, security, and independence. It also includes choices to participate in social activities, and the freedom to engage in one’s cultural and religious practices.”

To date, a total of two household budget studies were conducted using the Minimum Income Standards (MIS) as a research method for establishing the incomes needed for a basic standard of living in Singapore. In 2019 the study[1] targeted seniors and in 2021 the study[2] extended this work to the needs of households. The results helped to establish a living wage level, a wage that allows people to afford a decent standard of living and embodies the values and principles that the public identifies with across a range of domains.

So, if I have a wish for, for next year and of course beyond…. it is to have a greater conversation around wages and people’s living standards that are based on principles like these – people’s needs, what is decent, what is basic, and what will allow people to not feel excluded from society.

Recognising the importance of research on the needs of households living in poverty, the Community Foundation of Singapore collaborated with the research team to invite 25 leaders from the social service sector to learn about the opportunities and trade-offs in applying MIS in Singapore, as well as to compare income standards in different countries. It was a process to understand about the living standards from ground up experiences which demonstrated what Singaporeans see as necessary and important to thrive while living in Singapore. Without such a process to unpack the lived experiences of individuals and communities, narratives often reinforce the worldview of the dominant and are unable to account for the real habits and practices of ordinary members of society. 

The session with the social leaders was held in August 2022 and it opened up possibilities to incorporate MIS findings to review and enhance the delivery of programmes and services for marginalised communities and families.

This is an interesting discussion – we need more of these sessions for paradigm shifts within the sector itself. Social justice is one of the core principles in social work but what is “just” and is it the same as “fair”? Just or fair to who?

Participant’s reflection

The workshop invited attending social leaders to anticipate how society is changing and ask about the relevance of MIS and how it challenges or contributes to current income policies, assistance schemes, eligibility criteria for assistance and practices to ensure a minimum socially acceptable standard of living. It is also helpful for leaders from different fields to come together and share their assumptions, priorities, and values that may impact their assessment of clients’ needs and support provided.

It inspires me to imagine that when we talk about families no longer being in poverty, it is not just about being earning above a certain income (e.g., poverty line) but being able to achieve a basic standard of living. This has tremendous implications and guidance on how we think about measuring and evaluating the outcomes and impacts of our work.

In the discussions, the participants found it crucial to include multiple stakeholders such as donors and funders who will fund these programmes and dictate expected processes and outcomes. As a follow-up, another session will be facilitated to gain their perspectives and ensure the conversation goes deeper, and generates aligned perspectives.

Through these sessions, we hope to push the boundary of thinking to inspire different stakeholders. Donors can play an important role in encouraging greater giving and I hope the next session will allow even deeper conversations

This article was written by Joyce Teo, an executive director of Centre for Applied Philanthropy. Joyce leads the CAP team and works with donors and non-profit organisations to address the critical gaps in strategic philanthropy in Singapore.


[1] 2019 Household Budget Study: What older people need

[2] 2021 Household Budget Study: What people need in Singapore

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