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How to Succeed at Philanthropy in China


In our previous post, "How to Fail at Philanthropy in China," we shared some insights from Clare Pearson of Charitarian Magazine in Beijing, based on her experience with corporate donors in China. Clare presented these last month at Philanthropy and China: A Time of Promise, a conference sponsored by the International Association of Advisors in Philanthropy (AiP).

Here we follow up with Clare's tips on how to do it right (in this order):

1. Start with the Government. The Party has clearly outlined its priorities for social change. Prospective donors would do well to engage officials at the appropriate level around these priorities. If they see you as useful in helping them do their job, they will in turn be helpful. Here are the priorities:

    • poverty relief
    • welfare of people with disabilities
    • child welfare
    • women's welfare
    • education
    • environment
    • culture
    • human rights

    Focus on the top six, says Clare. Once you have built up trust with the government you will have earned the right to engage in dialog privately about how you might be involved in the other two areas.

2. Get the media involved. Allow them to tell your story in terms of how the government is responding to social needs and how you will play a role.

3. Work with the organization the government recommends. It may seem much more efficient in the short term just to do it yourself or to work through a foreign or local NGO you are already comfortable with. However, what matters in the long term is not your comfort level but the comfort level of your government partners who ultimately have to take responsibility for what you do. Allowing them to select the implementing organization makes it more likely that they will continue to back the project over time. It also opens up a relationship network within the sector that can provide access to resources and professional expertise and can lead to more opportunities down the road. Once working relationships have been established, chances are greater that one's own foreign or local NGO contacts will be welcomed into the project.

4. Let local partners celebrate their success. Rather than seeking to showcase one's own accomplishments, allow local government and organizational partners to put on an event or other celebration where they receive credit for what they have done.

Bottom line: government officials welcome outside involvement when it helps them address what is on their agenda and, conversely, does not embarrass them by drawing attention to sensitive social issues. Rather than viewing the government as an obstacle to the "real work" of philanthropy or charitable endeavor, those seeking to make a difference in China need to see government officials as part of the solution. Identifying where government priorities overlap with one's own mission is a good starting point.

Image credit: Zhangmutou 樟木头 old Town China, by Chris, 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