Wednesday, December 21, 2005

NKF and Charity

Everyone has been buzzing about the NFK saga, and like most Singaporeans, I'm guilty of it too. I'm more worried about the fallout that charities are going to face though. Over lunch yesterday with Louis, we were discussing how we will be affected.

For one thing, we were about to reapply for IPC status for the third time direct to IRAS and right now, we think we should probably hold off. With people now questioning NKF's IPC status, they're probably going to be really stringent about giving out new applications.

With big charities, it's almost totally different from how a small charity like ours runs. I have never had a bonus since I joined CWS though I think I work pretty hard and I'd feel bad asking for one because I know the money could go towards the cats instead. I'm kind of shocked to see people in NKF getting huge bonuses for various things. Sure it isn't wrong legally - but the money could have been spent on the patients instead.

I am NOT saying that I don't think people in charities shouldn't be paid. Certainly rewards should be given for good work, but when I read how they're looking for a new CEO and are going to pay $19000, I think there may be a disconnect. It's not so much the quantum I quibble with because I wouldn't know how to remunerate people who run their facilities, but the fact that there is a sense that to get good people you have to pay a lot of money.

I for one totally advocate rewarding people for good work if they work in charities because people like me would stand to benefit. I also agree that charities could take a leaf from companies in learning how to run better - more transparency and better organisational structure.

Here's the thing though - a charity is NOT a company. A company's goal is to maximise profit, a charity's goal is to maximise WELFARE. To me, it's almost the difference between capitalism and socialism. If you get someone whose main goal is to profit personally (because of the huge salary), then you're going to get someone whose personal interests are not necessarily in alignment with those of the charity.

In the US, more people from corporate fields are retiring and then they go into a second career working in charities. They don't demand the same pay they did in their former high flying jobs - but they bring their expertise along with them. They're doing this because they're comfortable enough and their aim is no longer to make money.

I took a 40% pay cut to work with CWS. I still make nothing close compared to what I made at my first job and that was my starting pay. Do I miss the money? Sure but that's not why I joined CWS. If it was, then I would have stayed in my last job. Same with Louis from ACRES, and all the other welfare people like ASD or HRSS who run their groups on tight budgets, and work other jobs often to support the work they do.


Anonymous mrs budak said...

I for one believe that staff in charities should be paid a market rate salary. I don't think it's really right to say "since it is charity, charity workers earn peanuts" (haha). When I heard that Durai's salary was $20,000 per month (during the court case), I thought it was fairly reasonable because, charity or not, the kind of work demanded by someone in his position does justify the salary.

What really galled me was the huge bonuses and the fringe benefits he paid himself. What's worse were his tortured attempts to justify these benefits. Now that the KPMG report is out, the full extent of transpired justified the views of those who thought that something was wrong but didn't dare voice out.

I think for charities, because people give with the expectation that the money would help the beneficiaries, it's even more important for a sound corporate governance structure to be set up and enforced. In NKF's case, the structure failed totally because all powers eventually became vested with the CEO.

I will not begrudge a charity if it pays its staff market rate and even a small bonus (at least 13th month). Yah, maybe some will say that these charity workers "should have known" that the pay will be low, but what kind of message are we sending out here? Don't we also want quality staff in the charities?

What's more important is we have a clear system where matters like renumberation, reimbursement and charity costs are properly allocated and accounted for.

21/12/05 2:17 PM  
Anonymous nitrolil said...

i am equally shocked too about more obscenity being revealed out of NKF. Sure every charity or organization incurs operating expenses. but to fly round the world because ticket is cheaper is a lame excuse (actually my ex-boss used that to travel around the world as well)

amongst equally disturbing salaries and expenses.

21/12/05 2:23 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

Well said Mrs Budak. I agree with what you said - the only thing I worry about is that there seems to be a sense that they're getting people ONLY because they pay enough, and I think to work in a charity, you need to actually believe in the cause and not have it all be about dollars and cents. That's something money can never buy.

21/12/05 2:46 PM  
Blogger =^..^= said...

It wasn't so much the high salary that angered the people. Using NKF funds to pay for the gold tap and the petrol in his personal car did that.

What the public cannot forgive is being misled by Durai and by the entire Board. That is why it is so important to have checks and balances, even in charity organisations.

~5-Cat Style

21/12/05 4:49 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

Yes - and the fact that there were all these excesses while patients went without.

22/12/05 9:05 AM  
Blogger yskat said...

A donor also has the responsibility of finding out for himself/herself what kind of organisation he/she is donating to. I am sure many of those who donated to the old NKF know nothing about the charity beyond what is presented in fundraising advertisements. I feel that until a person is comfortable with the way a charity is run, he/she should donate nothing - I advocate a 'buyers beware' attitude when it comes to giving away one's hard earned money.

22/12/05 11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I seriously think CWS staff should be paid market rate like all other graduates with degrees working in charitable organisations. Perhaps, if we can give a small token of appreciation to the volunteers, more people might be inclined to volunteer their services.

23/12/05 10:17 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

Anonymous, I'd love to be paid more, but CWS has a tiny budget and I think it would be wrong if most of the money went to salaries for example. If we had more money, I'm sure we could hire more staff for example.

Also for volunteers, we do try and have a get together once a year to thank the more dedicated volunteers. I think sometimes if things are bought that people might prefer the money be used on the cats rather than on buying presents for example.

24/12/05 12:54 AM  
Blogger =^..^= said...

While I agree that all volunteers' efforts should go recognised and appreciated, I can't say it is right to pay volunteers more just to make volunteer work more attractive.

To have to be motivated by money to do volunteer work is a contradiction on its own. Even in larger, wealthier companies, monetary rewards are usually given out as the last option. This is because monetary rewards reap the shortest-lasting feeling of satisfaction. Most companies prefer giving out airline tickets to an exotic destination where the experience of the holiday will last far longer.

Money, once spent, is forgotten. And then they keep wanting and expecting more.

Besides, the more important consideration is... does the welfare organisation
even have sufficient funds to do what it needs to do first? It's vital that the welfare organisation manages its funds sensibly and prudently first and foremost.

Volunteers can be motivated by many other (proven) ways; praise, promotions, instilling a sense of accomplishment in them, through social get-togethers, even banding together through blogging.

As the NKF saga has shown us, volunteer work (helpful work without pay)is charitable work. But charitable work does not necessarily translate into volunteer work.

~5-Cat Style

24/12/05 1:01 AM  
Blogger Dawn said...

Well said 5 Cat Style. At the end of the day, I have to say the people i know working in charities are usually motivated by passion, not money. So money while nice, isnt the main incentive. Same goes for the dedicated volunteers.

24/12/05 1:11 AM  

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