Returning from Abroad to Work in China’s NGO Sector

中文 English

Editor’s Note:

In the NGO sector it is not common to find an individual like V, whose resume includes so many impressive words -“foundation”, “overseas education”, “interdisciplinary experience”. Following her dream of working in the NGO sector, V joined a private fund-raising foundation (which we will refer to as Foundation Y from now on) when she returned to China from overseas. During her time working in foundation Y, she has witnessed its shift from being an operational foundation that organizes projects itself to being a grant-making foundation, and how its requirements towards project officers and their organizational capacity have changed. The examples she offers regarding communication between project officers and management also vividly demonstrate the significance of front-line project officers’ participation in the decision making process. For the future, V harbors another dream, which is establishing a social enterprise to deal with a challenging social problem –the integration of Africans into the local community in the area between Guangzhou and Foshan.

In a new sector like the one of charity foundations, people with overseas experience are rare. The concept of interdisciplinarity being very popular at the moment, V completed a double degree in Sweden in both Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Leadership, the two majors respectively covering business entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship. V found she prefers the latter, and while in Sweden she participated in numerous volunteering activities regarding gender equality and the rights of people who live with HIV/AIDS. After going back to China, in order to continue along this meaningful path that she had chosen, V joined a non-public fund-raising foundation with a business background in Guangzhou. Employing the knowledge in project design and management gained from her overseas study, V quickly adapted to daily work in the foundation.

Among all the projects that she has worked on for her foundation, V is most satisfied with a school library project she once carried out. At first the project was limited to receiving donations of ‘hardware’, and many of the books were just lying on the shelves, collecting dust. However the foundation later designed the Reading Bank Plan, according to which every child would be granted a small wish every time they read ten books and provided matching reading notes. The project also included an annual evaluation of the teachers who serve in the library, in order to encourage their participation and thus give rise to a positive cycle. V enjoys the sense of achievement she has got from working in foundation Y.

With Change come Doubts and Expectations

​Foundation Y is currently in transition. The founder hopes that it can become a private family foundation and break off from its original enterprise and industry. He canceled the original registration and re-registered it as a new foundation, focusing on culture, the arts, education, social innovation, poverty alleviation and disaster relief. V and her colleagues have just transferred in mass to the new foundation.

V has now worked in foundation Y for three years. Since the transition the foundation has had more capital and resources, and focuses on local community development in Shunde, Foshan. Since V is from Foshan herself, she is very excited about the foundation’s future.

Even though she is confident of her own expertise, V still has some concerns about the transition. Foundation Y has gone from being an operational foundation, which conducts its own projects, to a grant-making foundation, which has higher demands on program officers regarding their understanding of problems and their choice of partners. Compared to her previous work, like distributing scholarships and donating books for libraries, the new work generates a lot more pressure.

​ ​“Having an operational foundation requires discovering problems and finding the solutions on your own. This is relatively simple. Now we have to push our partners to find the problems themselves and employ their own expertise to solve them. This is a more difficult process.” This is V’s view of the differences between operational and grant-making foundations.

“Since we, the foundation, hold the money and the ‘power’, some of our grant-receiving partners strive to always follow our advice. Yet I believe that since they are the on the front-line, they have a better awareness of the existing local problems. Our advice may not be practical sometimes.” V feels a bit puzzled when she works and builds up a relationship with her partners. Most of these young teams are enthusiastic and have plenty of ideas. But they lack insight into social problems. V wants to avoid turning grant-making into simple service purchase. Enhancing partners’ initiative and capacity should be one of the priorities for a grant-making officer. Apart from funding, resource development and capacity building are vital as well. V is currently still exploring methods to cope with the changes and new requirements. She believes that seeking help from within the sector is an effective method. She and her fellow project officers are in urgent need of training, learning tours and exchange, yet there are not many such opportunities in practice.

Calling for a Sector Supporting Platform

In preparation for Y’s transition, V visited several foundations in different cities during 2014. Due to her haste she could only acquire some basic information, without having any in-depth discussions. The China Private Foundation Forum conducted training for front-line project officers for the first time this year. V did not sign up in order to take care of her little baby. But V’s colleague’s application to participate in the training was rejected by the foundation due to her heavy workload. It is also because of the heavy workload that communication between project officers is superficial. V believes that foundation project officers have a common need for a platform within the foundation sector where senior officers can share their experiences and provide guidance.

Many assume that foundations have sufficient resources and manpower for a professional division of labor. But this is hardly the case in reality. In foundation Y, project officers are conducting administrative/media tasks alongside project management, supervision and evaluation. Due to these trivial administrative tasks, project officers cannot find the time to simplify the application forms, establish an evaluation system or conduct other essential work. This has also affected internal communication within the foundation.

Communication and Decision-making

Regarding project officer’s participation in decision-making, V gives a 3.5/5.0 score to her own foundation. There are two regular meetings of all the employees each year, where they discuss the problems facing the organization and future plans. Project officers can put forward their suggestions in these meetings. V’s suggestion on narrowing the scope of the foundation’s focus for the three-year transition plan was made in one of these meetings and later adopted. However, in daily operations, project officer’s participation in decision-making is quite limited. As V laments, the secretary general often works on a major project in a different location from the project officers. Communication with him is maintained mainly through phone calls and emails, to which he cannot promptly respond.

