Crossing Borders: Chinese and US Philanthropists Learn from Each Other

Author:
Rebecca Miller
Theme:
Global Philanthropy
Thursday, July 9, 2015

What do foundations and non-profits alike need to do to be effective in their work and achieve the impact they strive for? Develop a strategy.

To many of us this answer is neither surprising nor new. Of course being effective requires being strategic! But the concept is an easy one to take for granted and remains revelatory to many new organizations all over the world.

Recently the Center for Global Philanthropy at The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI) had the privilege of hosting a group of passionate and energetic Chinese philanthropists and non-profit leaders who are embracing the concept of strategic philanthropy in an effort to develop a strong philanthropic sector throughout China.

Together with our co-host, PhilanSci Advisory, as well as our China-based partners the China Charity Alliance and LaoNiu Foundation, we spent ten days in Boston and New York with this group of twenty Chinese professionals as part of the “China Connect” delegation. Participants were eager to learn from their American colleagues about the issues they face, how they measure their impact, and how they have evolved since their founding. US-based organizations were just as eager to learn about the challenges non-profits face in China, especially as the sector in China is just beginning to grow.

In thirteen site visits and roundtables with non-profits and foundations in the Boston area, as well as workshops centered on evaluation and professional development, our Chinese guests raised concerns that rung true to American ears. Conversations with non-profit organizations like Citizen Schools and The US Fund for UNICEF, and foundations including the Boston Foundation, the Hyams Foundation, and the Fish Family Foundation raised fundamental questions, such as:

  • How do you grow a foundation from a small founder-led organization to one with a large professional staff that will serve its constituents for the next 1,000 years?
  • How can you focus your local social service efforts, so you’re not moving in many different directions at once?
  • How do you cultivate a consistent set of donors and supporters? (The answer to that last question, according to what one participant learned: “American charities are a bit like a man standing on two legs. One leg is a good story, the other is great services.”)

One participant pointed out that of course philanthropic organizations in China are not as developed as they are in the US. In China, the sector is very new. But all agreed that they are growing and changing at a rapid pace, and that what’s needed now is the development of a focused strategy based on what each organization hopes to achieve. Participants emphasized that by drawing on deep quantitative and qualitative evaluation and partnering with academics, other non-profits, and the private sector, they could have a long-term, positive impact on philanthropy in China. They saw the way their US counterparts have focused their missions, raised both money and their profiles, and invested in strategic initiatives. And they see themselves doing the same in China in the coming years.

A highlight of the visit was an event co-sponsored with the New England International Donors, during which two Chinese participants joined four American, Haitian, and Nepali panelists to discuss their respective responses to the recent earthquakes in Nepal. Following the discussion, the participants from China shared more about their work to respond to disasters, provide fresh drinking water in remote villages, prevent and treat blindness, and provide a free school lunch to children who can’t otherwise afford one. In describing Chinese non-profits’ eagerness to engage outside their borders, share best practices, and respond to crises beyond the limits of China, Mr. YouPing Liu said it best: “For so long, China has been the recipient of aid from outside. We are eager to give some of that back as contributors.”

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This tour was undertaken by TPI’s Center for Global Philanthropy. Since inception, TPI has sought to promote better giving worldwide. Working with colleagues and clients around the world, the Center for Global Philanthropy seeks to catalyze philanthropy’s global impact through strategic advising, innovative partnerships and original research.

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