With the last 2.5 years being the most active time in China’s recent history of citizen-based philanthropy, it has become clear that the lack of transparency in the system has become a real issue for some. That while the historical system of donations, largely fuelled by corporations looking to leverage their donations into something else, benefited from a level of opaqueness. the current system that is meant to encourage public engagement does not.
This was perhaps highlighted best during the 5.12 Earthquake when firms, and celebrities, were thrown into a media cycle that no one had expected. That, unlike before, people were paying attention to how much was donated, by whom, and for what cause, and additionally, it was also clear that, unlike before, the organizations on the receiving end of the donations were going to be expected to show a far higher degree of transparency than they were used to.
It is an issue that has come up recently on a number of occasions when speaking to students, corporations, and ordinary people, and it is an issue that has recently been highlighted in a Global Times piece Skeptical Chinese donors need concrete results where Wang Zhenyao discussed the difficulties of fundraising, reporting, and managing expectations:
To persuade people to support you, you need to have a strong reason for them to do so. Good causes and good proposals speak for themselves. Take the project on autistic children in Shenzhen for example. The Shenzhen Autism Society (SAS) gathered hundreds mothers with autistic kids and wrote to the central government. The top leaders learned about the project and sent inspectors there to learn how SAS helps the young patients. Now SAS receives millions of yuan from the local bureau every year.
In addition to that, you also need to show people what you have done with the money received. The lack of transparency creates misunderstanding. There is a common speculation that the money has gone to the pockets of corrupt officials. What I did back in the Ministry of Civil Affairs to combat such misunderstanding was to have flyers and pamphlets printed out and sent to all sponsors and related departments.
After seeing the smiling faces and reading the reports about the people and projects that received donations, the donors and public had a much better idea of what the charity had done. Some charity organizations posted their statistics online but received unsatisfactory results.
It is a situation that I feel at times is grounded more in ignorance than curiosity as average citizens are looking to understand the “impact” their money is having, and it is a condition that I feel will require NGOs, GOvernment Agencies, and 3rd parties to begin working together in an effort to educate the public, manage expectations, and provide a clearer picture of where NGOs are spending the money.
Why is doing this so important?
Simple. On a fairly regular basis, I find myself fielding questions about the impact of donations, the amount of money that an NGO spends on overhead, and whether or not NGOs are simply wolves in disguise, it is clear that regardless of where the education gap lies, it is NGOs who will be forced to pay the price in the long term. that, without addressing the transparency concerns of donors and opening themselves up to 3rd parties, they will eventually risk their brand, funding streams, and eventually programs.