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Exploring Philanthropy in China

By John Skendall

In May 2006, a team of fundraising professionals journeyed to China for the People to People ambassador program. Janice Gow Pettey, MNM, CFRE, principal of J.G. Pettey & Associates in San Francisco, shares her thoughts and observations about a trip that spanned three cities and 12 days and brought the participants a greater appreciation of the rewards and challenges of philanthropy.

The delegation, led by Alphonce J. Brown Jr., ACFRE, chair of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and vice president of development of the National Academy of Public Administration in Washington, D.C., had clearly defined goals for the People to People ambassador trip to China. They were to come away with a deeper understanding of what philanthropy is and how it helps promote human rights. They wanted to find out what the economic efficiency is of government versus the nonprofit model. The delegation also wanted to explore the potential impact and appropriate role of the nonprofit sector in addressing societal needs. Finally, the group wanted to find out why people become volunteers and what motivates people to contribute financial resources to address community needs.

The journey began in Beijing, where Pettey and the delegation met with the China Charity Federation (, the China Youth Development Foundation ( and the Ford Foundation ( ). In the city of Guilin, the delegation met with the Guilin Charity Foundation. Finally, in Shanghai, the ambassadors met with the Shanghai Jiao Tong University Education Development Foundation ( and held informal meetings with nonprofits based in the Shanghai area.

“The nonprofit sector in China is both unique and similar to U.S.-based nonprofits,” Pettey says. “Similarities include reliance on the mission of the organization, the importance of volunteers and reliance on charitable support. Differences exist because of the different models of government, the relative ‘newness’ of the nonprofit sector in China compared to the United States and methods of fundraising.

“There is nothing like AFP in China,” Pettey explains, “and throughout the trip we had the opportunity to talk about AFP. There is keen interest in Beijing, Guilin and Shanghai to have training, professional development and networking opportunities for the growing number of fundraisers in these communities.”

As a result of the successful China ambassador trip, AFP has been invited to meet and present at regional conferences in China in 2007.

Philanthropy in Action in China

While in Shanghai, Pettey recalls two particularly interesting visits with local nonprofit organizations.

“We had the wonderful opportunity to meet informally with a group of nonprofits based in the Shanghai area,” she says. “Many of them had never met each other, let alone our delegation. Among the guests was a young woman who single-handedly has created a library for residents of a neighboring village, as much of rural China is very poor. The residents of this particular village live in extreme poverty, and to support themselves and their families they give blood in exchange for money. Due to unsanitary conditions in blood collection, a majority of the village is now infected with HIV-AIDS. Realizing their dismal situation, she decided they needed a library stocked with books, magazines and newspapers. It took her a couple of years, and all fundraising was done by word of mouth, but she raised enough money to create the library. It’s been so well received that she’s planning on another library. She accomplished all this as a volunteer, receiving no compensation for her efforts. She’s in her early 20s.”

Another memorable visit was with members of the Roots & Shoots ( program, which was started in 1991 by primatologist, environmentalist and humanitarian Jane Goodall and began operations in Shanghai in 1999.

“The Jane Goodall Institute–Shanghai is committed to the understanding and preservation of wildlife and our living world through the education and empowerment of our youth,” Pettey explains. “It aims to foster respect and compassion for all living things, to promote understanding of all cultures and beliefs, and to empower and inspire individuals to take action to make a positive difference in our world.

“We extended our stay in Shanghai at the end of the official trip, and my husband and I were invited to attend a Roots & Shoots event benefiting the Village Children’s Choirs. What an event! Three hundred guests attended the dinner, silent auction and performance. The children were from village schools (parents will often migrate to urban centers to make more money, and there are migrant schools for the children). The schools are not well equipped. They often lack the basics—furniture, heating when it’s cold and, until recently, no music. Through Roots & Shoots, a program was developed to encourage singing. Money raised from the event will ensure that singing will continue to be a part of the lives of these migrant children.”

Pettey adds that Roots & Shoots is doing a very effective job of raising money within the corporate community, which she says is “a large and growing sector” that is exploring ways to encourage more individual giving.

Janice Gow Pettey, MNM, CFRE, principal of J.G. Pettey & Associates, is an acknowledged authority on the topics of diversity and ethics, and has presented to more than 50 organizations nationally and internationally. Her award-winning book, Cultivating Diversity in Fundraising, was published by Wiley in 2001. J.G. Pettey & Associates works with a wide range of clients on board development, strategic planning, fundraising and diversity initiatives.

The Fundraising Professional Delegation to China was sponsored by Kansas City, Mo.-based People to People International, an organization founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 and led by his granddaughter, Mary Jean Eisenhower. In all, 12 official delegates and two guests participated in the 12-day trip from May 7 to 19, 2006. For more information on future People to People ambassador trips, please visit

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