Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Charity Law and the mainstreaming of philanthropy and civil society (sort of) in 2016-17, Part 2

In my last post, I mentioned some events and trends that suggest philanthropic and civic activity is slowly entering the mainstream of Chinese society. These are trends that some of us may not want to recognize but we ignore them at our peril. Whether we like it or not, Chinese (and here I mean citizens and non-governmental actors and not just the government) are driving social change. Below are two more trends we should be keeping an eye on.

One is the growing interest of Chinese individuals in giving as evidenced in the rapid rise of online fundraising. In 2016, the Ministry of Civil Affairs approved 13 charitable organizations’ online philanthropy platforms. Among them, the Tencent Philanthropy (腾讯公益平台), Ant Group Philanthropy (蚂蚁金服公益平台) and Taobao Philanthropy (淘宝公益平台) platforms raised 1.289 billion RMB, 37.79% higher than the figure for 2015. Looking at the age groups of the donors, the generation born in the 80s ranked first, making up more than 45% of the donors. Online donations went mostly to education and health, followed by disaster relief and environmental protection. More than 70% of online donations were via mobile phones.

One event that has stimulated a great deal of public interest in philanthropy is Tencent’s 9/9 (September 9th) Day of Giving which began in 2015. This year’s 9/9 Day of Giving (which actually takes place over three days) was the most successful so far, generating over 1.3 billion RMB in donations, of which 829.9 million RMB came from public donations, 299.99 million RMB came from matching funds from the Tencent Foundation, and 177 million RMB from social enterprises.  A total of 12. 68 million donors made contributions to around 6,466 charitable projects.

While the results of the 9/9 Day of Giving are impressive, concerns about fraud have cropped up with reports about a small number of donations being machine-generated. Tencent Foundation has promised to investigate the issue and issue the results soon.

The second trend is the internationalization of Chinese philanthtropy. Over the last few years, largely following the outflow of Chinese investment, Chinese foundations have begun to fund and even set up their own charitable and CSR activities in Southeast Asia, Africa and even Europe, sometimes leveraging the expertise and experience of international NGOs. Until now, however, there has been little connection between Chinese foundation activities abroad and global development goals such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). That was the aim of a recent report, “Philanthropy for the SDGs in China,” jointly released by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and China Foundation Center (CFC) which are jointly setting up a knowledge sharing platform to mobilize Chinese philanthropic actors to link their activities more closely to the SDGs. One contribution of the report was to call attention to the current imbalances in Chinese philanthropy which has poured funding into education and poverty alleviation, yet neglected areas such as gender equality, sanitation, clean energy and climate change.

As with online fundraising, the internationalization of Chinese philanthropy is going through growing pains. While some Chinese philanthropists and foundations have started to make donations and set up projects overseas, they have done so warily, sensitive to public backlash against Chinese resources being used to support development abroad rather than development at home. One of the first studies of Chinese NGOs internationalizing found that while over half of the NGOs surveyed felt it was necessary to internationalize, only about 17% felt the current environment was right while about 46% felt the environment for internationalization was not sufficiently developed[i]. Still there is no doubt that internationalization is taking off and will gather steam following China’s growing footprint overseas and initiatives like One Belt One Road.  The same study found that the value of overseas donations from Chinese foundations in 2015 had risen by a factor of 3.66 since 2014 and 1209 since 2008.

[i] Deng, Guosheng. 2017. “Trends in Overseas Philanthropy by Chinese Foundations.” Voluntas, (April).

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Charity Law and the Mainstreaming of Philanthropy and Civil Society (sort of) in 2016-17, Part 1

I’ve been informed that today is International Volunteers Day and the start of International Civil Society Week, with a gathering of civil society people in Fiji of all places. Fiji sounds like a nice place to be at this time of year. Not that you have to go there to be reminded that civil society exists. All you need to do is walk out your front door and find a gathering of people. Ask them what they’re doing and why. More likely than not, they’re getting together for some civic-minded purpose.

At any rate, since this is Civil Society Week, I feel I should write something about philanthropy and civil society in China. I’ve been planning to write something about Xi Jinping’s 19th Party Congress report and its implications for philanthropy and civil society in China, but will return to that weighty subject when I have more time to wrap my head around it.

Speaking about Xi’s report, a number of informed, sober-minded commentators gave some pretty optimistic appraisals about it after the Congress was over, particularly Xi’s recognition of the role that social forces and organizations play in China’s governance. They may have a point. Xi is making his pronouncements at a time when a number of initiatives and trends are taking place that suggest philanthropic and civic activity are slowly entering the mainstream of Chinese society. It may not always take forms that we in the West recognize, but the changes are happening more quickly than many would think. The 2016 Charity Law had a major role to play in stimulating these changes, some of which are reflected in the following events and trends that took place over the last few months.

In early September, almost exactly one year after the Charity Law went into effect, the Ministry of Civil Affairs launched the National Charity Information Platform (全国慈善信息公开平台) in early September. The purpose of the platform is to make it easier for the public to find information about charitable organizations and supervise their activities, and encourage charitable organizations to disclose information about their fundraising and activities. The platform currently has information about 2,134 charitable organizations and 38 charitable trusts which were made possible by the Charity Law. The official website of the information platform is The platform can also be accessed by visiting the Ministry of Civil Affairs’ website at or China’s NPO website at, and clicking on “Charity Information Platform” box at the bottom of the website.

A recent report released by the China Charity Alliance, “Giving China: The Annual Report on Philanthropy,” shows clear evidence of significant growth
in philanthropy in Chinese society last year. According to the report, total donations in 2016 reached a new historic high to 139.294 billion RMB, a 25.65% increase over 2015 (100.859 billion RMB). Per capita giving was 100.74 RMB, a 23.32% increase over 2015 (81.69 RMB).

Unlike the U.S. where individual giving dominates, corporate giving in China continues to account for the lion’s share with 65.35% of total donations in 2016. However, individual donations are rising faster, increasing by 73.52%, compared to corporate donations which grew by 15.86%.

Social donations are heavily concentrated in three areas: education (30.44%), health (26.05%) and poverty alleviation (21.01%). Social donations primarily went to foundations (62.55 billion RMB) and the China Charity Federation system (40.41 billion RMB), although a fair share still went to government departments, public institutions and mass organizations (26.06 billion RMB).

Comparatively speaking, China still lags behind the U.S. and European countries such as the UK. Total donations accounted for 0.19% of China’s GDP, compared to 2.1% for the U.S. and 0.52% for the UK. However, if the growth in giving continues at the current pace, we can expect China to close the gap significantly over the next few decades.

I’ll discuss two other trends – the rapid rise of online fundraising and the internationalization of philanthropy - in my next blogpost, hopefully before Civil Society Week is over.