“Ying, the big day is almost here”
“Can we count on you to make an impact, Ying?”
“Ying, we’re halfway done and we need your help”
These are the three titles of the emails that I received around 28 October 2020, the Columbia Giving Day 2020. Have you received similar fundraising emails for a specific Giving Day either from your schools or from an NGO that you are interested? If you are working in the non-profit sector, particularly in the fundraising, the concept of Giving Day must be even more familiar to you.
Giving Days are one day or a period of days that bring together awareness raising, fundraising, donor engagement and volunteering. They can be any day picked by an organization itself or a certain day that has certain meaning for awareness raising, such as “World AIDS Day” on 1st December. In recent years, Giving Days have become an important part of non-profit fundraising thanks to the development of social networks. Many Giving Days fundraising campaigns are virtual and can be easily accessible for nonprofits of different sizes. Among the numerous Giving Days throughout the year, GivingTuesday is probably the most influential one in the US while 99 Giving Day is the most prominent one in China. How do these two most influential Giving Day differ from each other? Especially, through the examination of these two Giving Day, I aim to shed light on the role of e-philanthropy in the development of civil society in China, which is often criticized as limited and restricted.
Logo of GivingTuesday | Source: GivingTuesday.org
GivingTuesday was born and incubated at the 92nd Street Y and its Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact in New York City as a simple idea: a day that encourages people to do good. It occurs on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving in the US. After a decade of development, it has become a global fundraising event in more than 80 countries. In 2021, $2.7 billion were raised in the US alone and 35 million adults participated. Among the participants, 17.8 million donated money, 10.2 million gave goods, 9.7 million volunteered and 13.5 million gave voice. In recent years, most donations have been given to education, human services, and faith related organizations, though the pattern keeps evolving. 99 Giving Day is a giving day on 9 September, initiated by China’s tech-giant Tencent in 2015. To be more precise, it has now developed into a 9-day event from 1 September to 9 September with different activities on different days. It is now the largest fundraising event in China, having raised 3.5 billion RMB (around $530 million) from 68.7 million donors for more than 7000 nonprofit organizations in 2021, most of which went to disaster relief (41%), aid for people with disease (29%), and education (18%).
99 Giving Day slogan "Together for Good 一起做好事" ｜ Source: Tencent Wechat Account
One fundamental difference of GivingTuesday and 99 Giving Day lies in the structure of the campaign. GivingTuesday is a decentralized movement that gathers NGOs and donors under specific day while 99 Giving Day relies upon the eco-systems of Tencent. If you want to participate in the GivingTuesday, there are multiple ways. You can simply make several tweets asking for donation with hashtag #GivingTuesday on twitter to participate in the movement and redirect your donors to the whatever website they can pay. Or you can leverage on other social platforms which provide related services, such as Blackbaud, Facebook and Paypal. Taking Facebook as an example, it is one of the largest online platforms for fundraising for GivingTuesday, accounting for around 30% of total donation raised online. Facebook’s giving platform is integrated into Facebook’s social networks, where you can advertise your projects, ask for donations and get payment all in one stop. Or you can simply organize a campaign offline on the GivingTuesday. Last year, more than half of the donation was raised offline. What you can ask for are not limited to monetary donations. It can be volunteering or simply any act of kindness. Comparatively, 99 Giving Day operates mainly over the integrated online systems of Tencent including Wechat and QQ, two powerful communication applications, and tens of other applications, such as Tecent Music, Tecent Video, Tencent Games. The whole process of advertising, fundraising, making donations, receiving payment is realized within the Tencent system. If you are a fundraiser, what you need to do is to register at Tencent Charity, the branch of Tencent that is responsible for its charity-related operations. After your project successfully registers as part of the 99 Giving Day event, you can advertise your project through all kinds of social apps and guide your potential donors to your page on the 99 Giving Day platform and donate. 99 Giving Day is mainly about an on-line fundraising event through the Tencent platform on the giving days while GivingTuesday is more of a broad concept that mobilizes people to fundraise at the same time. To some extent, the function of Tencent is similar to that of Facebook on the Giving Day, but Tencent has much more influence and control over 99 Giving Day given it is the event initiated and organized by itself. In some cases, Tencent could even help NGOs on its platform to innovate by leveraging its strong technology background. For example, Tencent has helped a wild animal conservation initiative to build China’s first digital platform for snow leopard conservation by using AI technology.
There is no strict rule for anyone from any country to participate in the GivingTuesday, making it to easily grow across regions and borders. Comparatively, 99 Giving Day remains an event within China. This is largely due to the restrictions of China’s regulations for NGOs. In China, only certain foundations and organizations with public fundraising licenses can raise money publicly online. The organizations without public fundraising licenses need to affiliate themselves to one of the foundations with the public fundraising license to participate the 99 Giving Day. For example, in 2021 there were 13908 programs from more than 7000 non-profit organizations participating in the 99 Giving Day. All these programs were affiliated to 355 foundations with public fundraising licenses. Moreover, it’s extremely difficult for foreign NGOs to register in China and even if they are registered they are forbidden to raise money from the Chinese public. Large international organizations like World Food Programme and some Chinese NGOs with international aspirations have raised funds for international causes through Tencent. However, 99 Giving Day will remain an event with impact mainly within China unless there is fundamental change in regulation.
