NGO Projects Don’t Have to be Flashy

中文 English

Editor’s Note: three years ago, Yang Yuanze joined the newly established Dunhe Foundation. Having witnessed this foundation’s fast growth, he developed his own insights on foundation management, project funding, and the development of the NGO sector. Yuanze believes that there are two major challenges when foundations cooperate with their grassroots partners:“NGOs are less problem-oriented and more resource-oriented, while project officers in grant-making foundations lack hands-on experience and professional capacity.” From the perspective of the foundations providing the grants, he provides his solution: “Employ the foundations’ resources to identify problems and the partners’ needs, and achieve mutual growth.”

Before joining the Dunhe Foundation in July 2012, Yang Yuanze followed his parents’ wishes and worked briefly in a bank after graduating from university in 2010. He might have led a stable yet ordinary career, had he not joined the NGO sector. The idea of a career in the NGO sector was something he developed when he was in university.

Yuanze was born in Xinchang, Shaoxing City in Zhejiang Province. Being an independent and critical thinker, Yuanze took full advantage of his abundant spare time as an undergraduate student in Nanjing, reading extensively about history and culture as well as traveling and exploring the world. Concepts such as civil society, philanthropy and universal values entered his mind when he browsed websites such as China Development Brief or NGOCN and attended relevant lectures.

When Yuanze quit his job at the bank, he did not have many options in Zhejiang since the local NGO sector is still very new. It was at that point that Yuanze, with only a vague idea about the NGO sector, encountered the Dunhe Foundation at its start-up stage. After entering the foundation, what he did most was to visit and learn from the NGO tycoons with his colleagues.

NGO practitioners in China often face pressure from their family members, even if they work in relatively “high-end” foundations. Yuanze’s parents, who are both employees of state owned enterprises, find it very difficult to understand his “reckless” behavior. Yuanze strives to ease his parents’ concerns, showing them photos of himself with well-known businessmen at Dunhe events. Meanwhile, he seeks empathy and compassion from his parents by telling them the stories of the vulnerable. Although his parents still want him to return to the bank, they are much less opposed to his job in the NGO sector than they used to be.

During his three years at the Dunhe Foundation, Yuanze witnessed its fast development. July 2013 was the turning point for the foundation. One year’s exploration gave the council, the secretariat and the project officers a clear strategy for funding. Yuanze feels that there has been a fundamental change of views regarding Dunhe’s targeting problems, and the backgrounds and nature of these problems. Their annual funding rose dramatically from 10 million to 90 million RMB, and then to 100 million in 2015. As a result, Dunhe’s impact in the sector is quickly increasing. The number of staff members also increased from 12 to 20 in 2015.

As a front-line grant-providing officer, Yuanze feels very much a part of the decision-making and management process, although he realizes it may still need improvement. In November 2014, the Dunhe Foundation launched its “Seed Fund” project and planed to provide 3 million RMB to several foundations respectively. His recommended foundations, which were not originally on the funding list, were soon approved.

Another example of project officers’ participation in Dunhe’s decision-making is the project application process. Many NGOs contact the secretary general directly and expect favourable consideration of their projects. The secretary general will then refer it to the relevant project officer. Yuanze will process all the projects according to procedure, despite the NGOs connections with the secretary general. Dunhe eventually established an internal principle: to treat all projects equally regardless of the referee.

Nevertheless, Yuanze also has concerns regarding the fast-developing Dunhe foundation and the NGO sector all round. Without sufficient staff, Yuanze, an officer in charge of providing grants, also had to deal with administrative matters and recruitment until recently, when an HR manger was finally hired and a clear division of responsibilities was introduced. He has little chance to closely observe the foundation’s NGO partners or the social problems in the community, and the follow-up evaluations are insufficient. Moreover, there are few opportunities to communicate with fellow grant-making officers and there is not enough training and useful tools on project management, evaluation, and problem identification. Despite these problems, Yuanze has project officer Wu Junjun from the Zhenro Foundation as a close friend and Chang Jiang from the Bridge Plan as a mentor, with whom he can share his concerns and insights.

Within the Dunhe Foundation, the secretary general is mainly focused on achieving strategic plans on the sectorial level and communicates with project officers only via emails or wechat rather than face-to-face. He provides little support for their career development. There is an urgent need to develop an efficient communication channel between the secretary general, who gears the foundation in the right direction, and the frontline project officers in their busy daily operations.

The number of staff at Dunhe’s NGO supporting department, in which Yuanze works, has risen to five people. Yet, the pressure grows due to the incompetence of the grant-providing officers and the weak basis of the grant-receiving grassroots NGOs. The intricate relationship between foundations and their partner grassroots NGOs is a long-lasting issue, and Yuanze has also had several disagreements with the NGOs he works with.

