Sometime last year - between graduation and my first full-time job - I thought it'd be fun to evaluate charities in Singapore based on a few different metrics, inspired by GiveWell. With the help of some friends, we managed to evaluate all the IPCs in Singapore, at least on the surface level.
Scope & Rationale
The scope of this project is to do some form of comparison between the IPCs in Singapore, so that we are able to make better decisions on donations of our time and money.
An IPC - or, institute of public character - is a charity in Singapore that meets certain requirements by the government to be eligible for tax deductions. Unfortunately, that means not all charities in Singapore are eligible for tax deductions. I personally believe that, all else being equal, it's better to donate to other countries, since the impact per dollar tends to be higher in poorer countries. However, some of my friends have wanted the tax deduction while still donating, and asked if I could do some form of evaluation.
- Singapore's IPCs are fairly rich, and tend to be government-linked.
- Of the 633 charities, about 500 charities are able to run indefinitely based on their current spending numbers.
- Most of these charities focused on social causes, with only a few on the environment/animals.
- Impact-wise, you're probably better off donating overseas or to other charities - IPC status means that you are only allowed to contribute to the Singapore community, or those located in Singapore.
- If you want to contribute to Singapore, it's probably more impactful to donate to the smaller non-IPC charities, which do not receive as much funding, and are able to focus more on niche causes.
- My hunch is that migrant workers and climate are the ones requiring more money, since they are not as well-supported by the government. Plus, they tend to fall between social safety nets.
Brief shortlist of charities
In my personal opinion, I think these are the top few charities that we've seen in the IPCs list. Explanations in the full shortlist of charities.
- Ageing - Tsao Foundation
- Environment - Waterways Watch Society
- Families - Compassion Fund
- Migrant Workers - Healthserve Ltd
Full shortlist of charities
Listed below, in no particular order, are the ~5% of IPCs that we think have a good chance of making an impact. The list has 34 charities, and you are encouraged to make your own judgement call for this.
For the full explanations, I have attached it in this file below - it is a csv file with '|' as delimiters instead of comma, due to the text in the file.
Getting the data
We scraped this data from the Charity Portal, getting information such as financial data, descriptions of the organisations, and also their websites.
Evaluating the data
We put this data into an excel spreadsheet, and we briefly looked at different criteria, such as:
- Room for funding: how big are their reserves?
- Cause area and potential impact: what cause are they championing? Will the target audience increase?
- Transparency: whether the annual and financial reports are easy to find on their website.
To make these judgment calls quickly, we relied a lot on our gut, and weigh room for funding heavily to have a quantitative basis for our evaluation. Generally, we favoured charities that focused more on seemingly neglected causes, that hold smaller reserves.
Presenting the data
This is the piece that we are still working on - right now there aren't a lot of meaningful graphs on this, and this could help us with spotting trends in data.
A few things pending on my wishlist:
- Front-end - creating a data explorer so that users can draw their own conclusions from the data.
- Working directly with the Charity Portal to do charity comparisons, and so that we don't scrape the data anymore. Our data is already a bit outdated, from AY 2018 and AY 2019.
- Obtaining the relevant reports from the charities.
- Interviewing charities.
- Deep dive into the charities' annual and financial reports.
All of our code can be found at this repository on GitHub, including an in-progress website. The spreadsheet for evaluation can be made available upon request - just ping me and I will be able to share with you more.
We spent about a total of 100 hours on the entire process, from getting the data all the way to presenting it here. Honestly I'd say this is still too shallow a process, but enough to give us some form of idea of the charity landscape in Singapore. Useful exercise to also understand how grantmakers might think.
Other notable efforts
Just Cause Asia (discontinued) - some archived resources on being a more impactful charity and on giving effectively.
Transparency for Good - they are doing something similar to this evaluation, but sticking solely to financial data, and draw rather different conclusions.