China’s Charities Court Donations by Going Online
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2017-09-08 14:07:58

China’s internet giants are always game for a bit of one-upsmanship, and seem to have a penchant for making up special days to improve their brand image.

But whereas Alibaba’s Singles’ Day on Nov. 11 is an all-out celebration of consumerism, rival Tencent’s annual 99 Charity Day — a nod to Sept. 9, the date on which the three-day event concludes — aims to encourage more Chinese to share their wealth for a good cause.

And some say such sentiment is sorely needed, in light of several high-profile scams and scandals that have eroded trust in philanthropy in recent years.

In 2011, wealth-flaunting socialite Guo Meimei was widely condemned after claiming to work for the Red Cross Society of China, causing a drop in donations that would last for several years. More recently, there have been cases of questionable grassroots donation drives and profiteering from charitable activities.

The Chinese government has been taking steps to clean up and regulate its philanthropic sector. China’s first charity law, implemented in September 2016, stipulates that only qualified companies can collect donations, and that unauthorized individuals caught soliciting can be fined up to 200,000 yuan ($31,000).

China’s technology giants are also transforming the face of philanthropy in China. Alibaba’s mobile payment platform Alipay, for example, includes a game that will plant trees in proportion to how much users walk. And a recent campaign by the Tencent Charity Foundation called “Little Kids’ Gallery” allowed users to “purchase” digital illustrations by people with disabilities through WeChat, the company’s wildly popular messaging app, for as little as 1 yuan. In its first 24 hours, the drive raised a whopping 15 million yuan.

Tencent’s 99 Charity Day hinges on WeChat, too. Through a slickly presented campaign page directly accessible through the app, WeChat’s nearly 1 billion users can select charities to support from over 6,700 programs over a three-day period. Tencent has promised to match all donations, up to a combined total of 600 million yuan.

If a user stumbles upon a project that interests them, they can opt to create their own shareable page calling for donations from friends, replete with a customized funding target and “call to action” message. The user’s WeChat name and profile picture are then listed, along with the amount raised, on the respective charity’s page.

Hundreds of celebrities also call on fans to donate to their program of choice through “scannable” posters shared on their social media accounts. Pop group TFBOYS, for example, are supporting a charity program to aid elderly war veterans, which at the time of publication had received 10.5 million yuan from some 529,000 users. Local and foreign companies such as fast-food chain KFC, courier service SF Express, coffee empire Starbucks, and superstore Walmart also hold their own online and offline events.

Feminist activist Li Tingting participated in “99 Charity Day” by creating her own QR code poster and donation page to raise money for the Rainbow Law Hotline, which provides free legal advice to China’s LGBT community. Li told Sixth Tone that though the event is important because it challenges people to donate, the largest charity initiatives tend to receive the lion’s share of donations.

Zhang Qinjing, an HR director at the Shanghai charity “Baby’s Home,” which provides medical care to orphans with special needs, said that Tencent event’s low threshold for donations helps to increase participation. “Everyone knows that even if you give 1 or 2 yuan, you’re still doing your part to help a charity,” Zhang told Sixth Tone. “This way, the threshold is lowered, increasing the campaign’s influence and spreading the charity’s name further.”

Editor: Colum Murphy.

(Header image: Promotional graphics for charities participating in Tencent’s annual ‘99 Charity Day,’ September 2017. From the WeChat page of the Tencent Charity Foundation)