The CFPA and the Third Anniversary of the Wenchuan Earthquake

China Development Brief, No. 50 (Summer 2011)

中文 English

This is one of several articles on NGO responses to disasters that we are making available in commemoration of the May 12, 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan. This article profiles the work of the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA), one of the few Chinese public foundations that have in the last few years transformed themselves into a professional philanthropic organization. The large majority of public foundations are GONGOs established with close ties to and support from government agencies.

To their critics, GONGOs are mere bureaucratic extensions of the agencies they are tied to, and lack the commitment to professionalism, transparency and grassroots civil society organizations. They point to the string of scandals in China’s philanthropic sector in 2011, all of which involved major GONGOs such as the Chinese Red Cross, the Soong Ching Ling Foundation, the China Charity Federation, and the China Youth Development Foundation, among others. The running joke is that GONGOs are little more than “retirement homes” established to create positions for retired officials. More optimistic observers, however, see some GONGOs becoming more professional and independent, and developing their own organizational ethos separate from the bureaucratic system that created them. (This view is expressed in Wu Fengshi’s essay.) The CFPA, under He Daofeng’s leadership, would exemplify such a GONGO.

On May 10th, in time for the third anniversary of the Wenchuan Earthquake, the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (中国扶贫基金会, hereafter the CFPA) held a conference detailing its disaster relief efforts and, for the first time, made public comprehensive records covering its finances and resource allocation. As it wraps up its three years of relief efforts—the largest project in the its history—administrators decided to submit full records of their relief programs to the scrutiny of the public and third party evaluators as a way of making good on their commitment to good governance, professionalism, and transparency.

“We’re not lacking money, rather we’re lacking compelling reasons for people to donate.”

The 42-page report, titled “China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation Wenchuan Earthquake Relief Work Report,” sets forth a detailed account of the CFPA’s fundraising and expenditures across more than 20 projects. It details the services and goods provided, the recipients of this aid, and the hard numbers to back it all up. Moreover, in addition to bolstering the CFPA’s accountability, the data gathered for the report has proven useful as it seeks to improve its own fundraising procedures, its funding of projects, and its internal management practices.

According to the third-party evaluation carried out by Beijing Normal University Professor Han Junkui, overhead and management costs at the CFPA absorb just 6.27 percent of the donations it receives. This percentage falls to just 4.59 percent when looking solely at past expenditures, and a scant 1.88 percent when restricted to personnel costs. These figures are exceptionally low in the non-profit field.

The proffering of such enviable statistics, however, did not preclude the media from aggressively fulfilling its watchdog function. Even so, He Daofeng, the CFPA’s vice-president of operations and lead spokesperson at the conference, was equal to the challenge and engaged in a spirited dialogue with media reporters.

A reporter from China Youth Daily questioned him on the CFPA’s management expenses, wondering whether it could control its overhead outlays better, given that it had only spent 3 percent of the 200 million yuan provided by Cao Dewang for drought relief in China’s southwest on management expenses in that project1.

He responded that disaster relief donations typically include a mixture of cash and goods. Not only must overhead be taken solely from the cash donations, cash also has to be spent to transport donated goods to the site of the disaster. Comparing the CFPA, which accepts a broad range of donations for a broad range of projects, with organizations that deal solely in monetary donations fails to capture these distinctions. Moreover, differences in size, in management capabilities, and numerous other factors can skew one’s perspective when applying a single standard across organizations. Among international NGOs, overhead expenses accounting for 10 percent of the budget is already considered excellent.

According to the third-party evaluation, the tireless and professional efforts of the CFPA’s staff, as well as the active participation of volunteers, helped keep costs low during the earthquake relief efforts.

In truth, the three percent overhead-expense cap on Cao Dewang’s 200 million yuan donation was a loss-making proposition for CFPA from the very start. The driving force behind that agreement was the media coverage accorded to a high-profile donor demanding accountability. “A businessman can’t always make a media event out of a donation then go home and sleep. Cao’s purpose was to carry the banner for donors seeking accountability. If we had to run every program on a three percent overhead budget we’d have closed our doors a long time ago,” He explained.

Wang Xingzui, host of the conference as well as both secretary and vice-president of the CFPA, further explained the three components of overhead expenses. He pointed out that other organizations’ claims that they don’t pay overhead costs from donations may well be false. Either they do not administer programs themselves, or they distribute funds directly to government entities or related subordinate organizations, or their administrative fees are paid for from the government’s budget. In any event, the majority of NGOs necessarily must use donations to cover administrative costs.

