Re-evaluating charity success: beyond fundraising

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The recent revelations of embezzlement in a charitable project during China’s 99 (Sept 9) Charity Day have shaken the nation’s faith in charitable organizations. This shocking case brought to light an uncomfortable truth: when we place excessive importance on fundraising as the primary measure of charitable success, we risk losing sight of the core values that underpin the sector.

Professor at China Renmin University’s School of Public Administration and the president of China Philanthropy Research Institute, Kang Xiaoguang, has been closely following this case. In his view, focusing too much on fundraising can steer charities away from their intended goals and create a distorted standard for success.

A silver lining: the sector’s self-reflection

Notably, this time saw an unprecedented, albeit temporary, collective protest by individuals within the charity sector. While this movement may have dwindled, it reflects a growing sense of awareness and self-reflection in the sector. Only when the sector recognizes ethical standards, and establishes unambiguous values can rogue organizations be identified and ultimately shunned.

The efficiency conundrum

Kang takes a critical stance on the recent scandal, emphasizing that the real problem lies in viewing charity solely through the lens of efficiency. If we were to evaluate charities solely on fundraising prowess, their intrinsic value would diminish significantly. Efficiency is a multifaceted concept, extending far beyond mere monetary success.

When we overemphasize fundraising without considering the underlying principles and ethics, we risk losing sight of the purpose, undermining the very core of charitable endeavours. In a society where government and businesses offer alternative solutions to societal problems, charities play a supplementary role. If the sole focus becomes efficiency, the charity sector might find itself redundant. These concerns underline fundamental issues that require our attention.

While the exploitation of commercial incentives in the charity sector is limited, the immediate impact is visible and detrimental. Kang underscores that transparent, ethically driven organizations do not resort to such practices. They operate within their means, following ethical guidelines, and avoiding unnecessary risks.

Efficiency, according to Kang, is the effective achievement of goals. When organizations lose sight of these goals and veer off course, their efficiency becomes negative – essentially, the faster they move, the further they drift from their intended path. This distortion of efficiency is destructive. It deviates from the core values of charity, jeopardizes the organization’s integrity, and ultimately tarnishes the sector’s reputation.

The role of self-discipline and its limits

The charity sector must encompass multiple mechanisms, including legal, governmental, and media oversight. While industry self-discipline serves a purpose, its reach is limited. The most potent tool is government regulation, a practice widely implemented worldwide. Strong government regulation is complemented by a legal framework that allows lawsuits against non-profits, media vigilance, and finally, industry self-discipline.

Competing for fundraising: a disturbing trend

Professor Kang also comments on the rampant competition for fundraising. He notes that this obsession with raising more funds illustrates the sector’s muddled values. The heart of charity lies in altruism, not egoism. True charity focuses on benefiting others, without seeking personal gain, and with a willingness to bear the costs voluntarily. While it’s essential to evoke compassion in donors, we must remember that the fundamental distinction between charity and other activities is altruism.

The matching donation debate

Some critics have implicated matching donations in the recent scandal. Kang strongly disagrees, asserting that matching donations are a globally recognized fundraising incentive. A single incident should not be used to condemn a widespread practice. It’s akin to banning elevators globally because of one malfunction.