Giving continues to grow in Singapore, with a trend among young donors towards more ‘hands-on’ philanthropy.

Giving continues to grow in Singapore, not just by high net worth individuals but across all income brackets. The National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre’s Individual Giving Survey shows that charitable donations have more than tripled from S$341m in 2006[1] to S$1.10bn in 2012.[2]  More companies are also acknowledging the importance of actively contributing to their communities. This is in part driven by the fact that the younger generation of employees prefer organisations that not only excel at delivering profits but also make a positive impact on society.

A growing number of wealthy Singaporeans, especially younger donors, are going beyond ‘chequebook philanthropy’ to engage personally with their chosen causes. They often seek to apply their business skills to the projects they support and frequently pay visits to see the work they fund first-hand.[3]

Government and philanthropy

A government that actively encourages philanthropy

The government is keen to promote philanthropy, while also being a significant provider of welfare services and the biggest funder of the non-profit sector.

The government has been proactive in encouraging philanthropy in Singapore and has implemented specific policy and regulatory measures to advance the sector. There are generous tax deductions for donations to charities, which were increased in 2009 to promote giving during the financial crisis. Giving to education has risen sharply in recent years, partly thanks to the government’s highly successful matched-funding initiatives, which enable such donations to be leveraged.

Besides the generous tax incentives and matched funding opportunities, there have been regulatory reforms and significant investment in a support infrastructure for philanthropy and the non-profit sector. While private philanthropy has grown steadily, the government remains the largest funder of the non-profit sector, and government-sponsored organisations continue to play a dominant role in delivering social and welfare services.[4]

Family philanthropy

Next generation becoming more strategic 

Singapore has a long history of family philanthropy, and its legacy is significant. Giving as a family can bring members closer together by articulating shared values and instilling an even greater sense of pride and belonging. In Singapore, family philanthropy is usually done privately and discreetly.

In Singapore, there is a preference for keeping the governance of foundations in the family, with most family foundations currently headed up by second- or third-generation family members. Only a few, such as the Lien Foundation and the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation are managed by paid professional staff in addition to having family members involved.

However, there are signs of an evolution of approach between generations. Younger generations prefer to be more engaged and strategic in their giving rather than just signing cheques. They tend to see their beneficiaries as partners. They will also often support a wider variety of causes including those less popular or traditional, such as the environment and wildlife conservation.[5]

Patrons of the arts

A growing arts philanthropy scene in Singapore 

Arts and heritage initiatives provide an attractive way for Singaporean donors to practise philanthropy and give back to local organisations.

A growing arts philanthropy scene includes individuals who support the arts, as well as public and private sector organisations that appreciate their value. In 2013, local donors gave S$32.2m to the arts[6].

Give2Arts is an online portal which provides an easy platform for individuals and corporations to give to arts and heritage causes. The Patrons of the Arts Awards, founded in 1983, celebrate and recognise private support by individuals and organisations for the promotion of cultural and artistic activities in Singapore.

In 2013, a S$200m Cultural Matching Fund was launched by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. The Fund’s objective is to enhance giving to the cultural sector. It matches dollar-for-dollar cash donations made to arts and heritage charities.[7] Supporting heritage is seen as a good way for individuals and organisations to give back to the community, as well as helping organisations with their brand building and corporate reputation.[8]


What is the history of philanthropy in Singapore?

Early immigrants to Singapore paved the way for those who came after them, providing facilities which they themselves had originally lacked.

Singaporean philanthropy can be traced back as early as the 1800s to the immigrants who came to the area in search of new opportunities. Those who made money gave back to help other immigrants. These early philanthropists included Tan Tock Seng, Govindasamy Pillay, Lee Kong Chian, Tan Kim Seng and Ng Teng Fong.

In the absence of a government that provided welfare services, they funded facilities such as temples, mosques, schools and hospitals to help the immigrants that came after them. This laid down strong family traditions of support for welfare institutions which continue today. Buildings and school faculties like the Lee Kong Chian School of Business at the Singapore Management University, the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine in the National University of Singapore, and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital are all named after their major donors. 

[1] Individual Giving Survey, National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), 2008

[2] Volunteerism reaches record high, National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), 2013

[3] TS Ning, Singapore philanthropists turn more hands-on, Plush Asia/Singapore Business Times [no date given] 

[4] PU Anand and C Hayling, Levers for Change – Philanthropy in Select South East Asian Countries, Lien Centre for Social Innovation, 2014 

[5] UBS-INSEAD Study on Family Philanthropy in Asia, 2011

[6] M Martin, Philanthropists lauded in Annual Patron of the Arts Awards, Today Magazine, 2014

[7] H Lijie, $200 million fund to match cultural donations launched, The Straits Times, 2013

[8] SJ Nunis, Putting your money in support of art, Singapore Institute of Management, 2012