• Melody Song

Fundraising in the Time of Covid-19: What We've Learned So Far from China

In a short 4-weeks period, the Covid-19 crisis had evolved from a regional emergency and a background story to effectively shutting down all major metropolitans around the world. While the crisis is unravelling in lightening speed, information sharing in a timely and accurate manner becomes more and more important to keep us connected and updated so that we can make informed decisions and predictions for what's ahead.

As the fundraising community is grappling with this reality, many of us feel that it is useful to look at what had happened in China who was couple months ahead of us in this fight and who is on its way to recovery. With that in mind, I conducted a quick scan of Chinese media reports by CAFP (China Association for Fundraising Professionals方德瑞信), Chinese Philanthropist Magazine, a few social media blogs (社会创新家,公益资本论), as well as a video interview with Ye Ying, General Secretary for Fundraising Innovation Development Centre based in Shanghai, an organization dedicated to professionalizing China's fundraising industry. Here are some insights from what we can learn so far with data collected from January 20 to March 2, 2020.

Insight #1 General Fundraising Results: All Giving Directed at Covid-19 Efforts

According to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, as of March 1, 2020, total donation for COVID-19 in China (not including in-kind donations of goods and services) was at 5,890,000,000 Yuan (US$830 million). Most of the funds (37%) were donated to the Chinese Charitable Federation, a government-supported federation that has an extensive network of charitable associations and community foundations all over China. 15% of donations were given directly to hospitals and only 5% to various nongovernmental nonprofit organizations.

The CAFP team had conducted a detailed data analysis of online (which is one-fifth of total funds raised) fundraising results in the donation amount, project type, use of funds, supporting areas (geographical and demographical) and fund-raising messaging. I am extremely impressed by the speed and scale of the analysis as data were released twice, once in February and once in March informing and also comparing the trends of giving during this crisis.

In China, when the crisis started, many foundations and nonprofit organizations acted immediately to fundraise for COVID-19 instead of their own focus and made a concerted effort in the fight against the virus.

China’s Online Fundraising Results to support COVID-19 relief effort– as of March 2, 2020

Total Online Initiatives  449
Total Funds Raised        1,568,626,919 Yuan (US$221,051,678.36)
Total # of Online Donors  29,932,705
Average Online Donation   81.95 Yuan (US$11.50)

Source: CAFP & Chinese Fundraising Innovation Development Centre 

Insight #2 Giving Focus Shifts at Various Stages of the Crisis

The online data shows that funding focuses shifted from medical equipment to personnel support services as crisis progress in different stages. At the beginning of the epidemic, the fund was mainly used to purchase masks, gowns, gloves, disinfectants, and other PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) for frontline medical workers. This focus remains as the biggest fund designation (68% of all funds raised). However, the second report from the period of February 17 to March 1 shows a shift in funding focus to include the following types of projects as follows, an indication that needs shifts from frontline to further community causes:

·  mental health support for families of frontline workers, 
·  specific support for female frontline workers, 
·  purchase of medical insurance for health workers, 
·  general community support, and 
·  other high-risk groups (i.e Seniors).  

Insight #3 Corporations Gave the Most and Use Existing Infrastructure to Move People and Supplies Efficiently

As a background, individual giving is still at a very early stage in China and most charities in China rely on government support (30%-50%) and corporations (up to 70%). Corporate donation hence constituted the biggest portion of off-line donations and in-kind donations during this crisis.

Another important role that corporations play was providing access to their existing infrastructure. As an example, Fosun Group, one of the most famous Chinese conglomerates became an important supporter of China's effort to purchase medical supplies around the world. Fosun Group used its own resource and existing medical equipment procurement division to secure and donated large amounts of necessary medical supplies at an early stage of the crisis. Fosun also has its own foundation and used resources from the foundation to receive donations and achieved a huge impact in helping China getting out of the initial shock and shortage.

Didi Group, the company that bought and currently operates UBER in China, discovered that in Wuhan during the beginning of the lockdown, doctors and nurses, as well as other frontline health workers, could not go to work because of the paralyzed transit system. Didi quickly created volunteer driver groups to provide dedicated transport for doctors and nurses.

Meituan, the Chinese equivalent of SkiptheDish (food delivery) found that restaurants were reluctant to deliver food to the hospital in fear of infection. Frontline health workers were on 24hr shifts but starving. They formed volunteer groups and dedicated to delivering hot meals to the hospital 24/7.

