Keen to volunteer in Singapore but not sure where to start? In this 2-part series our expert provides handy tips on how to find the right fit for your time, along with worthy organisations
Have some free time on your hands, mamas, and want to put it to good use? Volunteering is a great way to give something back to the community and meet other like-minded people as well. But, before you do, here are 5 helpful tips to consider from Karen Fernandez, who has headed NGOs (non-governmental organisations) in both Singapore and the U.S. Click here for Part 2 of the series!
No matter how big or small the NGO, volunteers are a precious resource as they bring much needed skills, resources and passion! This is especially so in smaller charities, where budgets are tight and staff teams lean. But, as with all things, there are the volunteers who add value and those who take more time to manage!
First things first: decide what are you are really passionate about.
What do you feel very strongly about – helping underprivileged women, rescuing abused animals, or cheering up the elderly? Do your interests revolve around food, or financial education, or saving the environment? Even in tiny Singapore, there are over 2,200 charities helping a wide range of causes so you can rest assured you’ll find one that aligns with your passion, no matter how specialised it may be. (Stay tuned for part 2 of this series next week for an in-depth look at a wide range of charities in Singapore!)
According to the Office of the Commissioner of Charities (COC), which oversees charities, the last decade has seen a 23% surge in charities, comparable to the boom in the US, which was named the world’s second most charitable country in the 2016 World Giving Index. Broad categories of causes include:
- Youth and children
- The environment
- Migrant workers
- The disabled
- And many more
Click on for my top 5 tips on what to consider before you volunteer, mama!
This will ensure you are interested enough to continue when you feel worn out after a long week of juggling home, family and whiny kiddos. I have had volunteers who picked our charity simply because it was close to home, but then got bored after a few weeks.
Others came mainly because their friends were volunteering with us. On the days when their friends could not come, they would cancel last minute, leaving us scrambling to find last-minute replacements to conduct classes for the beneficiaries who had braved two hours on the bus to come to the centre.
It pays to do some homework before you actually commit to a charity. Charities often run orientation sessions, a great way to find out more about how they’re run, the type of help they need, and the kind of people they need. For example, do they look for outgoing types who are emotionally strong enough to cheer up children with life-threatening illnesses? Do they need people with the physical stamina – and cars – to transport bags of groceries to the elderly living in rental flats? Or do they need someone in the back office to help plan social media campaigns and balance the books? Sometimes, smaller charities may just invite you in for an informal chat. This is an excellent opportunity to look around their premises, meet the staff, and ascertain if there’s any affinity between you.
Everyone wants to save those oh-so-sad looking puppies on the NGO’s website. But wait! Do you need the flexibility to simply dip in and out when time permits, or can you commit to a set number of hours a week? Are you looking for a short, one-off project, like packing and delivering Christmas goody bags to a women’s shelter, or can you commit to mentoring a young recovering addict over a span of a few months? Would you like some ‘face time’ in the NGO’s office between school runs (and some welcome adult contact!), or is working at night after the kids have gone to bed easier for you? Weekdays only, or can you do weekends and evenings as well?
Some NGOs require a comprehensive period of training before you even start volunteering. For example, docent training at the museums requires months of training and you have to pay for it as well. The old maxim, ‘under-promise and over-deliver’ is a good one to go by when volunteering. Do be up-front with the charity about how much time you are prepared to commit. From experience, it was more helpful to have someone who came in only for an hour every day but did so reliably, rather than volunteers who stayed a whole day one week, then went ‘missing in action’ for the next couple of weeks.
Volunteers have told me they don’t mind ‘doing anything’ to help, but then look quite unhappy when asked to do data entry, or stand on the street corner for the annual flag day fundraiser. If you like planning events, say so. If checking tax receipts bores you to tears, that’s okay. It probably sounds odd to suggest thinking about what you really want out of volunteering when it’s supposed to be altruistic, but it is one of the questions I always ask volunteers.
It is perfectly fine to say “I am new to Singapore and looking to meet more people”, or “I am trying to decide if teaching is a good career switch for me” or “I love dogs but can’t keep one at home”. That way, the charity can look for opportunities to achieve that sweet spot both for you and for them. If you are a social animal looking to make new friends, the NGO can immediately tell you if they don’t organise volunteer evenings or if people tend to work quite independently. I remember a volunteer who had been helping with our accounts for a few months. One lunchtime, she mentioned she was a voracious reader. It so happened we were arranging a book discussion with renowned writer, Pico Iyer, and she was simply speechless with delight when I asked if she wanted to help organise the event! On the other hand, volunteers have told me they were really only interested in getting a testimonial to attach to their PR application. Their honesty was helpful as we were able to avoid assigning them long-term projects.
The people, families, children, and animals you are helping are mainly the under-privileged, the forgotten, the down-and-out, and the abandoned. You may not realise what comfort you have brought them through their hours of painful chemotherapy, or how good your hug felt after they had constantly been battered at home. Beneficiaries tend to form close bonds with volunteers. Of course, life happens and it may not always be possible to turn up for all the days you have committed to. But that is probably more the exception than the norm. Volunteering brings priceless rewards, but also carries with it a big responsibility. If you think about it carefully and then sign up, I guarantee any NGO will welcome you with open arms!
For a quick overview, try starting with Giving.sg’s list of NGO campaigns currently running in broad categories. These include Animal Welfare, Arts and Heritage, Disability, Youth, Environment, Elderly, Women and Girls.
And stay tuned next week for a more comprehensive list of where to volunteer in Singapore!
Slide #3 image sourced via SPCA Singapore. All other images sourced via Giving.sg