ByteDance follows Tencent, Alibaba with annual charity day

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September has been the busiest month for Chinese philanthropy in recent years. Tencent’s Charity Day on Sept 9 and Alibaba’s Charity Week on Sept 5, respectively initiated in 2015 and 2017, have become the most important annual fundraising events for the whole sector.

The two internet giants have been competing for years over campaign promotions and matching donation rules, hoping to mobilize more social resources and promote better-quality charity projects.

This year, another tech firm officially announced that it was joining the competition. ByteDance will launch the Dou-Love Charity Day on Sept 5.

However, after attending ByteDance’s launch event on Aug 1, many nonprofits felt disappointed.

The first to feel frustrated were NGOs in the field of emergency medicine. The rules announced by the event organizer stated that temporary and short-term projects in the field of medical assistance and emergency assistance were not within the scope of the event.

Given that medical emergency causes attract the most public attention and donations, analysts speculated that ByteDance may not want to arouse too much hostility from the other two tech giants in its first year. But if such an important social need cannot be included, the Dou-Love Charity Day will lack competitiveness.

Small grassroots NGOs also felt disappointed. Due to limited manpower, small NGOs have previously been troubled by the materials requested during such online fundraising events. And this time, they will need to provide a fundraising video, which is often beyond the capabilities of small NGOs.

The third rule is about matching donations and inviting new users. To participate in the event, public donors need to use ByteDance’s Douyin app, with the platform matching public donations, meaning that donors will be limited to the Douyin user group.

Compared with donations from previous Douyin users, donations from new users will be multiplied by 20 and matched by the platform. However, this advantage can only be used once, and when a new user wants to donate to another project, their donation will be matched using the normal formula.

It is understandable that companies taking part in charity events put their commercial interests first, but if commercial considerations dominate fundraising efforts, then the company may fail to improve its reputation, and the charity initiative will backfire.

Take Tencent as an example. Seven years ago, it spent 99.99 million yuan ($15 million) to start the 3-day 99 Charity Day. The original rules were simple: if NGOs raised 1 yuan, the platform would donate 1 yuan.

Over the following years, scandals emerged one after the other, among which the most famous was the incident of the robot fraudulently cheating to obtain matching donations in 2017, forcing the organizers to improve the rules.

Jia Xijin, deputy dean of the Institute for Philanthropy at Tsinghua University (IPTU), pointed out that blindly setting up numerous charity days is not a good thing.

“It is difficult for companies to design a good charity model based on their own business experiences.” She suggested that firms cooperate with research institutes and NGOs, to better plan the charity programs, and to make their investment more effective.