What comes to mind when you think about what charities need?

Donations! With physical fundraising events cancelled and corporations cutting sponsorship in this pandemic, charities are now struggling to raise funds.

However, aside from money woes, have you wondered what additional challenges these charities face?

Although the responsibilities and demands of jobs in the charitable sector are as challenging as those in the private sector, their salaries often pale in comparison. This makes it incredibly hard for charities to attract good people, and more importantly, retain them.

In addition, many small and medium-sized charities function without a dedicated human resource team, which means crucial HR functions that help increase staff retention, such as performance management and employee training, are often not well developed.

Speaking to The Pride, Roses of Peace’s Mohamed Irshad says that many charities lack the right processes, systems and structures that have to be in place to take them to the next level.

The founder of the ground-up youth-driven initiative adds that his challenges include system and structure; finance and accounting; volunteer management; digital and social media content creation and finally long-term planning, succession and capacity building.

In other words, the challenges he faces are the same challenges of almost any start-up in most industries – charitable or otherwise.

He tells The Pride: “These are the five areas that I feel that any charity faces. [For outreach] we usually go by word of mouth as well as via social media and our website in sourcing for our pool of volunteers.”

Roses of Peace team holding pots of roses in a group picture.
Image source: Roses of Peace Facebook / Roses of Peace is an interfaith initiative that promotes peace, love and kindness to all through the act of giving roses and greeting cards espousing the spirit of humanity and harmony.

Echoing a similar sentiment is Johnny Gan, the founder of Runners’ Heart-Reach – a ground-up movement set up in 2016 to bring about a kinder and more gracious experience within the running community.

Johnny says that due to the limited time and skillsets of his volunteers, being able to maintain consistency in the movement is his biggest challenge.

Charity runners of Runner's Heart Reach lining up, ready to race.
Image source: Singapore Kindness Run Facebook, 2019 / Singapore Kindness Run has been affected by the social distancing guidelines set up since Covid-19 happened.

Dipa Swaminathan, founder of migrant advocacy group ItsRainingRaincoats says that technical skills like spreadsheet management, logistics, language and website design are highly sought after.

She explains: “(Matching) donors to workers, organising schedules and routes for pick-up and delivery, website design for applications as well as Tamil and Bengali language proficiency are skills that are useful and needed to run our daily operations.”

Migrant workers recieving support packs by ItsRainingRaincoats.
Image source: ItsRainingRaincoats Facebook / Volunteers often come forward at ItsRainingRaincoats’ regular distribution events to give of their time and donations to help migrant workers in Singapore.

The heart still matters

But soft skills are important too.

When asked if it is more important for volunteers to have skills appropriate for the charity work they want to undertake or whether a giving attitude is good enough, Dipa tells The Pride: “It has to start with the heart. As long as our volunteers share the same course (of action), they will rise to the occasion when needed. We welcome all who want to volunteer!”

She also shares that while ItsRainingRaincoats has enough volunteers stepping forward, what concerns her is helping her volunteers deal with the emotional toll of their outreach.

“Our volunteers, when they get closer to these migrant workers and hear their stories, may face distress and we have to try to keep everyone’s morale up. Some kind of coaching in this aspect to boost the resilience of our volunteers may be useful for us,” says Dipa.

Speaking to The Pride, Tess Mackean, CEO of TalenTrust, a charity in Singapore that works with business leaders to help facilitate skills-based volunteering in non-profits, says that charities, at their core, are created around a cause and a passion to serve that cause.

She adds: “Charities are not formed because a founder has a passion for operations, or finance, or marketing. However, when it becomes successful and grows at scale, these auxiliary skills become just as important to the success of the organisation, as the passion for the cause they serve.”

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To keep Charities sustainable

Committing even two hours per month to strategy, forecasting and planning can have a huge impact on an organisation. Tess shares: “It is important to take a step back from the daily operations to look at the bigger picture and think about the overall direction in which they are headed.

“It sounds simple but the lack of capacity within the charity organisation often prevents charity leaders from making decisions about how best to grow, consolidate and sustain.”

Sharing with The Pride, Tess says that the most heartening change that she and her team noticed during the pandemic is that interest in volunteering seems to have increased. More potential business leaders are recognising that their skills will be of great use to charities at a time like this and they are happy to offer them.

Says Tess: “We are optimistic about the wider role that the private sector can play in supporting the charity sector in future. Skills-based volunteering is a win-win-win situation.

“Charities gain valuable insight from experienced professionals; companies are affiliated with charitable organisations which ties to important CSR (corporate social responsibility) goals, and volunteers develop their capabilities as a result of working in a charity setting.”

“Charities are becoming more empowered to make certain requests from the private sector. With the balance shifting towards this direction, we hope that charities can get more of the support they need… Charity-led, skills-based volunteering is a prime example of sought-after private sector expertise being implemented where it will have the most impact for charities.“

If you believe you have the “hardware” and “heartware” to volunteer, reach out to the ground-up movements mentioned here or elsewhere. You could also drop them a direct message on their social media channels.

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