Yuanze was in charge of a small grant scheme for local NGOs in Zhejiang. The first round of grant making occurred in November and the second round started in March. Although aware of the underdeveloped situation of the local NGO sector, Yuanze was still astonished by the local NGOs, few of which were qualified for long term cooperation. He is satisfied with only about a third of the NGOs, since some fail to follow their agreements and it is not uncommon to find extremely inaccurate numbers in their reports. The limited expertise is understandable but the lack of a rigorous attitude is unbearable for Yuanze, especially compared to the strict supervision principles and procedures of the bank where Yuanze used to work.

“Whose needs should the projects meet, those of the NGOs, the volunteers or the service receivers?” It is a simple question. Yet many organizations fail to answer it correctly. They are resource-oriented and display a certain fickleness. Their proposals are superficial and they have a muddled way of solving problems. Some NGOs complain about the lack of resources and the bad environment while other NGOs from the same area facing the same situation can focus on analyzing and solving their problems. Yuanze thus sees a huge gap between different NGOs.

Nevertheless, Yuanze is very excited about the positive changes in the organizations with which he cooperates. One of them is an environmental protection organization, specializing in recycling household waste. The founder has been categorizing waste for half a year with his own hands. The volunteers are very much touched by this and have started to join him. But the founder hopes that more volunteers will come to share the organization’s values rather than just admiring him. At the same time, he has turned down quite a few governmental venture capital investments in order to remain in his community. He believes that only those who live in the community can solve the problems of the community. When facing social problems, NGO projects do not have to be high-end. Focusing on a small and specific problem can also demonstrate the professionalism of an organization.

Yuanze believes that, thanks to his few years of experience, he can solve problems with more tolerance and from a more practical perspective. When in university, he was both impassioned and cynical. Now, however, he is in course to becoming a professional NGO practitioner who can promote the development of NGOs and solve social problems by working in a foundation.

“The Dunhe foundation aims to support the NGO sector and promote its development. As a front-line officer in charge of giving grants, what do you think are the core problems and challenges, judging from the current situation of the sector?” Yuanze looks at this wide-ranging question from two angles. Firstly, NGOs are resource-oriented rather than problem-oriented. Secondly, the officers providing the grants lack hands-on experiences and capacity. Yuanze offers his solution from the perspective of a grant-making foundation:“employing the foundation’s resources to identify problems and partners’ needs, and achieve mutual growth.” This reflects the role of the Dunhe Foundation in guiding and accompanying the development of the NGO sector.

Next year Yuanze plans to upgrade his projects, enhancing grassroots NGOs’ understanding of social problems and their targeting of specific groups as well as improving the feasibility of their action plans. Furthermore, Dunhe has initiated a round-table forum with the Narada Foundation, the Zhenro Foundation and the China Merchants Charitable Foundation. It will also fund other supportive NGO platforms for the capacity building of grassroots NGOs.

For this 28 year old NGO practitioner, the potential and the promising prospects of the Dunhe Foundation are particularly attractive. He strongly desires to improve his professional expertise.

Grant-making Principles for Foundations:

-“Excellent NGOs are not necessarily well-known.”
-“Large scale is not a must. Some NGOS are small and beautiful”
-“Those who excel in using professional terminology may not be the most professional. Elite NGO practitioners may be able to write excellent project proposals, but cannot provide feasible solutions for social problems.”
-“Funding should be problem-oriented and not resource-oriented. Choose grassroots partners not according to their scale, but by their answers to the questions “what type of services do you want to provide?”and “what kind of problems do you want to solve?”
-“A diligent and rigorous attitude is the basis of an NGO.”


2015-10-12 16:05:51  来源:中国发展简报  作者:付涛    点击数量:3053

编者的话  本 期栏目将推出敦和基金会项目官员杨沅泽的故事。三年前,他加入成立伊始的敦和基金会,在见证基金会快速成长的同时,也形成了自己对基金会治理、项目资助与 公益行业发展的锐意思考。资助型基金会与草根伙伴的合作关系是一个永恒的话题,他对此既有吐槽,也看到其中的亮点和进步并为之感到振奋。而在公益行业的发 展方面,他认为目前面临两大挑战:“公益组织对问题的导向不够,对资源的导向越来越明显;资助官员缺乏一线实操经验,能力不够”。他从资助型基金会的角度开出了“药方“:“以资金为载体,帮助聚焦问题和用户需求,理清思绪,双方共同成长”


在2012年7月加入浙江敦和慈善基金会之前,杨沅泽有过短暂的银行工作经历。2010年大学毕业后,他顺应在国企工作的父母的愿望来到银行工作,但只 待了两年。如果不是跳槽加入公益行业,他或许仍在这条安稳保守、平淡无奇的职业路上行走着。但内心的公益种子还是那么倔强地生长出来了,而这粒种子,是在 他大学时代埋下的。