Generally, differences in vision and in the understanding of front line information can lead to disagreements between the management (the secretary general) and the project officers. Following is an example V gives. One of the foundation’s local funding projects was entering its second year, and the project officers, based on their first-hand experience, wanted to continue using the mechanism employed during the first year: foundation Y, as the host, publicly invites its partner and manages it, evaluating the outcome of projects and fixing problems. But the secretary general had more ambitious ideas and insisted to help the partner organization establish a new foundation in order to attract more resources from different channels and support more NGOs. However, when faced with realities such as the underdevelopment of the local NGO sector and the high communication costs with the government, the plan was scrapped. Thus, foundation Y eventually decided to go back to using the original mechanism. It can be seen how, due to disagreements on the approach to follow, the front-line project officers’ suggestions were not initially adopted and the project deviated from its path.

“Our leader (the secretary general) is rather circumspect and serious. Thus, communication with him is smooth if he is in a good mood. If not, we do not dare to express our ideas. This has affected the morale of the team, made up mainly of young team members who need a stimulating environment and encouragement.” Very often the results of communication with him are not satisfactory. It is not uncommon that the secretary general disagrees on things that all the project officers agree upon. From V’s point of view, the hurdle lies in his personal character.

​Foundation Y has sufficiently empowered the project officers in project implementation. The secretary general however sometimes asks the project officers to modify their project proposal according to his thoughts. V reckons that if the organization employed a project-based responsibility system and a more horizontal management mechanism, there would be more opportunities for conversations on an equal footing between the secretary general and the project officers.

The salary is an important factor for foundation project officers. Foundations often offer above-average salaries for the NGO sector, with a regular annual rise. V is quite satisfied in this regard. But this year there is a difference: she has just returned to her full-time position from maternity leave. “Due to the change in the time and effort I put into this position, the foundation believes that I contribute less than before.” Therefore, this year’s annual salary rise will be slightly lower. V is not entirely happy about this, but it hasn’t affected her general feelings towards the job.

Regarding future development, V does not have a clear long-term plan yet. However, she is very interested in the integration of Africans into the local community in the area between Guangzhou and Foshan. Foundation Y will not address this issue because it does not fit in with its mission. Thus, once she has gained sufficient experience and resources, V would like to establish her own social enterprise in order to deal with this social problem.



2015-11-03 12:29:39  来源:中国发展简报  作者:付涛


益行业中,像小V这样将基金会海归跨界高大上元素集于一身者并不多见。为了接续留学期间的公益梦,小V回国后投身一家非公募基金 会,见证了基金会从运作转型为资助的历程,并体会到不同类型基金会对项目官员和机构能力的要求变化;而她讲述的项目官员与决策层沟通的案例,也生动表明了 一线项目官员参与基金会决策的重要性。未来,小V还有个尚待落地的梦想:成立社会企业,以应对广佛交界非洲人士的社区融入这一富有挑战的问题。


​       在自己所操作的基金会项目中,小V最满意的是图书室项目。原先这个项目局限于硬件捐赠,很多图书放在学校图书室没有用起来。后来,基金会经过反思,用 心设计,引入了阅读银行计划。“每个小朋友如果读了十本书,写了十篇读书笔记,我们就可以帮他实现一个小的梦想。”小V说,项目还每年举办图书室老师评选 活动,激励教师也参与其中,形成了良性的循环。小V喜欢基金会的工作,收获了价值和成就感。


​       目前,小V所在的基金会正在处于转型阶段,基金会发起人希望将其转型为专注于家族慈善事业的基金会,与原先的企业和产业背景脱钩。将原来的基金会注销后,新注册了一家基金会,聚焦于文化艺术、教育与社会创新及扶贫赈灾三个领域。小V和她的同事们都刚刚全体转入。

​       转眼间,小V已在基金会工作三年。新的基金会平台更大,资金、资源也会更多,由于定位为关注佛山顺德本土社区的发展,使作为佛山本地人的小V,对基金会的未来充满期待。

​       尽管对自己的专业能力不乏自信,基金会转型还是给小V带来了一些困惑。与企业背景的基金会转型为家族基金会相伴的,是Y基金会从运作型转为资助型,这意味着在对问题的理解以及合作伙伴的识别和选择等方面,对项目官员有了更高的要求。过去主要是操作诸如发放奖学金、捐赠图书室一类的慈善捐助,转型后压力陡增。

​       “运作型基金会是你发现问题,然后自己找到方法解决问题,这还比较简单。现在我们是要推动合作伙伴去发现问题,激发他们用自己的特长去解决问题,这个过程就更加困难。”小V这样理解运作型基金会与资助型基金会的差异。

