China’s charitable foundations are becoming increasingly transparent about what they do with donations received for disaster relief, according to a report released on April 20, the third anniversary of the Ya’an earthquake.
The report said about 60 percent of charitable foundations released more information about their response to the Ya’an earthquake in Sichuan province in 2013 than they did following the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008.
And it found that information was not only greater in volume but more quickly shared and that it was disseminated through more channels.
The report was conducted by Tsinghua University professor Deng Guosheng and the China Foundation Center, an information service platform for charitable foundations in China.
It looked at 22 foundations that participated in relief work following the Wenchuan and Ya’an quakes.
As of April 20, a total of 357 foundations had raised 1.9 billion yuan ($294.7 million) in the three years since the Ya’an earthquake struck. About 27 percent of the money collected was given in the form of private donations.
“The government’s disaster relief system has greatly improved since the Ya’an earthquake,” said Deng, vice-dean of Tsinghua University’s Institute for Philanthropy, adding that the government has eased restrictions and done more to encourage social charity.
“More nongovernmental foundations are allowed to raise money for disaster relief,” he said.
Deng noted that it is important, amid all of the extra giving, that a third-party agency, such as the China Foundation Center, be in place to collect, monitor and release information, so people know what happened to the money they donated.
The extra scrutiny has evolved in the wake of serious scandals in the past that shook the confidence of people who wanted to support charities.
One such incident happened in 2011, when a young woman named Guo Meimei appeared on social media bragging about her luxury cars and handbags. She also claimed to have been the manager of an organization associated with the Red Cross Society of China. Many people were horrified to see what they feared may have been a misappropriation of donated funds.
In the end, it was revealed that Guo had no proven links to the charity but by then the public’s trust had been undermined.
Many charitable foundation “scandals” have since hit the front pages.
In April 2014, One Foundation, China’s first private charitable fundraiser, was accused of embezzlement and misappropriation of donated funds intended for the Ya’an earthquake.
News reports claimed One Foundation received nearly 400 million yuan in donations but that it only spent 40 million. People questioned what had happened to the rest of the money.
One Foundation responded immediately by saying that many projects it was involved in were under construction and that money was still safe and would be paid out once the work was completed.
Li Jing, secretary-general of the foundation, said on April 20 that the charity is always striving to establish best practices that can act as a template for other charitable organizations.
He added that professional organizations need to have systems in place to properly handle donations.
One Foundation and the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, the top two foundations in terms of donations for the Ya’an earthquake, both make five-year-plans detailing their post-earthquake relief projects.
“Some projects take more time,” said Liu Wenkui, secretary-general of the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation.
“For example, to promote local tourism, we selected a village in Sichuan to join our Beautiful Village project and helped local villagers build family hostels. The villagers were concerned about where the customers would come from. We have to keep investing, stay there and continue to help them,” he said.