One of the most important features of large Giving Day events are the matching pledges provided by large foundation or corporations. Matching funds help non-profit organizations amplify their fundraising efforts and can be extremely important for grassroots organizations. There are mainly two ways for match funding. One is through the match pledge offered by large platform, such as Facebook, the other is through the initiatives from the organizations themselves. Facebook provided match funds worth of $8 million on a first-come-first-serve basis last year to the NGOs that raised funds through Facebook. However, an NGO can not solely depend on the Facebook match fund because it can be depleted within seconds. NGOs need to develop their own individual strategies to attract match donors, such as their existing large corporate donors. A large reputable match donor can significantly increase the effectiveness of fundraising. A study has shown that when Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) served as the match funder for certain organizations, individual donors were more likely to give because large and notable match funders could provide a strong signal of legitimacy and give credibility to small and lesser known NGOs and such effects can last after the Giving Day. Unlike the GivingTuesday which does not have a concentrated source for match funding, 99 Giving Day has Tencent as its main source for match funding. Tencent has donated 399 million RMB in 2020, accounting for 13% of total donations. Over the years, more and more enterprises have joined Tencent as match donors, which donated 324 million RMB in 2020. The enterprises can choose to match funds with programs for certain cause, like education or healthcare, but can’t choose specific program. The total matching donation from Tencent and other Chinese enterprises translates to a 0.3 matching ratio, meaning that for every 1 dollar donated by the general donor, there is 0.3 dollar matched by Tencent and other enterprises. The good thing about the Tencent matching mechanism is that it saves energy from NGOs to develop their own strategies for finding matching donors, especially for smaller organizations which have little capacity. On the other hand, it weakens the quality signal effect from a large matching donor because all match recipients have the same match donor that they can’t differentiate themselves from each other through donor matching anymore. Last year, Tencent has improved its fund matching mechanism which will make its matching partially based on the evaluation of projects including aspects of their transparency, credibility and self-motivation. As a result, large projects and some small projects with good quality tend to have higher matching ratio. This improvement somewhat has compensated the loss of the quality signal effect.
Giving Day campaign is extremely important for small NGOs, as it is one of most important annual events that can attract new donors. According to a report by DataKind, it shows that 63% of donors in their sample only gave on one or more GivingTuesday but not at any other time, showing that GivingTuesday is becoming a main channel for new donations. However, there is some evidence showing that donations raised on large Giving Day are skewed towards large organizations. A study by Blackbaud suggests the majority of the donations raised for GivingTuesday were given to large organizations with annual revenue of 10 million dollars or more. This issue is also prominent in the 99 Giving Day. In 2021, the top 5 public fundraising organizations that participated in the 99 Giving Day (equivalent of 1.5% of total public fundraising organizations) accounts for 47% of total donations, top 10 accounts for 59%, and top 20 accounts for 71%, an increase of 5%, 5% and 2% from 2020. Large public fundraising organizations tend to lie within the system of China Charity Foundation (慈善会), such as Henan Charity Foundation, Chongqing Charity Foundation. They are deemed as “national team” in the scene of Chinese philanthropy, given its closeness to the Chinese governmental agencies. They usually have higher capacity for mobilizing donors compared with smaller fundraising bodies. On the other side, near half of the projects with fundraising targets of 100,000 RMB or less ended up with less than 10% of the fundraising target achieved. How to support these small grassroots projects remains a big challenge for Giving Day events.
Giving Days are significant events for non-profits organizations and donors. However, there are many challenges. In terms of donors, how to cultivate long-term interests in donation in everyday life after the Giving Day? How to mobilize more donors? How to support donors to differentiate from thousands of projects and find the ones that are really worth of their money? In terms of NGOs, how to support organizations, especially those newly-built grassroots, to grow in the face of competition with much more resourceful organizations? How to ensure the transparency and credibility of NGOs so that donors can trust them more? Since GivingTuesday is a more decentralized event, multiple big and platform players, such as Facebook, Twitter, BMGF, can share their roles in addressing the challenges, while Tencent, being the main operator of 99 Giving Day, has much more responsibility and influence to address those challenges. Over the years, Tencent has constantly adjusted its mechanism, such as creating a series of activities around the IP “Little Saflower (小红花)” to attract more donors, adjusting its matching mechanism to take into project quality into consideration, designing new features to get donors to continue to support the chosen project after the Giving Day, tightening its regulations to prevent fraud made by organizations (e.g. organizations donate to themselves to gain match funds). However, complaints of various kinds from either donors or NGOs are still common, which is telling that mobilizing a national charity event is by no means an easy task.
Personally, I am a fan of Giving Day. All the emails and messages that I receive from fundraising organizations remind me of certain identities I have, make me rethink about the social issues and the causes that I care, and help me find out new projects to support that could make a change. As we are approaching the end of the year, both 99 Tencent Giving Day and GivingTuesday are in their way. I feel excited now. What kind of projects will I meet this year? How much donation can the NGO that I am interested in make? And will my friends who are working in the fundraising survive their busiest months and put a happy smile after the Giving Day? I really hope so.
China Philanthropy Times (2021), “ Report on 99 Giving Day (1): The Top 5 organizations in fundraising accounting for 47% of total fund raised (99公益日观察报告（一）： 筹款前五机构豪揽47%筹款量)”, available from http://www.gongyishibao.com/html/yanjiubaogao/2021/09/18619.html
DataKind (2017). “#GivingTuesday Insight Report 2017”, available from
MacLaughlin, Steve (2015), “#GivingTuesday Trends: A Closer Look at the Online Fundraising Impact in the United States”. Charleston, SC: Blackbaud, Inc.
Ying Wang - PhD from Leiden University Faculty of Humanities, with major research focus on Chinese philanthropy and the internationalization of Chinese NGOs.