Help­ing Oth­ers Help Oth­ers

By match­ing donors’ in­ter­ests with ac­tual causes, Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion Sin­ga­pore (CFS) fa­cil­i­tates giv­ing for a greater im­pact

Portfolio - - IN THIS ISSUE - By Vic­tor Chen

These six years at CFS have def­i­nitely been a ful­fill­ing learn­ing jour­ney for me,” says Ms. Cather­ine Loh. She smiles for the first time since we sat down to dis­cuss how she traded her suc­cess­ful bank­ing ca­reer to one in char­ity – as CEO of CFS. “I de­vel­oped greater em­pa­thy and learned to see things from an­other per­son’s per­spec­tive. I’m also hum­bled by the self­less­ness dis­played by so many in the so­cial sec­tor as they strive daily to help their ben­e­fi­cia­ries over­come life’s chal­lenges.” Set up in 2008, CFS cur­rently man­ages 110 donor funds, in­clud­ing the SR Nathan Ed­u­ca­tion Up­lift­ment Fund, and has raised over S$100 mil­lion in to­tal dona­tions. It also works closely with over 400 char­i­ties to iden­tify gaps in the com­mu­nity that need sup­port. Ms. Loh sees her work as stim­u­lat­ing at­tempts at in­no­va­tion and prob­lem solv­ing. “The needs of donors and ben­e­fi­cia­ries are al­ways chang­ing, and there are con­stantly new ways that we can work with donors and char­ity part­ners to solve com­plex so­cial is­sues.”

A Dif­fer­ent Start

The mo­ment she stepped out of the univer­sity, Ms. Loh, like most of her peers, be­gan an earnest pur­suit of the 5Cs: cash, car, con­do­minium and coun­try club – popular bench­marks of suc­cess in the rapidly de­vel­op­ing eco­nomic pow­er­house that Sin­ga­pore was in the 1980s and ‘90s. She started her ca­reer at the Gov­ern­ment of Sin­ga­pore In­vest­ment Cor­po­ra­tion, fol­lowed by lead­er­ship po­si­tions in the Sin­ga­pore of­fices of No­mura, Lehman Broth­ers and Gold­man Sachs. “I’m very for­tu­nate to have spent many years of my ca­reer in bank­ing, which has seen tremen­dous growth over the past 20 years,” Ms. Loh says. Work in a deal­ing room was in­tense – a vir­tual roller-coaster ride that fol­lowed the con­stant fluc­tu­a­tions in the fi­nan­cial mar­kets. It was also very com­pet­i­tive and profit-driven. But there were gen­uine perks: “The best part of the job was meet­ing clients from all over the re­gion, un­der­stand­ing their needs, and find­ing suit­able fi­nan­cial solutions in volatile fi­nan­cial mar­kets. Many col­leagues and clients have be­come my good friends and I will al­ways trea­sure these re­la­tion­ships forged over the years,” Ms. Loh says. The thrilling ride came to a grind­ing halt, how­ever. In 2008, the fi­nan­cial cri­sis that would trig­ger a global re­ces­sion had peaked; its af­ter­math took a toll on Ms. Loh’s health. “I de­cided to take a break to spend more time with my fam­ily and re­gain my health. Af­ter leav­ing the bank­ing in­dus­try in 2010, I spent a year and a half at home look­ing af­ter my third child who was born in 2009.”

Chang­ing Tracks

When her tod­dler en­tered preschool, Ms. Loh con­sid­ered re­turn­ing to work. A job of­fer from the so­cial sec­tor came along. Although it was a dif­fer­ent path, her pre­vi­ous vol­un­teer in­volve­ment with As­sisi Hospice, Metta Wel­fare As­so­ci­a­tion, and Telok Ku­rau Pri­mary School pre­pared her for it. “I thought it was a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity for me to con­trib­ute back to so­ci­ety in a way that can max­i­mize my skill-set and ex­pe­ri­ence in man­age­ment, sales and mar­ket­ing, and fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment man­age­ment.” Tran­si­tion­ing into her new role was ini­tially dif­fi­cult. Ms. Loh had to ad­just from work­ing in a large profit-driven or­ga­ni­za­tion to a small non-profit fo­cused on do­ing good. “Be­ing in a lean or­ga­ni­za­tion means ev­ery team mem­ber of­ten has to mul­ti­task. An­other learn­ing curve was manag­ing staff who are driven by the will to do good and not just by money alone.” Ms. Loh also found that the largely fe­male-dom­i­nated CFS re­quired a more con­sen­sus style of man­age­ment ver­sus a more di­rect con­fronta­tional style in a male-dom­i­nated deal­ing room. “Work­ing with char­ity part­ners also de­manded more pa­tience and em­pa­thy as they are gen­er­ally un­der­staffed and un­able to work at a speed in­vest­ment that bankers are used to.”

