When Donor Resiliency is Lost

Last night, and this afternoon, I had a bit of a scare.

A donor to one of the organizations I have been working with, a long time friend, sent me a message that she was pulling her donation because of an error I had made.  It was a simple error in failing to recognize her firm as agreed on.It was an honest mistake, but one that tipped her over the edge.. or so I thought.

It turns out she was not actually pulling the donation, but trying to make a point.

Regardless.  It led me to spend a few hours thinking about the fact that donor trust in China is an at absolute low and that while the government has been making a number of announcements about their seriousness to clean up the system the fact is that the damage to the system has already been done and the resiliency of donors (financial and otherwise) is thin at best.

And when reading articles like Volunteering is not voluntary, it is not hard to see that the problems with the system are deeply rooted in issues that go far beyond tax codes, regulations overseeing NGO licensing, or errors of accounting.

From the second paragraph:

Just two days after the semester began, Xia and 119 other advertising and exhibition majors were told their classes were being suspended so the students could “volunteer” at the second World Leisure Expo in Hangzhou. Starting the next week, they would be bused from the university’s City College to the venue to work seven hours a day, six days a week. The trip takes two hours each way.The notice quickly stirred up dissatisfaction among students and their parents, developing into a protest against compulsory volunteerism, servitude versus service.

The problem, as explored by the article, is that students are a “ready” pool of volunteers for some, and due to the influence of those particular agents/ organizations, they can be easily allocated to the “cause”. A problem that is different in mechanism, but no different than the tactics that are used to drive many of China’s private donations.

And as I have mentioned in other posts, this is where the system is fundamentally broken and is in need of immediate repair IF (and I emphasize IF) there is EVER to be a broad based engagement in civil issues by the average Chinese citizen.

That, while the current system is effective in driving short term statistics (record number of volunteer hours or funds raised), in the long term these tactics are in effect reducing the resiliency of the system. And instead of creating a true culture and process of engagement where citizens are willingly (and perhaps enjoying) donating their time and money, what is happening is that those very people are being turned off. Retreating from even the basic acts of doing good, and doing what they can to find problems with even the best organizations.

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