A new approach for philanthropy in China?

Updated: 2011-02-06 11:43
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BEIJING - Chinese non-governmental-organizations, especially the grassroots charities, have been facing a severe shortage of talented staff due to a lack of money.

A recent survey shows that 65.7 percent of the 451 NGOs plan to hire more people in 2011. But many vacancies cannot be filled by qualified people, due to the low pay and the lack of opportunity for career development.

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Currently only 45.4 percent of the NGOs have staff responsible for fundraising and communication, whereas 30.1 percent for research, according to the survey jointly conducted by Tencent Foundation, Narada Foundation, and Liu Hongru Financial Education Foundation

It says 90 percent of the people working for NGOs earn a monthly salary of less than 5,000 yuan (about $750).

Tian Chen, CEO of the organization to popularize science, the "Hi Science" Center, which just received approval from the local civil affairs department, agrees that low paying jobs are a big problem.

"When interviewing job applicants, we will clearly inform them that they cannot rely on the salary to feed a family or live a decent life," she said.

The organization currently has seven full-time employees and a lot of work, including making Powerpoint slides for guest speakers, videotaping lectures of scientists, and collecting and analyzing responses from audiences, which have been done largely by volunteers, mostly "mobilized" through their personal connections.

"But it's not sustainable," Tian said, adding that at their current stage, they have no choice but to spend all of their money on organizing activities, as it's difficult for them to raise funds.

The organization does not have its own foundation, as the initiative fund requirement in China to establish a foundation is at least two million yuan.

"That's too much for us," Tian says.

If enterprises donate money, they cannot accept it as a donation for philanthropy, which means they still have to pay five percent sales tax.

Wu Yiqun, deputy director of the Think Tank Research Center for Health Development, has always been worried about who would be a successor for her and the director when they, both in their 60s, retire.

As an NGO mainly focusing on tobacco control, as well as other public health issues, Think Tank does not have much difficulty in getting money, but that's only in terms of projects, for example, they started a "smoke free"  project in 17 Chinese cities with Emory University in 2009, which has been funded with some $10 million by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

But Think Tank cannot offer good payments. Neither does it have quota for household registration in Beijing. In other words, it will lose its lure to job applicants outside Beijing. "What we can only ensure our young employees is that they can learn a lot in communications, activity organizing and other aspects," Wu said.

And sometimes, even if they have money, it's still difficult for the NGOs to provide high salaries to their employees due to pressure from the public.

Kung-Fu star Jet Li's One Foundation initiated "Philanthropy Awards" selections in 2008.

"Credibility, professionalism, execution and sustainability" are listed as the award standards, and experts, journalists, consultants, legal and financial professionals are invited to vote.

They chose no more than 10 qualified NGOs and One Foundation gave them 1 million yuan each to support their development. Altogether, 20 domestic grassroots NGOs have been awarded 1 million yuan in the past three years.

However, Li said after the year's awards ceremony in 2008, One Foundation adopted strict requirements on the spending of money -- more than 85 percent of the money should be spent on projects.

He says this is because of pressure from the public.

Heidi Hu, Managing Director of the China Children Insurance Foundation (CCIF), agrees that the public in China may consider philanthropy means giving and volunteering without earning money. However, professional organizations need professional personnel to work full-time. It's impossible for everyone to work as volunteers.

Hu is currently working as a volunteer, but she insists that other employees should earn a salary that equals their value.

The One Foundation has finally got approval from the government and registered in Shenzhen City, south China's Guangdong Province, as a fund-raising foundation after confronting many problems in the process of getting approval.

In September, Li's words on this issue, indicating that the foundation might be closed, triggered a wide debate in the media and among the public.

In September and October, two other events in the philanthropic field also drew the attention of the public. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett visited China to hold a charity banquet, and Chinese billionaire Chen Guangbiao made the pledge to give away all of his personal wealth for charity when he dies.

Wang Zhenyao, director of the Beijing Normal University One Foundation Philanthropy Research Institute, says there was much discussion among the public about the events, and the society has gained more awareness about philanthropy.

"I call it a 'mind emancipation movement' for Chinese philanthropy," Wang said.

He added that through a period of reflection on China's philanthropy after the Wenchuan earthquake, a lot of entrepreneurs and former government officials joined philanthropic organizations this year, bringing with them mature management experience and abundant resources in the field.

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