Another reporter asked how the CFPA covered the shortfall in administering Cao Dewang’s donation. He responded that they were able to reallocate surpluses from some of the CFPA’s other programs. Of course, in his interview with China Philanthropy Times several months prior, Kang Xiaoguang, the head of Renmin University’s Non-Profit Research Center, indicated that the network of local Poverty Alleviation offices local poverty alleviation networkshared the burden of these administrative costs2.

Against a societal backdrop of corruption, the media plays an important oversight role, encouraging accountability and honest dealings in the nonprofit sector. He’s direct engagement with reporters not only allowed the media to fulfill this duty, it has also given the media greater insight into the workings of the nonprofit sector.

“We’re not lacking money, rather we’re lacking compelling reasons for people to donate,” He explained, openly expressing the CFPA’s “guiding principle.”

Accountability Engenders Trust

After the earthquake, Nokia immediately contacted the designated, state-run relief organizations, expressing a desire to donate on the condition that it could direct the funds and understand how they were being used. This approach led nowhere—either no one answered the phone, or the organizations said they were unable to comply with the conditions, or even demanded minimum donations. It was then that the CFPA acted on its own to contact Nokia with a promise: they would produce a weekly report on relief efforts, and a monthly or seasonal progress report on the overall project. This satisfied Nokia, and they agreed to work with the foundation.

Fu Lei, Nokia China’s director of corporate social responsibility, explained the drama that ensued in the wake of her department’s decision. At the time, Nokia had 4 million RMB of corporate funds and 2 million RMB of employee donations designated for the earthquake relief efforts. Employees questioned the decision of Fu’s department to give funds to this little-known organization, and not one of the “top-ranked foundations.” Ultimately, the corporate funds were donated to the CFPA while the employee union opted to withhold its donation. In the ensuing weeks, the corporate social responsibility department passed along the CFPA’s reports to the employee union and, two months later, just as reports of problems with the management of public donations became a hot topic in the media, the employees reconsidered their decision and donated their funds to the foundation.

Although the relationship began on the basis of mutual trust, Nokia’s exacting standards quickly became apparent, and the two sides went through five or six rounds of negotiations. Nokia repeatedly raised doubts and questions, while the CFPA unflaggingly sought to assuage the company’s fears with detailed reports and on-site inspections. In the end, Nokia approved the program.

“Nokia was extremely critical,” Wang explained. “But negotiating with such a sophisticated party, and ultimately winning their support, was a tremendous learning opportunity for us.”

Competing With the Public Interest Monopoly

On the evening of May 12, 2008, within hours of the earthquake, the CFPA had already begun working to publicize relief efforts on Sina, and it was the third organization to make its donation hotline available to the public via CCTV’s news ticker.

Historically, the State Council had always designated the Red Cross Society of China (红十字总会) and the China Charity Federation (慈善总会) as official relief organizations. This led CCTV to pull the CFPA’s information from its ticker, only to reinstate it after pleas from the organization. Ultimately, though, the government elected to relax restrictions on relief efforts, and the Foundation finally received official government recognition, allowing it to join the ranks of approved disaster relief foundations3.

Setting up operations at the scene of the disaster presented its own challenges. He revealed that, initially, the CFPA had planned to set up its headquarters in Chengdu. However, when the city government demanded that relief organizations deposit all of their funds in government bank accounts, the foundation elected to change their plan, instead setting up north of Chengdu in Deyang on the 18th of May.

“In 2008 there were 76 billion RMB donated to earthquake relief efforts—together with donations for the blizzards earlier in the year, that came to 100 billion RMB, 75-80 percent of which went into government accounts. They might as well make it an official tax. He repeatedly criticized the monopolistic tendencies of the non-profit sector for sanctioning this forced requisitioning of funds4.

After May 12th, tension continued between the government and the NGO sector. He put forth a second example, this time in the aftermath of the Yushu earthquake. This time the government asked a dozen or so organizations who were collecting donations and leading relief efforts to pool their funds and give them over to the Qinghai provincial government for management. The organizations resisted and nothing ever came of it, but cooperation on relief efforts between the government and NGOs has remained plagued by communication issues and a lack of cooperative mechanisms5.

“We have to raise questions critically, to really get at problems, before we can achieve a democratic, just, and transparent society.” He expounded in response to the continued questions of journalists.

The Wenchuan Earthquake also played a significant role in encouraging society-wide support for disaster relief efforts. Han explained how the government appeared to have a change of heart, and how many local governments promulgated regulations governing volunteers. According to He, this was the first time the government allowed media coverage of a natural disaster, which in turn prompted a nation-wide wave of soul searching. “This was huge progress, and a huge moment of public awareness, the full extent of which won’t be clear for another 20 years.”

