It’s the small things that matter: Study reveals ‘micro giving’ has led to more Singaporean volunteers compared to a decade ago

In addition to micro giving, mindful consumerism and advocacy were found to have strong links to volunteerism and other intentional acts of kindness.

It’s the small things that really matter when it comes to making someone else’s day a little better.

According to the Individual Giving Study (IGS) 2018 conducted by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) and released on Thursday (May 16), people who display spontaneous “micro giving” behaviours are more likely to involve themselves in “deeper” and more “intentional” acts of kindness.

As the name suggests, micro giving is the voluntary, spontaneous and everyday act of giving, said the NVPC. Examples even include seemingly trivial good deeds like providing directions to a person who is lost, giving way to others on the road and returning food trays after meals.

In the case for Singaporeans, almost eight in 10 have demonstrated some form of micro giving behaviour, added the centre.

The study, which examined “a wider spectrum of behaviours beyond volunteerism and cash donations”, also revealed that micro giving has a notably strong relationship with other forms of giving, including volunteering and philanthropy.

And it clearly shows, with individuals who engage in micro giving being almost twice as likely to volunteer as compared to those who do not. This same group of people were also 29 per cent more likely to make cash donations.

Micro givers were also found to have fewer qualms about engaging in alternative ways of administering goodwill, with an average of 2.5 types of giving compared to non-micro givers (1.3 types).

CEO of NVPC, Melissa Kwee, said: “There is a perception that Singaporeans are kiasu (fearful of losing out) and competitive, and yet our findings show that many engage in micro giving acts.”

Kwee added that by nurturing a culture of giving in the country and celebrating “simple victories”, small acts of kindness may become the stepping stones needed to bring about “large scale, generational change”.

Mindful consumerism and advocacy were found to have close links with one’s propensity for volunteerism.

Current volunteers were almost twice as likely to be mindful consumers themselves – purchasing goods from non-profits, social enterprises or sustainable sources – and be advocates for a cause, compared to non-volunteers.

Strong intentions to donate and volunteer

Optimism is in the air for the future of Singapore’s giving culture, said the NVPC, as the nation’s volunteerism rate had increased gradually over the course of the past decade.

The study uncovered that Singaporeans do indeed display strong intentions to donate (nine in 10) and volunteer (seven in 10), and generally adopt an altruistic stance when giving is involved.

Although the overall donation rate slid from 91 per cent in 2008 to 79 per cent in 2018, the average contribution per donor had increased by more than two-fold from S$300 (US$218) to S$661 within the same period.

Nearly a third of individuals (29 per cent) had also volunteered in 2018, up from 17 per cent in 2008.

Insecurities impact the willingness to give

Financial insecurities might have been a prominent factor that contributed to Singaporeans’ lowered willingness to give monetarily, said the NVPC’s director of knowledge, marketing and advocacy, Jeffrey Tan.

“Financial security is among the top three life priorities for Singaporeans, which suggests that in times of perceived economic uncertainty, more Singaporeans may hold back on cash giving,” said Tan.

The other two top-ranking life priorities were family commitments and good health, in line with Singaporeans’ penchant to be pragmatic.

Interestingly, contributing to society as a life priority found itself at 14th place.

Although volunteerism is on the rise, Singaporeans may be held back by pragmatic concerns.

Nearly two-thirds of Singaporeans said they were interested in practical volunteer opportunities that benefited them, namely activities that are conveniently located near their homes (34%) and those that match their hobbies and interests (29%).

“This suggests an opportunity for social organisations and charities to tap into individuals’ innate willingness to give,” said the NVPC.

The centre suggested that such organisations could offer location-based volunteerism and integrate giving into Singaporeans’ life priorities such as promoting volunteerism as a social activity with family and colleagues.

Lack of trust in online channels

Despite the push to make Singapore a “smart nation”, most Singaporeans were found to stick with offline modes to donate (77 per cent) and register for volunteering activities (63 per cent).

And it mostly stems from a lack of trust in online channels.

Some of the most significant hindrances included perceived scepticism toward online calls for donations (43 per cent) and volunteers (18 per cent) as well as a lack of trust in submitting personal data over online channels for donating (36 per cent) and volunteering purposes (17 per cent).

In view of this gap in trust, the NVPC said there was a need for charities to be more transparent and accountable in their practices to engage potential and existing givers via online channels.

“Giving thrives when there is trust. One way to build integrity in the system is to maintain strong and credible go-to online platforms like the SG Cares app and,” said Tan.

Need to engage untapped and existing volunteers

And while the urge to volunteer has been on the rise, Singapore’s giving and serving culture may still be held back if untapped and existing volunteers are not effectively engaged.

One source of untapped volunteers can actually be found in the workplace, where the interest to volunteer exceeds available opportunities, said the centre.

Although 58 per cent of all working adults were keen to volunteer, only a third (33 per cent) said their employers had organised such activities in the past 12 months.

The NVPC said that businesses should focus on providing more prominent and diverse platforms for their employees to give, such as forming long-term partnerships with charities.

Former volunteers should not be overlooked either.

According to the report, more than half (53 per cent) of former volunteers said their past volunteering experience had fallen short of expectations. The most cited reasons pertained to inflexibility (28 per cent) and the perception that the activity had little impact or meaning (25 per cent).

Many who had stopped volunteering identified school and work (44 per cent), leisure and learning new skills (37 per cent) as well as family (33 per cent) as the top priorities that have lessened the amount of time they had to volunteer.

“These findings suggest that besides recruiting new volunteers, charities may need to pay attention to retaining existing ones. By aligning volunteering opportunities with interest, skills and expectations, this mismatch can be bridged,” said the NVPC.

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