Chinese take away: reinventing fundraising in the People's Republic of China

For his contribution to this year's IWITOT (I Wish I'd Thought of That), fundraising expert Daryl Upsall looked to China, a rapidly emerging market in so many ways, including fundraising, and shared his thoughts of what all fundraisers could learn from such a unique environment.

Written by
Daryl Upsall
March 01, 2018

‘To know the road ahead, ask those coming back’- Chinese proverb.

Fundraising in China works very differently from how it does in the United States, the UK or other 'Western' countries. With strict governmental regulation and access to technology only available in that one market, Chinese organisations and the authorities have taken it upon themselves to make mass digital work.

The massive penetration and integration of social media, online and mobile transactions combined with the national business and state strategy of Internet+ has created the platform for GONGOs (government organised non-governmental organisations!) and other organisations with fundraising approval to pioneer new forms of mass digital fundraising that is now ready to go to a scale unheard of elsewhere.

‘Internet+’  means the application of the internet and other information technologies in conventional industries where mobile Internet, cloud computing, big data or the Internet of Things can be added to other fields, fostering new industries and business development in China. And of course fostering digital philanthropy.

It is estimated that in 2017 there were more than 511,000 legitimately registered social organisations in China, which include social associations, civil non-enterprise entities and foundations. According to the China Charity Information Centre some US$16 billion was donated in 2015 with the corporate sector giving more than 70 per cent of the total, 16 per cent from individual donors and the remaining 14 per cent from foundations and others.

In 2016 US$44.22 million was donated on Giving Day China via the platform Tencent including individual giving and corporate matching. Of the Tencent platform donors 40 per cent are high-school students with US$1.45 being the average gift size.  

In 2016 134.6 billion yuan (US$20.9 billion) was donated to charities representing 11 per cent growth from 2015, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ ‘Blue Book of Philanthropy’.

As ‘foreign’ nonprofit organisations are not permitted to fundraise in China, the scope for Chinese NPOs to work in tandem with companies like Tencent is massive, meaning even small organisations can have a huge impact if they make correct use of mass digital communications.

Here are two examples to show you just how different fundraising is in China:

WeChat & World of Art Brut Culture (WABC)

The Tencent Foundation partnered with WABC on Tencent’s WeChat to raise money for children with learning difficulties.

Titled ‘Little Kids’ Gallery’, the campaign offers people the chance to ‘purchase’ digital paintings created by people with autism and other mental disabilities for prices as low as 1 yuan ($0.15).

Using Tencent’s messaging app, WeChat, donors could scan a code that brought them to a webpage displaying the artworks. Each painting was accompanied by the artist’s biography, a brief introduction to the piece and an audio clip from the painter or their instructor.

When the drive reached its goal of 15 million yuan raised in just the first 24 hours, Tencent closed the donation function. More than 5.8 million donors took part in the campaign, with many sharing images of the artwork they bought with their friends online, in turn prompting others to join in. The images could also be set as backgrounds on smartphones.

Alipay supporting environmental causes

In August 2016, the Ant Financial Services Group launched a scheme called ‘Ant Forest’ on Alipay, which is one of the country’s most popular online payment platforms. 

Combining the internet, finance and a low-carbon lifestyle, the scheme aims to turn virtual trees that users grow on the platform to real ones, thus contributing to tree-planting and environmental protection moves. As of 2017, around 230 million people were participating in the game.

For every environmental friendly payment via Alipay, users receive ‘green energy’ for their trees. Through the scheme, US$3 million was donated to environmental NGO the SEE Foundation.

In China, size and reach is everything if you want to potentially reach and engage billions of supporters and micro-gift donors.

Even in small tests extremely high volumes of micro-donations were generated in short periods of time through the collaborations of corporate businesses, social media/mobile communication companies, banks and nonprofits.

What China does affects and impacts us all especially as the Chinese mobile communications, banking and social media ownership is now spreading beyond its borders. There could be lots to learn from how Chinese NGOs make the most of technology and corporate opportunities for charities in the ‘West’. Either way, it will be exciting to see how things progress in China.

About the author: Daryl Upsall

Daryl Upsall

Based in Madrid, Daryl has 35 years working with over 230 non-profits in 62 countries. Known for his leadership & innovation he pioneered digital fundraising and is a co-creator of what is known as face to face fundraising during the 1990s when leading Greenpeace International fundraising worldwide.

He is the CEO of Daryl Upsall & Associates SL and Daryl Upsall Consulting International SL and the founder and co-owner of Spain's leading telephone fundraising agency, The Fundraising Company SL and the face to face fundraising agency International Fundraising SL. In 2016, he and colleagues launched the integrated digital fundraising agency dgtl fundraising SL.

Daryl has spoken at fundraising conferences in over 20 countries and writes regularly for the leading non-profit sector journals. He is a Fellow of the UK Institute of Fundraising, former Chair of EUConsult, and former Vice-Chair, Center for Fundraising Innovation at the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

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