公 益行业的从业者往往要面对家人的不理解甚至反对,即便是在公益组织中被视为“高大上”的基金会工作。出于阅历和背景的原因,沅泽的父母很难理解他的“脑 残”举动。为此,沅泽没有少费心思,用巧妙的沟通来化解父母的焦虑和担忧。他给父母看基金会的活动照片,照片上是自己和一些“高大上”的企业家的合影,以 此拉近他在父母眼中和主流社会的距离。有时候他也会向父母谈起弱势人群的境况,诉诸于父母,以求同理心。虽然父母现在仍然希望他回到银行工作,但抵触情绪 已然减轻了很多。

在 敦和工作的这三年,沅泽见证了基金会的快速发展。2013年7月是敦和基金会发展的一个关键节点。经过成立后一年的摸索,理事会、秘书处和项目官员对资助 形成了一致清晰的判断和定位。沅泽觉得,与成立时相比,基金会上下对针对的问题、相关问题的背景以及本质的认识已迥然不同。转眼间,这家年轻的资助型基金会的资助额度,从每年1000万元增加到9000万元,再到2015年的1亿元,基金会在行业内的影响力与日俱增。基金会人员也从初创期寥寥数人增加到目前的12人,而在2015年人员计划最终落实到位后,这个数字会变成20人。

作 为一线资助官员,沅泽认为基金会在决策治理方面,尽管仍然有改进空间,但自己已不乏参与感。2014年11月,敦和基金会启动了“种子基金”项目,计划给 一些基金会每家300万元的资助用于保值增值,由秘书处一起推荐优秀的基金会。沅泽觉得少了几家有价值的基金会,于是提出补充并获得采纳。



在 敦和基金会内部,由于秘书长将很大一部分精力投向了行业层面和战略规划落地工作,与项目官员主要通过线上的邮件、微信沟通,对项目运营管理的具体讨论无法 在线下实现,对项目官员的职业规划和发展的支持就更显贫乏。在忙碌的基金会工作中,把握机构方向的基金会秘书长,与更接地气的一线项目官员之间,需要发掘 充分沟通的渠道。


沅 泽负责的一个浙江本土公益组织小额资助项目,去年11月启动了第一批,今年3月启动了第二批。尽管对浙江本地公益发展的滞后状况已有心理准备,但两轮接触 下来,他还是觉得有些出乎意料,感觉值得长期支持的机构并不多,满意的项目大概只占1/3。一些组织在合作中显得比较随意,对合作协议和合作规则缺乏尊 重。一些组织交来项目报告,“多个零少个零的情况并不少见”。能力所限可以理解,但认真态度的缺失就值得深究了。在履职敦和基金会之前,银行的工作经历虽 然短暂,但也使沅泽熟悉了银行业严格的监管原则和流程,企业的训练赋予他严谨细致的作风和素养,上述项目的情况让他有些难以忍受

“公益项目是满足谁的需要?是公益组织、志愿者(组织)的需要,还是服务对象的需要?”这 个问题看似简单,但能够看得清楚的组织不一定很多。一些组织资源导向,表现浮躁,建议书流于表面,对问题的梳理并不清晰。有的机构一见面就抱怨机构困难, 没有资源,环境不好,而同一个县城,另一家机构,同样的状况,却能将关注集中在对问题的分析、梳理和解决方案上,这让他感到组织之间的天壤之别。

不 过,吐槽之余,一些合作机构的变化和亮点还是让沅泽感到振奋不已。有一家合作的环保组织,专门从事生活垃圾的回收利用,发起人“傻傻”地靠双手在社区分垃 圾足足半年,志愿者被其坚持的精神感召,从嘲笑到关注再到参与,组织逐渐壮大。但发起人则希望更多志愿者参与是基于对机构使命的充分认同,而不仅是对其个 人的钦佩;同时,发起人拒绝了许多政府创投的要求,坚定立足本社区,坚信每个社区的问题只能靠本社区的人解决。面对多元化的社会问题,公益项目不一定要“高大上”,锁定、聚焦一个真正的“小”问题,同样能体现出机构的专业性。





明 年,沅泽希望能够对项目进行“升级”,加强对公益组织的资助和支持,强化草根组织对问题的理解和认识、对目标群体的聚焦,以及提升方案的可行性等方面。在 机构层面,敦和基金会已经与南都公益基金会、福建省正荣公益基金会、招商局慈善基金会等组织发起了资助者圆桌论坛,还将根据草根组织的能力建设需求,向其 他支持性平台针对性地推介资源和支持。















【栏 目介绍】作为行业资源汇聚之地,基金会总是能吸引更多目光,然而过往基金会发出的声音大多来自深孚众望的公益大佬与意见领袖,中基层项目官员成为沉默的大 多数。2015年,在第七届中国非公募基金会发展论坛的支持下,中国发展简报设计执行了“倾听一线的声音-—项目官员眼中的基金会与行业”项目,通过国内 非公募基金会一线项目官员的公益观察或个人故事,展示他/她们的所思所想、所见所得,由此呈现项目官员如何成长、基金会如何运作、又如何对社会议题和行业 发展产生影响。


Translated by Li Yuanhui