Art-philanthropy in Singapore: The more you give, the more you can demand?

Finally, this has surfaced in a Singapore where big-ticket philanthropy has become somewhat fashionable of late. Someone has officially raised the touchy issue that even though donations are important to public institutions, not all donations may be ‘welcomed’ (click ‘here‘). Ex-MP, Tan Cheng Bock felt so strongly about the new hospital in Jurong receiving S$125m from the family of the late Ng Teng Fong that he had even stepped down from its board.  His beef? While money given by someone altruistically is something to be admired, Tan queried if certain large donations to Singapore public institutions in the recent past were done so more for the ‘honour’ of being ‘named’, rather than out of a history of kindness-of-heart.

Well, to me, money (as long as it is not ‘dirty’ money) given to non-profitable institutions are vital in helping them stay afloat. So it doesn’t matter if a tycoon (or his/her) gives out of ‘love’ or ‘self-glorification’. The receivers benefit. Period.

But having worked in these institutions where government funds are always short of annual expenditure, my experience was that more often not, ‘large’ donors – usually foundations and wealthy families – were the ones who were likely to give so as to glorify their names first, while the benefits to the receiving institutions were only of secondary importance. There were demands that went this way: “If we give you $X million, how will you publicise our name? How big will our foundation’s /donor’s name be when it appears at the side of the new building? Do you know if we were to give to your rival institution, they are prepared to give us so much more recognition than you?”. It was sometimes sickening to deal with these self-serving donors, but we had to do so since non-profit organisations really need all the financial help they can get. Kow-towing to large donors was par for the course for my colleagues and I.

On the flip side, the small donations from individual donors were delightful to deal with because they were not only sincere but fuss-free. People have even dropped off thousand-dollar bills into our donation boxes before, and we couldn’t fuss over these anonymous donors even if we had wanted to! Nevertheless, when combined, these small donations definitely pale in comparison to the 6-, 7-figure sums given by ‘charitable’ foundations/tycoons. But the former outweighs the latter in ‘sincerity’ any day.

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2 responses to “Art-philanthropy in Singapore: The more you give, the more you can demand?

  1. Pingback: When ‘giving’ and ‘altruism’ are strange bedfellows: The politics of gift-giving to Singapore museums | 23princessroad's Blog

  2. Pingback: Valuing donations and the art of being accurate: Pinpointing the real value of ‘antiques’ | 23princessroad's Blog

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