In order to improve relations with the government, on May 22, 2008, the Foundation, along with a number of other NGOs, made a public pledge of transparency in an effort to assuage governmental worries, reduce the government’s burden in overseeing NGO’s, as well as to increase public confidence in the non-profit sector. On the one-year anniversary of this pledge, the same organizations supported the publication of a seven-volume case study, and as part of a consortium of 21 NGOs, organized a panel discussion on disaster relief efforts as part of an NGO conference of unprecedented scale. All of these efforts were aimed at improving cooperation between civic organizations and the government, as well as to encourage a freer, more active role for civil society.

The Findings of the Third-party Evaluation

Since the 10 million yuan fundraising goal set 10 years ago, the CFPA has made great strides. The money raised and spent on the execution of disaster relief programs and large-scale disaster area coverage to Wenchuan alone exceeded 400 million yuan.

Third-party evaluators believe that the foundation went to great lengths to meet the demands of the disaster areas, in addition to operating flexibly and adjusting programs as needed. The objectives of donors also were being met. At the same time, governmental credibility and competitiveness was improving.

Han Junkui discovered the following problems while performing research in the disaster areas: the government left after they finished constructing the buildings, and the school buildings that were rebuilt, while luxurious and equipped with state-of-the-art multimedia technologies, were left unused because locals couldn’t afford the electricity fees to run them. In responding to disasters, the government’s attention remains at the rescue stage and has yet to invest significant resources into disaster prevention. This is an area where NGOs, which can mobilize communities, enjoy an advantage. In the report, Han recommends that the CFPA continue to enlarge its exploration of different types of rural development models, while gradually including community-developed disaster prevention programs into their work. He also recommends that the foundation support training of local NGOs and establish a dynamic local network.

These recommendations also reflect the objectives adopted by the CFPA in 2010 when it formally decided on a strategy to transform itself from an operational foundation into a grant-making foundation6.

Five Million Yuan Assistance to Grassroots NGOs for Post-Disaster Reconstruction

“In order to guarantee fairness within the first three years of post-disaster reconstruction, some officials were not very receptive to public interest groups. In maintaining unwelcoming attitudes towards NGOs that are more responsive to the needs of specific communities, they gave grassroots organizations a difficult time.”7. Beijing Normal University Professor Junkui Han’s discovery and several grassroots organizations experience agree on this point. However, the findings of the third-party evaluation were made within the first three years following the earthquake. In the wake of reductions in the government’s budgetary allocation, local officials’ attitudes are undergoing positive changes. Due to continuing needs in disaster areas concerning rural development, psychological counseling, education, and other areas, the government’s demands for NGO resources, programs, and innovation models continue to grow. This is good news for grassroots organizations’ programs which are still under development in disaster areas.

To date, while the CFPA’s disaster relief programs in Wenchuan have basically ended, the foundation’s presence is still felt in the region. It has already invested 5 million yuan and continues to accept applications from and provide financial aid to grass roots organizations working on post-disaster reconstruction. The foundation’s objective is to improve the capacity of grassroots NGOs and promote a healthy, functioning and effective public interest sector.

  1. Editor’s Note: Cao Dewang is the CEO of Fuyao Glass Group in Fujian and founder of the Heren Charity Foundation. In May of 2010, Cao donated 200 million yuan to the CFPA for the drought relief, but under the condition that the CFPA keep administrative costs low and guarantee that 100,000 households received 2000 yuan each. 

  2. Editor’s Note: The CFPA’s official sponsor is the State Council’s Poverty Alleviation Office which has national network of offices at the local level. 

  3. Editor’s Note: Prior to the 2008 earthquake, only the Red Cross and China Charity Federation – both GONGOs with close ties to the government – were authorized by the State Council to accept public donations for disaster relief. After the earthquake, the government expanded the number of foundations that could accept public donations for the earthquake relief to include a number of public fund-raising foundations – again all GONGOs — including the CFPA. 

  4. Editor’s Note: After the earthquake, this complaint was heard frequently in the philanthropy sector. If most public donations were going to government coffers, rather than to foundations or NGOs chosen by individual donors, then the donations were not much different from a tax imposed by the government. 

  5. Editor’s Note: The Yushu earthquake struck a remote area of Qinghai on April 14, 2010. The response from civil society organizations to the Yushu quake was controlled much more tightly than in the 2008 Sichuan (or Wenchuan) earthquake because Yushu is a Tibetan ethnic minority area. NGOs were told not to engage in fundraising for the earthquake, and GONGOs such as public foundations, which are authorized to accept public donations for disasters, were ordered to transfer their donations to the Qinghai provincial government. 