​       “因为我们是基金会,有钱有‘权’,一些我们资助的机构就专注于我们提出的建议。但我觉得其实他们才是一线行动者,比我们更清楚所在地区的实际问题。我们的建议未必适用。”在与接受资助的项目伙伴的关系磨合上,小V感到有些困惑。这些青年团队大多富有想法和兴趣,但对问题的理解不一定很深入。V并不希望将资助变成基金会意志下的服务购买,因此如何鼓励和支持受助组织提高自己的主体性和能力,就成为基金会项目官员的一个重要关切。除了资金支持,资源搭建和能力建设也需要同步进行。目前,为找到有效的方法去回应这种变化和需求,小V还在摸索中。她表示,寻求行业支持是回应这个问题的一个思路。她和其他作为项目官员的同事都有参加外出培训、交流考察的迫切需要,但现实中的机会并不多。


​       2014年,为筹备新的家族基金会,小V去了好几个城市拜访基金会,学习经验。但匆忙中只能了解基础性的信息,未能深入探讨,只能回去慢慢去摸索。中 国非公募基金会论坛今年首次举办一线项目官员参访培训,自己因为宝宝小没有报名,但同事报名,却被领导以工作很忙回绝了。同样是因为工作忙,基金会同事之 间内部交流和沟通也相对比较“粗糙”。小V觉得,如果有基金会行业内的平台,由更资深的项目官员提供指导和分享,尤其是实操性的经验分享,应该比较符合项 目官员的普遍需求。

​       在人们的印象中,基金会不缺资源,能够配备足够的人手实现专业分工。但现实情况可能并非如此美好。小V所在的基金会,人手不多,项目官员除了项目管理 和监测评估,还要兼职行政工作或者传播工作。正是由于一些琐碎的行政工作,项目中的一些小V认为比较急迫、需要改进的事项,比如繁冗的项目申请书格式的简 化、监测评估体系的建立等等,也未能及时着手去做。而太多的事务,也影响了基金会内部沟通的效果。


​       谈及项目官员在基金会中的决策参与,如果满分5分的话,小V打了3.5分。项目官员参与基金会决策的沟通机制,每年定期有两次全员大会,讨论机构面临 的问题,以及下一步计划,项目官员可以提出意见。基金会转型制定的三年规划,由于起初设定的关注领域过于宽泛,小V提出收窄领域范围的修改意见得到了采 纳。但因为一些制约因素,在日常的决策沟通方面,效果就有限了。小V说,秘书长在另一个地方忙一个大项目,与项目官员不在一处办公,对问题的日常沟通主要通过邮件和电话,反馈常常不太及时。

​       一般而言,决策视野、对一线信息的了解程度差异,都可能使决策层(秘书长)和项目官员的看法出现分歧。 小V举了一个例子:基金会的本土公益资助项目今年进入第二年,项目官员根据一线情况,认为应该继续按照计划,沿用第一年的做法,由基金会作为主办方,公开 招标进行管理,同时评估项目效果,修补上一年项目中发现的问题。但秘书长希望有更大的改变,坚持要推动当地一家合作组织成立基金会,再通过该基金会去吸纳 不同渠道的资源,从而多维度支持更多的公益组织。最终,在推进合作伙伴注册基金会时发现,当地公益发展环境并不成熟,与政府的沟通成本高,而且障碍重重, 最终不得不退回到原计划。尽管项目发展的大方向存在共识,但具体的路径发生了分歧。在这个过程中,更接地气的项目官员的意见,并没有得到采纳,项目走了弯路。

​       “我们领导(秘书长)思维比较谨慎,处事比较沉稳严肃。因此,有时候沟通要看他的心情,心情好沟通就好,心情不好我们就不敢表达。这样对整个团队的士 气会有影响,因为项目团队比较年轻,需要更多的是活力干劲与正面积极的激励。”小V说,尽管沟通多,但结果很多情况下不尽人意,往往出现项目官员意见一 致,但秘书长却不看好的情况。在小V看来,项目官员和秘书长的沟通障碍,夹杂着个性风格的因素

​       尽管如此,小V认为Y基金会项目官员在项目操作层面有充分的赋权,但当秘书长不看好项目官员的方案时,会要求项目官员按照秘书长自己的想法和思路去实施。小V认为,如果机构采用项目责任制以及更为扁平化的管理机制,项目官员和秘书长之间可能会有更多平等对话的机会

​       在基金会行业,项目官员对工作的稳定预期,除了上述所及,薪酬也是一个比较重要的因素。小V说,基金会的薪酬在同行里面还算中上水平,每年还有一定比 例的上浮。尽管和企业没法比,但她还是比较满意。但今年的情况有些特殊,由于刚生完孩子回到全职岗位,“可能是因为精力上投入变化的原因,机构觉得自己贡 献没那么大了”,今年的薪资调整幅度比较低,对这一点而言,小V觉得有不如人意的地方,但这并不足以影响自己的工作热情。

​       对未来,小V尚没有清晰的长远规划,但小V说,自己最有兴趣关注的是广佛交界处聚居的非洲人在当地社区的融入问题。基金会由于自身定位,无法予以关注。她希望再工作数年,在积累了足够的经验和资源后,能够成立自己的社会企业来应对这个社会问题。




【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

Reviewed by Fu Tao

Edited by Gabriel Corsetti

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