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20 Sep 07
Lower the flag?
By Elysa Chen
SHOULD WE look for more effective fund-raising initiatives
The New Paper 13 Sep 07
Despite profits, zoo gets $1m handout from charity fund
Company says: Money used for research, conservation
By Teh Jen Lee
THE Singapore Zoo and Night Safari have made millions of dollars in profits over the past three years, according to their financial records. They also receive grants from the Government and sponsorship money from private corporations. Adoptions and donations totalled $1.5 million for their parent company's last financial year ended 31 Mar.
So why does parent company Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) still accept funds from a charity for research and the care of its animals?
Some people asked this question when the Wildlife Conservation Singapore Fund (WCSF), a registered charity, held its flag day last month.
Information slips given to canvassers stated that the collections will be used to fund studies on wildlife in their natural habitats and to 'care for and propagate' animals within the zoo and the Night Safari. The two attractions part of the Singapore Zoological Gardens (SZG), a private limited company.
Donors like botanist Joseph Lai wondered why public money was needed for this when its parent company is making millions in profits. Mr Lai, 48, said he donated only 20 cents when he was approached.
He was not pleased when he found out the money is channelled to the zoo by the charity. Although the amount he donated is small, he felt private companies should not be getting money through the fund.
The zoo was deemed a charity until 2004 when this status was transferred to a fund that was renamed WCSF last year.
Mr Lai told The New Paper: 'When donations are being canvassed in public places, people donate in faith that there is governance to ensure fair and equitable distribution of funds to legitimate causes with the most urgent needs.
'Profit-making businesses should have no place within this public donation system to ask for any monetary help.'
It costs an adult $16.50 to visit the zoo and $22 to visit the Night Safari. The 2006/07 yearbook of WRS, which runs SZG and Jurong Bird Park, shows admissions as the biggest revenue earner - generating $33.4million, or 44 per cent of total revenue in financial year 2006/07. Net profit after tax for that year was $17 million, while the year before was $14 million.
In 2004/05, the first year that WRS made a profit, the figure was $12 million. Yet, the fund said it gave $1.1million to the zoo last year. The money was donated by the public and by corporations for specific adoptions of animals and exhibits there.
One key question: Aren't the company's profits sufficient to cover animal-related expenses? After all, animal feed and vet expenses came to only $2.1 million - 3per cent of WRS' total expenses.
The zoo's executive director, Ms Fanny Lai, said profits go towards covering operating costs, which includes the cost of upgrading animal habitats in the zoo, as well as funding of research projects overseas.
Do all of the company's profits go back towards operating costs that are directly related to the animals and towards research? Ms Lai did not answer this directly.
She said: 'Profits have been retained as sinking fund for the redevelopment, upgrading and expansion of SZG.'
But since it's profitable, can the zoo be fully self-funding and take care of research as well? Ms Lai said the zoo relies on operating cash flow, government grants and public donations for its ongoing operations.
She said: 'Apart from the government grant and public donations, corporate sponsorships are also critical to the future welfare of endangered species.
'Conservation is a necessary endeavour and to give the animals an environment akin to their habitat, research on the endangered species has to be ongoing. Without donations and sponsorships, such research will be inhibited.'
Still, some canvassers, such as university student Zhang Yuzhuo, wondered about the need for the flag day. Miss Zhang, 18, and her friends spent four hours at Tiong Bahru Plaza as part of a compulsory school-based community involvement programme.
She said in Mandarin: 'It's not like we were raising funds for disaster victims where the need is more obvious. I also felt that it was not necessary to give away such fancy stickers.'
This is the second year that WCSF is having a flag day. Last year, it collected slightly more than $36,000. This year's figures are still being verified.
A check by The New Paper showed there are non-profit zoos that receive charity money while charging entrance fees, such as the San Diego Zoo, the Berlin Zoo and Sydney's Taronga Zoo. Taronga Zoo receives funds from the Association of Zoo Friends (New South Wales), an independent charity, but any extra revenue generated goes back to animal-related expenses.
The New Paper 20 Sep 07
Lower the flag?
By Elysa Chen
SHOULD WE look for more effective fund-raising initiatives
IS flag day flagging?
And has the coin dropped on using students to raise money this way?
A recent street poll by The New Paper of 100 people aged 15 to 49 showed that nearly half (48 per cent) felt that students should not spend long hours selling flags. There are other more effective, and creative ways to raise money, they said.
The survey was prompted by a comment from undergraduate Zhang Yuzhuo in The New Paper on 12 Sep.
Miss Zhang, who was made to raise money for the Wildlife Conservation Singapore Fund (WCSF), said: 'It's not like we were raising funds for disaster victims where the need is more obvious.'
Miss Zhang is not alone. And that is why more schools are moving towards more meaningful community involvement programmes.
One teacher, Mr Siva Ganesh, who is teaching in a secondary school, said: 'With a flag day, students sometimes just go through the motions, 'But when you are doing volunteer work, it must come from the heart,' he added.
His school offers service learning projects, like a charity soccer programme, along with flag days. Having these projects, Mr Ganesh feels, helps the students take ownership over their community work.
Junior college student Edwina Yeo, 18, has seen her share of students 'slacking off' when she took part in flag days back in her in secondary school days. And in one example of that, students apparently out on a flag day were seen queuing up for doughnuts. A photograph of them was sent to STOMP, The Straits Times' interactive portal, in April.
To re-ignite passion for volunteer work, Miss Yeo and her friends had an idea inspired by Australians - giving out hugs for donations.
Volunteers on the Free Hugs campaign raised $20,000 over two months giving hugs to people, and selling postcards and T-shirts designed by the beneficiaries, Viva Foundation for Children with Cancer.
Dr Tan Sze Wee, chairman of Citibank-YMCA Youth for Causes, which backed the Free Hugs project, said: 'With two or three groups plying the same street, it can be quite difficult to raise funds if we stick only to the tin can method.
'Students with more energy can embark on (such) social entrepreneurial projects.'
Miss Poon Yirong, 19, agreed: 'Even if the organisation really does need cash, at least try to go about getting it in a less obtrusive way like busking, for example, instead of trying to get yet another irate passerby to toss you a few coins.'
But some felt that student effort is integral to flag days, as they do help to raise a substantial sum of money.
Just two weeks ago, a flag day organised by New Hope Community Services raised $21,000. The Singapore Children's Society raises $100,000 or more each year through flag day.
To stage a flag day, large pools of volunteers are needed, and schools are a natural source, Ms Rhonda Koh said. She is the corporate communications director of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre.
Ms Koh added: 'This is not to say only students should volunteer for flag days, but they constitute a substantive and ready pool of resource for this particular fund-raising method.'
Dr Tan said the public is also used to this form of fund-raising, and results from The New Paper's poll back up his observation.
Eighty per cent of respondents are willing to donate when they see someone with a tin can.
A check with the National Council of Social Services showed that between 75 and 100 volunteer welfare organisations still apply for flag day each year through ballot.
Undergraduate Liaw Ke Qian, 20, argued: 'Charity isn't about creativity, its about sincerity.' It does not matter how you contribute, as long as you do so sincerely.
Through the looking-glass of self-help Joseph Lai's comments on the zoo's flag day on his eart-h.com.
Made a Chimp by the Zoo? how did the zoo get a flag day on Joseph Lai's eart-h.com
Related articles on Singapore: general environmental issues
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