An Interesting finding from a survey of Internet usage of Chinese NGOs
(Blue – Eastern China, Green – Central China, Brown – Western China)
Source: Social Venture Group
Recently, I have come across several foundations and individual donors who stated that they were only willing to give to NGOs in western China. Their reasons for this choice are quite similar: NGOs in western China are the most in need of funding support as they are located in underdeveloped areas. But is it true? A recent survey report (the report can be downloaded here) released by ngocn.org's blog gives some valuable information about the general funding status of NGOs in different regions of China.
The main goal of this survey was to study the internet usage situation of Chinese NGOs (we will comment on those findings here soon. I was more surprised at the fundraising data by region that came out of the research). The survey was conducted earlier this year by MIT, Ngocn.org, the University of Science and Technology of China, Sun Yat-Sen University, and a grassroots NGO in Beijing. The survey questionnaire was emailed to 437 nonprofit organizations and 1,907 members of ngocn.org and 20 NGOs were polled through telephone interviews. Ngocn.org collected 327 valid responses, and their report shows an analysis of their findings.
The Internet has proven to be one of the most powerful fundraising tools for NGOs, and the data collected from the survey is helpful for evaluating its usage among China's non-profits. The report splits participating organizations into three different groups (eastern, central, and western China, see graph below for the areas of each group) based on their locations and shows how much each group raised in 2008. According to these numbers, western Chinese organizations have done slightly better in fundraising than organizations in eastern China. This finding actually corresponds with what we found during our NGO focus groups in 2007: NGOs in wealthier coastal areas were actually losing funding dollars to their western China peers. There are several reasons for this paradox. Conventional wisdom says that Chinese donors living in economically stronger coastal areas are able and willing to contribute to social needs in their own backyards; however, we do not find this to be true. There is a strong perception among urban Chinese donors that poverty is a Western China phenomenon. But another thing I need to note here is that NGOs in central China seem to be the weakest group and require even more help than other regions. Among the 327 organizations surveyed, only 43 were located in central China compared with 134 in eastern China and 150 in western China. The fundraising situation of these central Chinese NGOs is much worse than that of the other two groups. This finding is also verified by my own experiences. During SVG's interactions with donors, we found that most people would either choose NGOs in coastal areas or NGOs in western China and were not aware or interested in central China needs. Central Chinese NGOs may have become the most disadvantaged group in the Chinese nonprofit sector. As compared with NGOs in eastern China, they are located in relatively obscure areas, and compared with their western peers, they are not considered to be the most needy.
What does this all mean? Foremost it's another reminder that we cannot paint all of China with the same brush in terms of social needs. It's always surprising to us to find that the image that pops into many donors minds is the quintessential sparsely appointed Western China classroom. While education needs in Western China continue to be important, it is also good to take a step back and consider the bigger macro picture in a decision to give. What about Central China instead? It makes sense that for a country as large and diverse as China that each region will have its own unique set of challenges and opportunities. Donors should be aware and educate themselves on areas where they might make the most impact.