Charitable Foundations Set Up by Schools in Singapore

Abdul Jabbar / Carmen Chow
Rajah & Tann LLP

There is an increasing trend in Singapore for institutions of higher education to set up charitable foundations for the purpose of raising funds, in particular for school building and scholarship grants. Fund raising has become a key element in the development of front-running institutions in recent years and is essential to educational bodies which strive to improve their facilities and to provide a higher standard of education. In setting up fundraising entities, the choice of legal structure is key in ensuring that such schools are able to meet their fundraising needs but at the same time ensuring the foundation does not hinder the school’s operations. In general, a charitable foundation can take three different forms: a society, a company limited by guarantee or a trust. Institutions setting up vehicles for fundraising purposes only would typically set these up in the form of either a company limited by guarantee or a trust, with a trust being the more popular vehicle as there is limited public disclosure as to its constitution and allows the foundation to take a more structured approach to achieve its specific purposes. In addition, a trust has fewer corporate compliance obligations, especially regarding yearly audits which are obligatory for companies. The Singapore government has recognized the importance of taking measures to make Singapore a philanthropic hub and as such, over the recent years, we have seen tax exemptions and concessions being introduced to achieve this goal. For example, individuals or corporations who donate to charitable organizations with “Institution of a Public Character” (IPC) status are given a tax deduction of 2.5 times the amount of donations made. This means that donors donating funds to charities with IPC status enjoys a $2.50 tax deduction for every dollar they donate to the fund. As such, many institutions setting up fundraising entities would also structure these to qualify for IPC status, so that donors can benefit from the same. In order for a fundraising entity to be registered as a charity in Singapore, its objects will have to be exclusively charitable, one of the recognized charitable objects being advancement of education. Whilst charities only need objects which are beneficially wholly or substantially to the community in Singapore, in order for a charity to obtain IPC status, the charity must, among other requirements, be engaged in activities exclusively beneficial to the Singapore community as a whole and not confined to sectional interests or particular groups of persons based on race, religion, creed or belief. As such, for institutions of higher education that have global presence, they should set up a separate fundraising entity which can satisfy this requirement. We believe this trend of schools setting up separate charitable foundations for fundraising purposes and for expansion projects will continue to rise in coming years.