New Trends in Philanthropy in China

Karla W. Simon reviews current publications and recommendations for constructively engaging governments, businesses, and families on philanthropy in China. This article is part of Asian Philanthropy Forum’s “Exploring the Impact of Asian Philanthropy” series.

Three recently released reports on philanthropic developments in China discuss important trends and issues that need to be addressed.

The first is a blog post in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, which discusses the timing of philanthropy for China, focusing principally on U.S. donors. It suggests that people and institutions should act now because this is a developing field. Katharine Marshall, who wrote the blog post, had done extensive research on developments in China.  She stressed the following key points:

  1. The government is a key partner in establishing an organization through registration and governance; it is also a critical ally in advancing an organization’s goals and strategies.
  2. Be transparent about goals, and ensure that they benefit the people of China—not an outside agenda.
  3. Use philanthropy to share information, not just for collecting and delivering money.

The other two reports analyze trends and assess developments actually occurring among Chinese people, specifically with corporate donors and family philanthropies. The first of these reports, excellently written by Anke Schrader and Melinda Zhang at the Conference Board, looks at numbers and trends in recent years. Entitled “Corporate Philanthropy in China,” the report recommends five principal guidelines for corporate philanthropists:

  1. Selecting giving channels that match the company’s presence, experience, and capacity in China.
  2. Engaging in research and information gathering for local engagement activity because of the limited availability of public information.
  3. Recognizing the strong political boundaries that control topics, scale, and amplitude of public debate and nonprofit activity.
  4. Choosing a non-profit partner should include consideration of its ability to work together with companies to execute strategic goals; selection should not be based just on the size or affiliations of the partner organization.
  5. Project planning needs to factor in the governance, transparency, and accountability issues of domestic non-profit organizations (NPOs).

Finally, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) China published a report written by Nina Zhou on family philanthropy, which notes the following three issues that need to be addressed in order to make such philanthropy more effective:

  1. A gap in operational strategy among the “first generation” philanthropists;
  1. A misunderstanding of the potential that China’s “second-generation rich” (Rich2G) can offer this sector; and
  2. A lack of value placed on a clear set of values, mission, and goals to measure the success of philanthropic behavior.

As the report says, it is clearly important for Chinese philanthropists to engage with what constitutes “best practice” when it comes to philanthropic activity.


Karla W. Simon is Research Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America School of Law, where she taught full-time for many years.  She is publishing a new book with Oxford University Press titled Civil Society in China: The Legal Framework from Ancient Times to the “New Reform Era” (release date March 15, 2013). Her full bio is available here. Email:



Posts in this series:

A New Year for Asian Philanthropy to Make an Impact, Victor Kuo

Opening the Window to Philanthropy to China Starts with Transparency, Lijun He

Rise of the Middle Class Donor in Hong Kong, Edwin Lee

Lessons Learned in Philanthropic Impact Investment, Sono Aibe

Evaluation of the Committee of 100 Teaching Scholar Program 2012, Wenjie Tang

The Next Wave of Philanthropy in China, Dien Yuen