Voice of the NGO:Adding Compassion to the Charity Law (first draft)

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On October 31, 2015, after ten long years of waiting, the Charity Law (Draft) (Charity Law) was finally presented to the world and opened up to the public for recommendations. The passage of this law will mark a historic new stage of development for Chinese philanthropy.With this in mind, as soon as the draft’s was announced, the Beijing Huizeren Volunteering Development Center established a work team named “Our Recommendations for the Charity Law,” which launched a series of events aimed at beginning the process of deciphering the law and gathering feedback for it from the public. In total, over 500 civil organizations participated in the “Our Recommendations for the Charity Law” campaign and more than 100 comments were collected from professionals, volunteers, and members of the community. The majority of the suggestions focused on the definition of charitable activity and volunteer services, charitable organizations and services, collecting donations and donating, promotional measures, oversight and supervision.

As a nonprofit organization committed to promoting volunteer services and capacity building, Huizen is fully dedicated to encouraging civic volunteerism and inspiring individuals to participate in philanthropic, charitable activities and innovative social movements. We strongly believe that the spirit of volunteerism is and will continue to be an everlasting source of support for philanthropy. In the modern era, as China’s society and economy turn to confront a plethora of challenges, citizens not only do not have to be the cause of social problems, but rather they can become a critical force in helping to solve these problems. However, while we are the world’s second largest economy, our charitable donations (monetary and of time) still only amid the last six countries in the world, and our volunteer rate is only 6%! [1] It is not that Chinese citizens lack charitable hearts—what they lack is appropriate legal guarantees and an institutional direction that would encourage and guide them to do good. Because of this Huizeren, bringing together its 20 years of practical experience in volunteer service and the voice of the volunteers themselves, puts forth the following recommendations.


Recommendations for the Charity Law as a Whole

We hold that the Charity Law not only provides a foundation of protection for the development of civil society and the nonprofit sector, but it is also essential to the continued development the economy, society, and the core values of socialism. This draft will provide charitable organizations with the ability to register directly, fundraise and receive tax benefits, as well as security and benefits for volunteers.

At the same time, there is one observation to be made: the draft of the Charity Law defines charitable activities as “any not-for-profit activity voluntarily carried out by natural persons, legal persons, or other organizations by donating property, providing volunteer services or through other means.” According to this definition, we can understand charity to primarily consist of donations of money, property, and volunteer services. However, in all the 115 Articles of the law, there are only 11 clauses that involve volunteers or volunteer services. Despite the fact that volunteer activity accounts for about half of all philanthropy, it is only discussed in about 10% of the law itself. There are, however, about 66 clauses that mention donations of property and money, representing 57% of the law. In this and in every law related to our individual and interconnected lives, what we notice the most is cold money; the volunteers who are passionate, caring, and enthusiastic about what they do have not received the attention they deserve from the Charity Law.

In light of this, we strongly recommend that the “volunteer services” and “philanthropy” of charitable organizations should be brought into the Charity Law. Doing so would increase the compassion of the law itself.


Defining Charitable Services and Philanthropy

The Charity Law’s draft defines “charitable services” as “non-profit services to others or to society for charitable purposes by charitable organizations and other organizations or individuals.” Here, “others” can be understood to mean close friends, while “non-profit services” can include non-philanthropic services, such as mutual help between close friends, or contact with someone in a marketing position in order to maintain customer relations, or providing not-for-profit services for consumers.

When we asked members of our community and social organizations for their understanding of “charitable services,” the vast majority of people mentioned philanthropy and public welfare, namely serving socially vulnerable groups, individuals without family support, or society generally in an altruistic way.

With the principles of the Charity Law in mind, we believe that this law should:

  • Promote the development of the philanthropic sector; guarantee the philanthropic nature and standardization of charitable organizations
  • Fully embody the social subjectivity of public welfare, while strengthening social, rather than official, oversight and supervision
  • Limit government authority in the philanthropic sector, loosening control
  • Clarify the government’s legal responsibility, while delimiting its boundaries with philanthropy and its equal position with the civic organizations
  • Bring volunteers into the category of donors; strengthen the guarantees and promotion of charitable services to encourage citizens to donate their time and professional expertise.


Strengthening Regulations for Volunteer Services

China has tens of millions of volunteer service organizations that are unregistered, yet these organizations still provide volunteer services for urban and rural communities both on and offline. We recommend that those organizations operating within the industry (like industry institutions or special committees) should be put on record when feasible, and brought within the scope of charitable organizations.

