Updated 23 February 2021
As the nation works to pick herself up following the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many sectors are stricken with financial difficulties. We’ve seen many profit-driven industries struggle to stay afloat, such as retail, food and beverage outlets, as well as tourism and travel. But what about the nonprofit sector, whose main source of income comes from the goodwill of the public?
Additionally, the pandemic has also placed increased pressure on these organisations to provide their services, as there is now a greater demand for help from the underprivileged communities, who are especially hard-hit.
Since the onset of the pandemic, charities have reported a significant decrease in donations — an inevitable trend as people tighten their pockets and are more concerned with ensuring that their own basic needs are met. As a result, these nonprofit organisations have had to think out of the box in order to keep afloat. Some organisations have enlisted the help of local celebrities to perform at virtual fundraising events, such as the National Arthritis Foundation (NAF) that recently held a virtual fundraiser featuring local artistes Kumar and Joanna Dong.
In an interview, Deputy Director of NAF also mentioned that charities like themselves have to “pivot a little bit more” and “build up [their] capability”, so that they may interact with their external stakeholders even as large gatherings are controlled.
What does it mean to “pivot”?
Johann Annuar, founder of Engineering Good, a charity that works to create digital inclusivity for disadvantaged groups, was met with a similar situation.
With a small organisation that largely consisted of individuals with engineering expertise, he never realised that they lacked the vital resources needed to run an organisation, such as accounting, website design, and marketing — which are crucial elements for fundraising and keeping the organisation running. “We didn’t think about trying to tell the broader audience about what we do so we can raise funds, all these things never occurred to us. We’re just a bunch of engineers and we just want to make stuff.”
To help them to find their focus, Engineering Good turned to talentTtrust, a company that helps to connect charities to professionals with specialist skills to help them grow.
“talentTtrust helped us to find focus… they told us that we weren’t looking into certain areas enough, and told us how to work in these realms to make [our organisation] stronger as a whole. The mentors were quite diverse, and they each had their own talent sets, skills and experiences, and it was amazing how they came together to try and move us forward.”
With the valuable input of the mentors, Engineering Good was also equipped with skills on how to better manage their resources and improve how the organisation was run. “One thing about running a charity is that we are very volunteer-driven… [talentTtrust also] showed us what kind of volunteers we needed, and helped us create collaterals [for marketing],” said Johan.
What is talentTrust?
A registered charity in Singapore, talentTtrust seeks to help other charities become more effective and efficient by running skills-based volunteering projects. To find out more about the company, we spoke with Tess Mackean, chief executive of talentTtrust, who is a veteran in the nonprofit sector.
“The kind of struggles [local charities] face are generally either resources in people or funding. They have to do a vast amount of work with very little money or business expertise. So we try to step in to make sure we are filling that business skills gap to give them more equitable access to talent… charities tend to be run by people who are highly skilled in their area of expertise… but they don’t necessarily have that business expertise [to] run the backend of the charity effectively. By bringing in senior business people who have that experience, [we’re] giving the charities more equal access to that kind of talent without them having to spend money on it.”
Aside from pivoting and re-evaluating their business models, talentTtrust also aims to help charities “future-proof” themselves. “So if anything like [COVID-19] happens again, they’ve got a bit of extra money in the bank, they’ve got the resources they need to deal with it, and they’ve got alternative plans for delivering their services to their beneficiaries if they can’t be face-to-face,” says Tess.
How does it work?
Through mentorship programmes provided by talentTtrust, and partially funded by mentors, charities are partnered with a team of three to five mentors, depending on the size of the charity, and well as the scope of the project. A project manager will also be put alongside the team of mentors.
Tess also explains that the matching process is a very detailed one, to ensure that the mentors and charities are a right fit for each other. “We spend up to seven or eight hours pre-scoping the project with the charity, and during that time we try to identify four to five areas we know the charity wants to focus on during the project. After we get a sense of that, and the personality of the charity’s executive director, that’s when we go out and talk to different mentors. We try to specifically match the [mentor’s] background, skills and experience to those pre-scoped challenge areas.”
Are mentors expected to contribute a lot?
Tess acknowledges that the mentors are also business professionals who have their day jobs, and their own responsibilities, and reveals that mentors are only expected to give two hours of their time per month. “The reason why we can ask so little is because we have project managers that facilitate the process, and they step in after the mentors have given their advice to provide tools, templates, and resources to help the charities get the work done.”
She also adds that it’s also an interesting experience for mentors, likening them to doing their day jobs “with their hands tied behind their backs”. “The challenges that are presented to them aren’t unfamiliar — it’s fundraising, commercial efficiency, to be objective about what they’re trying to do, but whereas normally they would say, can you ask HR or the marketing team to to this, they don’t have any of these resources available to them, and they have to get a lot more creative with the ideas that they suggest.”
What’s the process like for mentors?
Jacquerine Ong is currently a mentor to local charity, Realm of Tranquility, assisting them with digital marketing as a new way of fundraising in light of the COVID-19 situation.
“Because there’s a lockdown and no gatherings, we’re working with them to bring them onto the digital marketing platform, to help them understand and also help them with examples on how they can go about [increasing their digital presence]… it’s more [of giving] suggestions, so what we do is understand the current operations and their objectives, and suggest things [from] our experience to help them reach their goals.”
Although Jacquerine herself is no stranger to volunteering, she says that becoming a mentor at talentTtrust was a “good fit” for her as compared to her past experiences, as she was able to contribute meaningfully with her skill and knowledge in marketing.
Reflecting on her ten-month long journey thus far, she shares that the experience has broadened her mind when it comes to volunteering work — that there’s another way to contribute; that her skills can be utilised in different ways.
She adds, “It has definitely expanded my skills, because in the past [I was] more used to [the corporate way of doing things], but when it comes to a charity organisation, the way they go about [resolving their] challenges would be very different, so its using [the] same skills but you’ve got to try and get different solutions out of it so that they can reach their goals in their operating environment.”
How can we pitch in to help local charities with our skills?
Apart from donating money, or volunteering in a more traditional sense, perhaps another option for business professionals with limited time to offer is to look into skills-based volunteering with talentTtrust. Sharing our skills and expertise with local charities not only provides them with long-term solutions on how to improve the running of their organisations, but may also be the key to helping them navigate a post-pandemic world.
“It’s a really effective way to help because you’re not helping them for the day, you’re helping them for a far more sustainable future. It’s the whole idea of teaching a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. And this is our idea with charities, trying to teach them to be more operationally effective so they can be more sustainable in the long run.”