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How to Fail at Philanthropy in China


At a recent conference on China hosted by the International Association of Advisors in Philanthropy, Clare Pearson of Charitarian Magazine in Beijing offered some helpful tips.

Her advice may seem counterintuitive at first. However, given the political situation and the role of China's nascent charity sector it makes sense.

While originally aimed at corporate donors, Clare's advice is equally appropriate for foreign NGOs and individuals involved in philanthropic work in China.

According to Clare, here's how NOT to do it (in this order):

  1. Meet a need. As a foreigner you have a unique perspective on what is really needed in China. Identify what you're passionate about, jump in, and make a difference.
  2. Work with an NGO of your choosing (preferably your own). This will ensure money is spent properly and the work is done correctly.
  3. Celebrate your success. Make sure recognition goes to those who gave the money and to the organization responsible for the project.
  4. Invite local media in to publicize what you've done. This will provide a positive example to the community, showing the unique contribution that nongovernmental organizations are able to make to the society.
  5. Let the media communicate to the government what you're doing. Going directly to the government is too risky and is frought with complications. (It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.) Let them see the fruits of your good work and they will welcome your collaboration in the future.

If, on the other hand, you would like to succeed, simply reverse the order and do the opposite (or look for the upcoming sequel to this post, "How to Succeed at Philanthropy in China").

Image credit: Learning to write, by kvitlauk, via Flickr

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the president of ChinaSource and the editor of the ChinaSource Quarterly. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of... View Full Bio