The Charity Law should clearly define the independence, non-governmental (non-political), non-religious, public and not-for profit nature of charitable organizations. Because charitable organizations extensively use volunteers, the Charity Law should clarify the legal relationship between charitable organizations and their volunteers, strengthen the standards of management for volunteer services with charitable organizations, improve the structure of management and responsibilities of the executive committees for these organizations, establish and improve a system of incentivization and protection for volunteers, and promote the professionalization of charitable organizations to build their credibility.

The scope of liability that charitable organizations must face are also issues that many civil organizations care deeply about, especially questions like the following: how many risks and losses related to volunteer services should charitable organizations be expected to bear? When the losses and deficit create damage far beyond what the organization is able to bear, will there be a specialized national fund or specialized insurance plan for these charities? We recommend that charitable services be defined by limited liability in order to most effectively protect the volunteers, volunteer services, and the interests of the charitable organizations.


Strengthening Basic Protection for Charitable Services

Basic protection for charitable services should determine a definition and the nature of volunteer services, government responsibility, and a values guideline. Volunteer services are voluntarily in nature, altruistically given, include contributions of time and labor, are nonprofit, and are conducted in an organized fashion. Volunteering means not only citizens acting to help one another in mutually beneficial ways, but also the participation of citizens in public services and social services, as well as the effective implementation of citizen’s rights. Even more important is its role in adding strength to the development of the modern philanthropic sector. Volunteerism is the strongest driving force in charity; it is a spring that will never run dry. In light of this, the Charity Law should do more to protect and encourage it.

Volunteering can come in a variety of forms, from lending a hand to help others, to participating in any kind of activities, organized services and programs. The definition that the Charity Law provides for charitable organizations, services, and activities should be broad and inclusive in order to emphasize the altruistic nature of philanthropic activity.

Charitable organizations and volunteer services not only need to pay the operational costs and management fees, but they also need to provide for things such as security, funds to cover costs incurred during services, and incentives for volunteers. At present in China, the government has a serious shortage of basic capacity building capabilities and financial investment. In 2014, there were already more than 100 million volunteers in China, contributing a total of 1.482 billion hours of volunteer service and 53.59 billion Yuan of national production value to the country. Furthermore, in 2014, the Chinese government purchased 193.4 billion Yuan worth of social services, of which volunteer services only accounted for about 3-5%, or approximately 500 million Yuan. By comparison, the United States invests more than 6 billion Yuan annually in volunteer services, and its volunteer services are valued at over 600 billion Yuan. We can see from this that the ratio of investment in volunteer services in the US is 1:100. In addition to this, according to related domestic and international surveys of volunteer services, and in stark contrast to the general public, close to 80% of people who volunteer report that they are willing to donate money or material goods to charity. At present, China is struggling with a serious lack of resources for philanthropy. In light of this, the government should do all it can to invest in our nation’s volunteer services and strengthen their legal protection and guarantees.


Recommendations for Specialized Legislation for Volunteer Services

While researching community volunteer services, Huizeren discovered that over 80% of residents are interested in volunteering, yet less than 10% actually do volunteer. The main reasons for this includes a lack of knowledge about volunteer services, a lack of understanding from the general public about these services, a lack of standardized administration of charitable organizations, and the fact that the bureaucratization of volunteer services is unable to meet the diverse needs of the sector. In the course of the “Our Recommendations for the Charity Law” activity, more than 80% of our volunteers stated that there is a need for specialized legislation for volunteer services. This is critical in order to meet the needs of innovation in social governance and the practical development of social services.

Our detailed recommendations for specialized legislation for volunteer services are as follows:

  • Limit the power of government in volunteer services, increase legislative safeguards as well as tax incentives and financial support, and avoid detailed management and administration of these services.
  • Promote public participation in the oversight of charities, encourage associations within industry and self-regulation. Support platform-based charitable organizations and third party, independent organizations; promote the socialization and normalization of volunteering.
  • Promote cross-sector and inter-disciplinary cooperation for volunteer services and the mobilization of social resources.
  • Standardize charitable organizations and other organizations that use volunteers; standardize volunteer system management
  • Incorporate civic volunteer services into national government statistics and incentive mechanisms; include volunteer workers and charitable donations into the gross national product; provide realistic social benefits, services, and recognition to volunteers and volunteer service organizations.
  • Allow a certain amount of space and room for growth as our society progresses further into the Internet information age; promote the professionalization and modernization of volunteer services.
  • Encourage domestic charitable organizations to participate in international social services; promote international volunteer support and service.

We hope that this draft of the Charity Law will demonstrate a full understanding of the modern philanthropic sector and phenomena like the influence of the internet on philanthropic behavior and the rising participation of citizens in the new philanthropy sector, and contain a forward-thinking plan for their management.


In Brief

ZhaiYan, Beijing Huizeren Volunteer Development Center Director, offers her suggestions for the China Charity Law (first draft), particularly regarding the legislation for volunteer services.
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