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Fundraising in the Chinese Canadian Community: Chinese New Year

Resource Center - Foundation

by Frankie Chow

Frankie ChowCharities tend to see the biggest volume of gifts coming in through Thanksgiving and Christmas. But did you know that for many ethnic cultures, besides the mainstream holidays, people are also very generous when celebrating their cultural holidays? For the Chinese Canadian community, there is no holiday more important and universally celebrated than Chinese New Year.

Lunar New Year, or more commonly known as Chinese New Year, is the celebration of the arrival of the New Year, marking the midpoint of the winter solstice and spring equinox. It is called Lunar New Year because the dates are based on the Lunar calendar, a traditional calendar that is commonly used today in China in conjunction with the Gregorian calendar.

Twenty years ago, nobody outside of the Chinese Canadian community really knew about Chinese New Year. But as businesses begin to realize the potential of the Chinese Canadian market, Chinese New Year commercials are flooding the radios, televisions, newspapers, and online.

Chinese New Year commonly begins around the beginning of February and lasts for almost a whole month. In 2015-16, Chinese New Year begins on February 8, 2016 and lasts until February 22. Each year of the Lunar calendar is also marked by a Chinese animal zodiac on a 12-year cycle; this year is the monkey.

Chinese New Year, to put it simply, is like a combination of New Year and Thanksgiving. Chinese communities prepare to welcome the New Year, to bring good fortune, to wish for good health, and to spend time with family. Chinese communities will be filled with celebrations and events to bring the whole community together and also to give back. Your charity is a part of the Chinese communities you serve, and two excellent ways to engage them during Chinese New Year is through direct mail and special events.

Special events

The Chinese community responds well to special events, and Chinese New Year offers the perfect time to put together an event. Whether you are launching an event or partnering with an established event, you should create a network of community leaders and volunteers to guide you. Here are some tips to keep in mind when considering a Chinese New Year Event:

  • Since Chinese New Year is a multi-day holiday, there are a few different dates that are excellent for events:
    • New Year Market (February 5-7, 2016) – The three days before Chinese New Year is when the New Year Market happens. As the name suggests, it is a street market where traditional trinkets, artwork, foods, clothing, and all types of interesting handicrafts are sold.
    • New Year’s Eve (February 7, 2016) – The last day of the night market as well as a time for families to celebrate the last day of the year.
    • New Year’s Day (February 8, 2016) – the first day of the Chinese New Year is when families come together to have dim sum in the morning and celebrate through a lion dance or lighting some fire crackers.
    • Human Day or “Renri” (February 14, 2016) – A day to celebrate all human beings, it is another important day where celebrations and large events would be held through the community. The ideal day for Chinese-style dinners and fundraisers.
    • 15th Day of New Year (February 22, 2016) – The last day of Chinese New Year, after this date people no longer give out money or red pockets marking the end of the 15 day celebrations.
  • At the Chinese New Year Night Markets, investing in a booth is a good way to raise awareness and engagement by being visible in the community.
  • Consider printing red pocket (red envelopes used to hold cash and given out to friends, relatives, and associates) and “Fai Chun” (traditional decorative with phrases of good luck or prosperity printed or written on red paper and posted on doorways) that are branded with the logo/website of your organization and give them out to guests.
  • Invite local government officials and councilors of Chinese descent, engage officials from the Chinese Embassy and Consulate General Offices, and invite or invest in an advertisement in Chinese media.
  • Consider partnering with other local Chinese community organizations in hosting Chinese New Year events. This will help reduce the resources needed to be supplied by your organization and open up a new audience for your cause.
  • Encourage third party or community events in the Chinese community by engaging and developing a board of volunteers made up of community leaders who shares our belief and values.

Direct mail

When using direct mail to engage the Chinese community during Chinese New Year, it is very important to make sure you are sending to the right communities as your messaging will be very specific. This means a lot of work will have to go into analyzing your donor and supporter data for your mailing lists to make sure you are actually hitting your local Chinese communities.

If your mailing list is lacking, a great way to build your list for next year is to partner with other Chinese nonprofit organizations or businesses to feature you in their communications and advertisements. Once you have your mail list, here are some tips to spice up your campaign:

  • Focus messaging on the themes of Chinese New Year. For example, a hospital can ask donors to give back to the community during this time, providing sick children with a bit of lucky money so they can regain their health.
  • Consider having your English letter translated into traditional or simplified Chinese to be included in your mailing. This will help potential donors feel that you have taken the time to speak to them on a personal level.
  • Consider adding premium items to your package such as branded Chinese New Year cards, Fai Chun, and red pockets for donors to use. Encourage them to put their gift into the pockets and mail them back, or include a few more and ask them to pass them on to their friends.
  • For all giveaways, besides using correct phrases or designs that reflect the New Year zodiac or a phrase that aligns with your cause, (e.g. hospitals can talk about health and prosperity), be sure to include your website so they can give online.

I would also recommend trying out a test package to non-Chinese folks who live in areas with large Chinese communities (e.g. Markham) and include an insert explaining the traditional importance of the premium item during Chinese New Year and how it relates to your cause. As with all direct mail campaigns, never stop testing but more importantly never stop evaluating to see what worked and what didn’t.

I hope these tips will give you a general idea of what your charity can do in the upcoming Chinese New Year—or for future years—when engaging your local Chinese Communities.

One final important lesson I have learned is to start small. Ask some volunteers to man a booth at the Chinese New Year Night Market or perhaps you can engage with a Chinese board member or long-time supporter to help you set up a lion dance event for your clients and the public. Whatever action you take, the most important thing is to be respectful and do not be afraid to ask questions.

Happy Chinese New Year! Gung Hey Fat Choi!

Frankie Chow is coordinator, database & analytics at Southlake Regional Health Centre Foundation and a fellow in AFP's Fellowship in Inclusion and Philanthropy Program.

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