Shining a Ray of Hope Through Covid-19

“$10 million in donations. Wouldn’t it be great to grow Ray of Hope to this size and help even more people, especially those who have been negatively affected by Covid-19?” Tan En, General Manager of Ray of Hope (“ROH”) had been pondering about how ROH could achieve this aspirational goal and impact even more lives, especially when Covid-19 had affected some people more than others.

ROH, a Singapore-based crowdfunding charity, was established in November 2012 by Danny Yong, one of the founding partners of Dymon Asia Capital. Unlike other charities that typically aggregated donations in a fund, ROH enabled individual donors to financially assist other individuals in need directly through its crowdfunding platform.

ROH employed case workers to assess its clients’ needs to determine the appropriate welfare assistance to be provided to each of them. The case workers also developed customised fundraising campaigns that were featured on the ROH website, to explain the clients’ personal circumstances and how much welfare assistance would be needed to support them. Donors who wanted to help the clients could do so by making a donation to the clients directly on the ROH crowdfunding platform.

When Tan joined ROH in 2018, the charity had grown significantly, serving close to 100 families per year. ROH had also started to expand its social impact by partnering with large organisations like DBS Bank on corporate social responsibility projects. There was a lot that Tan had to do to streamline and scale ROH’s operations, including revamping the old clunky crowdfunding platform, building a culture of trust, and managing the ROH board of directors.  

Tan had been in his role for two years and was planning on spearheading new initiatives when the Covid-19 pandemic struck in February 2020. Overnight, it changed how work was conducted. The circuit breaker, which was Singapore’s version of a lockdown, took place from 7 April 2020 to 1 June 2020. During this time, the Singapore Government issued a nationwide stay-at-home advisory. This, along with the practice of social distancing, meant that ROH’s case workers could no longer hold face-to-face meetings with their clients or social service partners. Even though the team was quick to adopt technology tools like Zoom and WhatsApp to hold virtual meetings, the fundraising campaigns took longer than usual to verify and list on the ROH website.

Tan knew that if ROH were to continue to serve the community, especially those who had been negatively affected by Covid-19, the charity would have to re-strategise and pivot to new ways of working. When Tan was approached by volunteer groups, such as It’s Raining Raincoats and COVID-19 Migrant Support Coalition, he saw an opportunity for ROH to act as an intermediary to raise and administer funds for these groups. Recognising the compounding impact that ROH could make on many more lives, especially those served by the volunteer groups, Tan mobilised his team of case workers to develop and administer the fundraising campaigns for the groups. This shift in strategy helped ROH to reinvent itself and increased the funds raised six-fold from S$500,000 to S$3 million in just six months. And ROH was able to achieve this without an increase in headcount. If hard metrics such as the amount of funds raised were the measure of success, it was clear that ROH had coped well in the face of Covid-19. Despite these positive outcomes, Tan recognised that the pivot towards working with the volunteer groups had diluted the human touch differentiation that ROH was previously known for.

These were several strategic questions that Tan would like answered about the way forward. How should ROH respond to a post-Covid-19 world to help even more people in need? Would raising S$10 million be a suitable goal for ROH to pursue? If so, what could Tan do to scale ROH to this size without hiring additional headcount? And what else could Tan do to further embrace the agile mindset that was so needed in this critical time of change?

Set in November 2020, this case is written by Kenneth Goh, Assistant Professor of Strategic Management (Education) and Dr Jovina Ang, Affiliate Faculty at Singapore Management University (SMU). The case delves into the concepts of managing a lean organisation and principles for leading agile teams, as well as evaluates how to build trust and an effective organisational culture.

To read the case in full, please visit the CMP website by clicking here.