Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Giving during past downturns

Dec 24, 2008

1 Asian financial crisis in 1997

It was the only time in the ComChest's 25-year history that it failed to meet its goal, raising just $35 million of its targeted $39 million.

'The crisis hit us from out of the blue, and there was no precedent so we did not know how to react,' recalls Ms Jennie Chua, who was then helping to raise funds for ComChest on an ad hoc basis.

'When times are bad, it is more difficult for people to open their wallets because their capabilities are lower or they are keeping cash for their own use, or a combination of both.'

The voluntary welfare organisations it funded had to adjust their budgets and scale down programmes.

2 Sars in 2003

Surprisingly, the outbreak of the Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus in Singapore, coming on the back of the global recession in 2001, did not see any dent in takings. The ComChest successfully raised its target of $42 million.

This was likely because it was a short downturn in 2003, spanning no more than five months. At its centre was 'a scary health issue' and an indiscriminating virus which claimed victims from all social and economic backgrounds, Ms Chua notes.

While local businesses were affected during Sars, there was also 'a heightened sense of community and solidarity'.

'Every day, we were hearing sad and heroic stories of lives being lost, nurses and caregivers dying, a man in the street losing his life just because he caught the virus in an elevator.

'When there are heroes, you want to be associated with them. Even if you cannot be a hero like them, you can, through your pocket. So you dig deeper.'

3 Financial crisis in 2008

The ComChest's target for the current fundraising year, which ends in March, is $52 million. So far, it has raised about $30 million.

Ms Chua notes that unlike the solidarity Sars produced, a deep sense of social injustice prevails in this crisis. Ordinary Joes are blaming the greed of Wall Street and the rich and powerful for crippling the economy, and a rift has resulted.

To counter smaller cheques from traditional big donors such as corporations and foundations, the ComChest plans to tap 'the wider public' to meet the shortfall.

But it is an uphill task. It is now working hard to encourage its base of 200,000 Share donors to increase monthly donations.

Ms Chua is hopeful about meeting this year's target. But next year's will be more challenging, she says.

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