In­spir­ing Phi­lan­thropy

“Our goal has al­ways been to in­spire phi­lan­thropy, and that has not changed. When I first joined, CFS was still at its in­fancy and donors were sim­ply look­ing for a con­ve­nient way to con­sol­i­date their dona­tions and dis­burse grants. The needs of donors have evolved along with the shift­ing so­cial land­scape, and CFS has had to rise up be­yond an ad­min­is­tra­tive role to bet­ter ac­com­mo­date these chang­ing needs.”

Over the years, as donors gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the so­cial land­scape, they be­gan to ask for more in­for­ma­tion and trans­parency on how their dona­tions ac­tu­ally help those in need. “We then have to as­sist our char­ity part­ners to bet­ter ar­tic­u­late the im­pact of their pro­grams to donors. For donors who want to find out even more, we fa­cil­i­tate char­ity vis­its and meet­ings with ben­e­fi­cia­ries, with the ob­jec­tive of build­ing deeper col­lab­o­ra­tions and strength­en­ing part­ner­ships among our donors and the com­mu­ni­ties we serve,” Ms. Loh elab­o­rates. In the re­cent years, donors have sought out CFS for strate­gic phi­lan­thropy ad­vi­sory to ob­tain help in de­vis­ing strate­gies to achieve their phil­an­thropic goals and ob­jec­tives. “We do that by un­der­stand­ing what donors want to achieve with their phil­an­thropic dol­lars and we cre­ate a ‘port­fo­lio’ of char­ity pro­grams which they can sup­port to achieve their goals. We would also fol­low up with eval­u­a­tion and re­port­ing back to donors so that they un­der­stand the im­pact of their giv­ing.”

A Dis­tinct Dif­fer­ence

Ms. Loh ob­serves that although many peo­ple want to help, some may not have time, ex­pe­ri­ence or ex­per­tise to do it them­selves. “This sen­ti­ment can be ex­ac­er­bated by the sheer vol­ume of in­for­ma­tion avail­able on­line. Donors want ef­fi­cient ways to struc­ture their phi­lan­thropy, so they can plan sus­tained giv­ing to the causes they care about. “This is where CFS can help with our phi­lan­thropy ex­per­tise span­ning ad­min­is­tra­tion, strat­egy and grant-mak­ing. We save donors the work and re­sources needed to set up a pri­vate foun­da­tion. By tap­ping on our phi­lan­thropy ser­vices, they avoid high over­heads, save on time and le­gal ex­penses, and en­joy tax de­duc­tions up­front.” CFS has in-house re­sources to iden­tify char­i­ties and eval­u­ate their pro­grams. “We help avoid du­pli­ca­tion in fund­ing ar­eas where there may al­ready be ad­e­quate gov­ern­ment fund­ing or pri­vate sup­port. For donors who es­tab­lish en­dow­ment funds with us, we in­vest their monies to en­sure that there is a steady in­come stream to ben­e­fit their se­lected char­i­ties.” CFS helps donors un­der­stand the is­sues and let them de­cide how they want to help. It then ap­plies the donors’ funds to the par­tic­u­lar area they have iden­ti­fied, and help to track the out­come. “This en­ables donors to feel a sense of ful­fill­ment, and when they do, very of­ten, they want to do more to help.” Ms. Loh main­tains that donors ap­pre­ci­ate CFS fol­low­ing up on the out­comes of their grants. Donors un­der­stand that their sup­port is part of a greater whole, and they like to un­der­stand how their money has made a dif­fer­ence. “The de­sire for ac­count­abil­ity has al­ways been there, and 10 years on, we see en­hanced re­port­ing ca­pa­bil­ity in the char­ity sec­tor. At CFS, we would like to think that we have con­trib­uted pos­i­tively to this trend.”

We help avoid du­pli­ca­tion in fund­ing ar­eas where there may al­ready be ad­e­quate gov­ern­ment fund­ing or pri­vate sup­port. For donors who es­tab­lish en­dow­ment funds with us, we in­vest their monies to en­sure that there is a steady in­come stream to ben­e­fit their se­lected char­i­ties

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