“Transformation and Development”: The 2014 China Private Foundation Forum

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This year’s China Private Foundation Forum (CPFF, 中国非公募基金会发展论坛) was held in Beijing on the 8 – 9th December, with the slogan of “Surmounting challenges, finding consensus – Private Foundations’ Transformation and Development in the Era of Great Interconnectivity” (“超越•共识 – 大互联时代非公募基金会的转型与发展”). It was the sixth CPFF to have been held, with the forum – established in May 2008 and first held in 2009 – now a regular fixture in the Chinese NGO calendar. The CPFF aims to provide a platform for exchanges, communication and co-operation between private foundations, government departments, academic institutions, media, and public service organizations. Additionally, CPFF offers professional services to optimise the environment for private foundations, improve private foundations’ capability for self-discipline, enhance private foundations’ social impact and credibility, and guide the sustainable development of private foundations.

Compared to other events for Chinese foundations such as the China Philanthropy Forum (CPF) and the China-US Strategic Philanthropy Workshop (CUSP), the CPFF not only has the longest history but is also the most engaged with the Chinese NGO sector. Grassroots NGOs can attend the CPFF to learn what foundations are thinking, what they are interested in, and what programs they are running. These same NGOs would probably not attend CPF or CUSP, which focus more on wealthy individuals and companies. Additionally, whereas CPF and CUSP are focused purely on philanthropy and charity, CPFF has a broader remit to discuss other areas.

Since the State Council’s “Regulations for the Management of Foundations” were implemented in June 2004, there has been significant growth in the number of foundations in China. Of the 4,143 foundations now registered, 1,477 (or 35.65%) are public foundations (公募基金会) which can fundraise publicly, and 2,666 (or 64.35%) are private foundations (非公募基金会) which can only accept funds from specific sources and are usually formed by an individual or company ((China Foundation Center (中国基金会中心网) website (2014-12-19), available at www.foundationcenter.org.cn.)). Setting up a private foundation requires initial capital of at least RMB 2 million and each year these foundations must then disburse at least 8% of their total balance from last year in programs ((基金会管理条例, available at http://cszh.mca.gov.cn/article/zcfg/200804/20080400013547.shtml.)).

Of these private foundations, only a small number – estimated around 60-70 – are grant-making foundations. CDB Executive Director Chen Yimei participated in a sub-forum on grant-making at the 2014 CPFF hosted by the Social Resource Institute (SRI) and attended by the Narada Foundation, the China Merchant Group, the Fujian Zhengrong Foundation, and SEE (Alashan). Chen said that this sub-forum was, “very impressive”. At the event, SRI presented “one of the first comprehensive survey directly linking grant-making foundations in China.” Compared to the first CPFF in 2009 when basic questions such as, ‘what is a grant-making foundation?’, ‘what does grant-making mean?’ and ‘how is it different from a service contract?’ were being asked, the fact that there are now several dozen Chinese grant-making foundations is for Chen a “huge development.” Grant-making has now been on the agenda at the CPFF for 3-4 years and awareness of its benefits is rising among private foundations.

However, there is still scope for further development, as the number of grant-making foundations remains relatively low. It could be said that there are three main reasons for this. The first is a lack of trust from foundations towards NGOs, with grassroots NGOs with low capacity struggling to meet the demands of foundations. Secondly the traditional Chinese conception of philanthropy places more emphasis on charity and helping directly rather than giving to someone else to do the work. Thirdly, the leaders of foundations, often successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople, feel the need to be engaged and hands-on at the expense of delegating responsibility to NGOs.

This year’s CPFF was held over two days in Beijing. Topics discussed included ‘passing on’ wealth within the family, Chinese “charitable spirit”, (“慈善精神”), internet technology, foundation leaders, foundation finances, and financial aid for local foundations. As well as “high-level dialogue” on certain topics, there were open forums on other issues and a session of quick, 5-8 minute “lightning speeches” by representatives of various sectors. You can find a full itinerary of the 2014 CPFF in Chinese at their website, or read a summary in English at the bottom of this article.

Next year’s 2015 CPFF will be hosted by the Dunhe foundation (浙江敦和慈善基金会) and the China Merchants Charitable Foundation (招商局慈善基金会). Dunhe, a private foundation formed in 2012, is based in Zhejiang province, and works to provide resources for public welfare and social innovation. The China Merchants Foundation, a corporate foundation (classified as private foundation 非公募基金会 in China) formed in 2009 and works for similar aims. Although the specific agenda of the forum has not yet been made public, it is clear that there has been more forward planning than in previous years. In the past the secretariat and co-sponsors of the forum only started to talk about the agenda several months before the forum started, but this year Dunhe and China Merchants said at the forum that they had already started a conversation about the agenda for next year. CPFF events and programs are also being planned throughout the year in addition to the annual forum.


2014 CPFF Highlights

Day 1 Morning

9:45 – 10:45 High-level dialogue 1 (Private Foundations in the Era of Great Interconnectivity: Transferring models and development)

11:00 – 12:00 High-level dialogue 2 (The Road to Passing on Wealth within the Family

Day 1 Afternoon

14:00 – 17:00 Simultaneous Forums

Looking for China’s Spirit – Looking at the Charitable Spirit of Chinese Culture in the Era of Great Interconnectivity

Not only “Challenges” – Public Welfare Dissemination Trends

Internet Technology in all aspects of Public Welfare – Opening Up, Crossing Boundaries, Sharing

Day 2 Morning

9:00 – 12:00 Simultaneous Forums

Foundation Leaders – Characteristics and Maintaining the Middle level

Foundation Finances – Trends and Challenges

Asking for Financial Aid – Seeking a Road for Local Foundations

Day 2 Afternoon

14:00 – 15:00 – Lightning Speeches (6-8 Speakers from Foundations, NGOs, Academia and Industry)

15:00 – 16:00 – Looking Back and Looking Ahead

In Brief

Patrick Burton writes about the 2014 China Private Foundation Forum, which was held in Beijing at the beginning of December.
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