In a crisis mode, people start to realize, "cash is king" is no longer the case. Having cash doesn't mean that it can be spent when supplies are extremely limited. What's more important is the activation of critical services, infrastructure, and networks.

Insights #4 The Biggest Challenge during the Crisis is the Mobilization of Volunteers (and the biggest surprise as well, as many volunteer groups emerged on its own)

China's social-economic system influenced how communities were organized and monitored by the government. Residents of all urban areas are mandated to register within a community and belongs to a community association. Each community association represents the lowest government unit. This structure enabled the Chinese government to monitor and control its people's movement easily. Though this may sound a bit scary and 1984ish, I also believe this system was crucial for China to defeat the wave so fast.

China's social-economic system influenced how communities were organized and monitored by the government. Residents of all urban areas are mandated to register within a community and belongs to a community association. Each community association represents the lowest government unit. This structure enabled the Chinese government to monitor and control its people's movement easily. Though this may sound a bit scary and 1984ish, I also believe this system was crucial for China to defeat the wave so fast.

The workers in these community association became frontline personnel during the crisis and their major tasks were to monitor and support the following four groups of people:

·  confirmed infected
·  suspected infected
·  fever but maybe other decease related
·  people in close contact with the infected

A challenge quickly revealed. Frontline personnel become sick early on which resulted in a shortage of people. For example, in Wuhan, one community worker had to monitor a group as large as 450 people. Luckily, through social media, many volunteer groups within the community formed very fast and used the existing system to continue monitoring. These close monitoring of local residents made sure that people stay home and comply with government measures as well as support the most vulnerable (in this case seniors living alone).

Another example of activation of volunteers is an effort by a mental health organization to put out a call for support line operators. To become a support line operator, you don't need to be in a call centre and can use your own phone. 500 volunteers that have mental health credentials signed up over three days.

Insight #5 Collaboration Amongst NGOs, Charity Associations, and Government is Key to Defeat Virus

In a crisis, collaboration is the only way to ensure the efficient use of people and supply. It's important to avoid the situation when everyone started fundraising for the same cause without knowing where funds and supplies are needed and how funds and supplies can be effectively disseminated to those in need. This is partially the reason why China Charity Federation had prevailed during this crisis with its roots in government, extensive networks all over China, and centralized control and information centre.

Fosun Foundation also collaborated with other foundations in dividing tasks. Fosun was specialized in procuring medical equipment with its overseas network while others actively designate the supply to where they are most needed. These actions from corporations and foundations provided crucial help that the government needed to fill in the gaps in shortages.

While people already working in NGOs and charities were wondering how to collaborate, grassroots volunteers were already coming up with solutions to coordinate efforts. This shows that we can't be stuck in our thinking and our focus on our own organization. In the time of crisis, everyone needs to pitch in for a common goal.

Insight #6 Many Nonprofits Will Not Survive

The Charitable sector in China is prepared to see many smaller charitable organizations perish as the result of the crisis and economic hardship that follows. Many had exhausted their funds for COVID-19 effort. Corporations (who NGOs rely upon) had also used up all of their budgeted funding and the government is planning a cut to the charitable funding.

Many NGOs are now looking into diversifying into individual giving. As we know, the cultivation of either major giving from individuals or large individual funding campaigns all rely on building long-term relationships and capacity. Unfortunately, some charities in China may not have the time and money to do either.

This is not the case in North America where individual giving is stronger. Hopefully, those in N.A. can weather this storm a little better than our Chinese colleagues.

Chinese fundraising/charitable sector leaders also wish to expand and preserve the volunteer communities that sprung out of the crisis. They recognized that large-scaled mobilization relied on the infrastructure of grass-root initiatives, a future direction this sector would like to explore.

In the meantime, led by Nandu Foundation, a survey went to all nonprofit organizations in China asking them how they are doing, what they have learned, what support they need etc. hoping to inform us more about the current status of the industry. I hope AFP or other nonprofit alliance/associations is ready to do the same in order to monitor the challenges facing charitable organizations and fundraisers in this time of crisis so that we can create solutions together.

Based in Berlin, Germany, Melody Song MA CFRE is the Founder and Solution Designer for, a committee member sith AFP Global and an advisor and presenter for CAFP.

416 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All