The Red Cross Society of China is one of that country’s oldest and largest charities; yet in a recent survey in China, 82% responded that they would not contribute to it. In Communist or former Communist countries of Southeast Asia, the government looks suspiciously on nonprofit philanthropic organizations, suspecting that their very existence is a tacit criticism of the government’s failure to provide an important service, and so regulates nonprofits heavily. As a consequence, some nonprofits prefer to register as for-profit companies, and face the tax implications instead.
This year, the Center on Philanthropy celebrates a quarter century on the IUPUI campus. The store of knowledge and expertise it has accumulated in that time has drawn international attention. The center’s reports on the impact of new laws and regulations on philanthropic giving are watched closely and reported widely in the press. But the laws of philanthropy are not quite the same as the laws of physics. Habits of giving and expectation of the results of giving operate differently in China than they do in the U.S.
The China Philanthropy Leadership Initiative, a group of IUPUI students interested in Chinese philanthropy, gave those differences center stage in a symposium at the Global Crossroads classroom of the IUPUI Office of International Affairs. The event included participants from campus and from the Indianapolis community; the truly “wired” venue allowed Bloomington to participate and brought in a speaker currently working in Vietnam.
Leslie Lenkowsky, SPEA and Center on Philanthropy professor and one of a handful of top international philanthropy experts in the nation, opened the session with a challenge to the notion that the laws of philanthropy vary around the world. He outlined five problems that all nonprofits must address—from the need to define their mission and expectations, to the difficulty of measuring outcomes and determining impact, to the lack of incentives to perform effectively.
Melynne Klaus, director of the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation, outlined the work of that organization to make a positive impact on the arts scene in Central Indiana. They have worked to simplify the application process (and reduce the grant application time that organizations must devote) by standardizing the application form with similar organizations in the city, and to establish rules of transparency and clarity of mission. They ask organizations that apply for funding to establish their own measurable goals as part of the application process, and then the organization is evaluated for how well it meets its own goals. Anthony Lorenz, CFO for WFYI, the nation’s 19th largest public broadcasting corporation, provided a financial context for establishing transparency. It tracks community needs through patterns of annual giving.
Abbie Jung, based in Hong Kong and San Franciso, happened to be in Vietnam when she spoke to the group about her experiences with nonprofits in China and Southeast Asia. Philanthropy is a long-standing tradition in Asia and giving is generous. She noted differences from Western trends. Private giving is still more common than strategic support of civil entities and NGO’s. Family interests and education are the traditional objects. Patterns of government regulation and enforcement are still evolving.
The IUPUI symposium was the signature event of semester-long program exploring philanthropy and its global implications. The initiative was completely student driven and was developed both to expand cultural understanding of the workings and issues of philanthropic organizations and to train young professionals through resources that go beyond the campus.