May 10th, 2010 | China Daily Beijing's many charities 'going backward' due to official role
Lack of efficient executives, too much reliance on local government and public questions mean the majority of the capital’s philanthropic organizations are failing in their purpose
The 2010 Beijing Blue Book shows that, among the 37 registered members of the Capital Philanthropy Federation, 29 philanthropic organizations have close ties to government, of these, 16 are operated by retired local government officials. It also reveals that 80 percent of the staff have no formal training in charity work, such as managing volunteers and the distribution of funds and donated goods.
Cheng Liyan, director of the charity work office of the Beijing Civil Affairs Bureau, said the problem of aging executives has hindered the development of Beijing’s philanthropy. He believes that local charitable organizations should introduce high-quality talent and rationalize the age ratio of the staff by including an appropriate number of middle-aged and young employees.
Beijing’s many charities ‘going backward’ due to official role
“The development of philanthropy needs the government’s guidance and motivation, but government should play the right role,” Cheng said. “The duty of local government should be to construct a general blueprint for philanthropy, not to take part in every issue.”
In fact, the management of philanthropic organizations is generally considered to be far more complicated and difficult than running a commercial business or government department, as the management requires executives that have the skill to persuade people to “take out their wallets” and united volunteers to do good work for free, according to several experts contacted by METRO.
The executives of more than 100 large charitable organizations in Hong Kong are business elites, who have first-hand experience in and knowledge of efficient management, according to an official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
In Beijing the situation is the reverse, as most executives of public foundations, which are normally more dependent on collecting donations than private foundations, are retired government officials. “Some public foundations look like a branch of the local civil affairs bureau, rather than an independent organization,” as one Beijing blogger noted.
Deng Guosheng, deputy director with the non-governmental organization research center of Tsinghua University, said most public foundations or government-backed organizations are dependent on the government to collect donations.
“It is a common situation that most local State-owned enterprises require every worker to donate when a catastrophe hits the country,” Deng said. “In small cities local residents often have no idea when a so-called donation is cut from their salaries,” he said.
Deng said that relying on political muscle to collect donations has hindered the self-improvement of the State-backed organizations and made them monopolize donations and philanthropic projects.
“Actually, the capital’s philanthropy has been going backward instead of moving forward in recent years,” he said.
A survey carried out by Tsinghua University shows that 60.8 percent of more than 2,000 respondents thought the government should centralize all social donations and dispatch the funds to the relevant projects, while 29.1 percent said they didn’t care and only 9.7 percent thought government shouldn’t “take such a responsibility”.
“The use of donations should be simplified,” said Xia Xueluan, a sociology professor at Perking University. “But to be honest, China has the problem that civilians don’t believe private foundations; they trust more in local government.”
“It has created the dilemma that private foundations find it hard to raise funds, while public foundations find it hard to spend the donations,” he said.
The Capital Philanthropy Federation, which was founded in December 2007, was China’s first provincial-level federation of charitable organizations. However, the 2010 Beijing Blue Book revealed that only one-third of the more than 100 Beijing-based charitable organizations have registered as members of the Federation in the past three years.
“The federation was launched by local authorities, but a number of large organizations are affiliated with the central government,” said Shi Changkui, a sociology scholar with the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences.
Shi said that the federation’s weak status and what he called incompetence made it hard to unite all the country-level charitable organizations.
“The capital’s philanthropy has moved into a key stage. Philanthropic contributions have become an important index for celebrities, and the capital should seize the chance to improve its charities,” he said.
By Xu Fan