Can the Internet Save China’s Grassroots NGOs?
11 Sep, 2021  |  Source:Sixth Tone  |  Hits:1384

China’s annual charity drive, dubbed 99 Charity Day, is usually the only time for the country’s grassroots nonprofit organizations to raise funds. And while some are ready to make the most of the event, others are opting out to funnel money toward the causes desperately in need of funds to stay afloat.

Ding Li, the founder of Shenzhen-based nonprofit Green Rose, said online supporters had been kind to her organization. Last year, after a media report on her nonprofit helping migrant women and children went viral, donors poured in with much-needed financial support during last year’s event, helping them continue working.

“We have received relatively more attention … We don’t need to do it over three days,” Ding, told Sixth Tone, referring to 99 Charity Day and her decision to stay away this year. “Many nonprofits working for even more marginalized communities have shut down already — they need the money.”

And Ding wants this year’s charity fundraiser to benefit those nonprofits.

99 Charity Day was founded by China’s tech giant Tencent in 2015 to encourage philanthropy, and it has since become an annual event held between Sept. 7 and 9. This year, the company has extended it into a 10-day fundraiser, saying it has allocated 1 billion yuan ($155 million) on top of the total amount raised, according to a company spokesperson.

In recent years, online fundraising and mega events such as 99 Charity Day have become instrumental for smaller nonprofits, with many people participating in such campaigns. China’s nonprofits are especially in need of support after the country passed the foreign NGO law, curtailing donations they received from overseas.

Data from the China Association of Social Security released last year shows online fundraising accounted for 20% of total nonprofit donations in 2019 compared with just 0.4% in 2013. In the meantime, the government has approved 20 online platforms specifically dedicated to fundraising.

Dili, another Shenzhen-based nonprofit helping migrant laborers, was on the verge of collapse until they participated in the 99 Charity Day event. By the end of the event on Thursday, the nonprofit had collected 60,000 yuan in donations.

While financial support from the fundraising event has been crucial to the nonprofit’s survival, its current head Xiao Qi — who used a pseudonym to speak with Sixth Tone — said that during previous events they had only received a smaller share of the matched donations. She added the majority of the donations go to well-known and state-backed nonprofits due to greater visibility.

“It’s a love-hate relationship,” Xiao said.

Meanwhile, Ding from the Green Rose nonprofit said that people are willing to donate “as long as we’re visible.” However, she added that it’s unsustainable for organizations like hers to survive on the funds generated during the annual charity event, adding that fundraising should be a year-round effort by the public and government.

“When nonprofit activities become as common as buying a bottle of water, things will get better,” she said.