  6. Editor’s Note: The CFPA’s effort to transform itself into a grant-making foundation is notable given that Chinese public foundations tend to be operational foundations that both raise funds and spend them to implement their own projects. Very few Chinese foundations actually seek to fund other organizations, but such a transformation is essential if China’s NGOs are to receive support from the foundation sector. 

  7. Editor’s Note: In other words, local officials, which emphasize a one-size-fits-all approach to distributing resources equally among communities, were not receptive to NGOs which tend to be partial to certain communities. 

汶川地震三周年 扶贫基金会晒账本

付涛 中国发展简报2011夏季刊 5 月10日汶川地震三周年之际,中国扶贫基金会举办救灾工作报告会,向全社会公开详细的救灾资金和物资使用的财务信息。汶川地震抗震救灾行动是扶贫基金会救灾史上完成的最大项目,目前,基金会在灾区的各项工作历时三年已“基本全面结束”,为履行以专业精神打造“阳光透明的基金会”的承诺,扶贫基金会通过对整 个救灾项目的全面回顾和第三方评估,向社会公开项目和财务信息。 “我们缺的不是钱,缺的是别人给我们钱的理由”

会议现场发放的这份篇幅达42页的《中国扶贫基金会汶川地震救灾工作主题报告》,详细列出了8个领域20多个项目的收入和支出情况,提供了按不同指标提供的 分类信息,清晰地呈现了各个项目受援单位、受援物资、资金发放的种类和数量。扶贫基金会此举在交出一份问责的答卷同时,这些管理有序的数据,也为基金会分析筹资、资助项目以及改进内部管理提供了很好的数据基础。




何道峰回应,救灾筹集的既有资金也有物资,而执行费用无法从物资中计提,反而还需要另找费用将物资运送到灾区,(只涉及资金筹集发放的)单一性质的机构,计 提的费率和扶贫基金会这种执行综合性项目的机构费率不同。此外,费用水平还与机构规模大小和管理水平差异等多种因素相关,很难对所有机构适用单一的行政费率标准。按照国际上的通常惯例,达到10%就已经非常好了。


事实上,接受曹德旺的2亿捐款,执行费用低至3%,扶贫基金会是贴钱完成的,因为这个项目的重点策略在于突出企业家对捐助资金的问责所产生的媒体效应。 “(企业家)不能总是(在捐赠仪式上面对媒体)举牌子,举完了就回家睡觉,曹德旺的意义在于举起了捐赠人问责的大旗。如果每个项目都是3%的执行费用,我 们早就关门了。”何道峰的解释很到位。




“我们缺的不是钱,缺的是别人给我们钱的理由”,何道峰表示,公开透明是扶贫基金会的“最高纲领”。 问责带来的信任

地震发生后,希望捐款的诺基亚公司在第一时间迅速按国家指引联系官办机构,诺基亚的条件是定向捐助,了解用途。结果要么打不通电话,要么对方无法满足问责条件,或者附加额度要求,项目报告时间也不能保证。而这时候扶贫基金会主动联系诺基亚,做出承诺:紧急救援阶段每周提供报告,重建阶段按月或季度提供报报 告,最终双方达成了协议。

诺基亚(中国)公司企业社会责任总监傅蕾讲了一个有意思的插曲。当时,诺基亚有两笔款,一笔是公司捐款400万,一笔是员工捐款200万。她所在的社会责任 部门代表公司捐款给扶贫基金会,遭到了员工的强烈抗议,后者质疑她为何不捐给“排行靠前的基金会”。结果,按照诺基亚的内部执行准则,公司捐赠部分给了扶贫基金会,而员工俱乐部决定将员工捐款另谋他图。后来,社会责任部门在第一时间将扶贫基金会的项目进展报告转给员工,两个月后,社会上又发生了捐款管理不善的风波,员工最终转变了态度,一并将捐款交给扶贫基金会。


“他们私下对我们批评得厉害。与诺基亚这样的‘高手'过招,取得他们的支持,也提升了我们自身的能力。”王行最说。 与垄断性公益竞争


按照常规,国务院办公厅照例发文指定红十字总会和慈善总会为受捐单位,扶贫基金会在央视上的捐助信息老是被拿下来,经过沟通后又放上去,持续三天来回拉锯。 后来政府决定放开救灾限制,扶贫基金会才正式获得官方认可,与其他基金会一起,跻身“合法”参与公募救灾的基金会之列。


“2008年地震760亿捐款,加上雪灾捐款达到1 000亿,75%~80%回到了政府财政账目上。那你就收税算了。”围绕民间公益遭遇的“被募捐”,何道峰再次抨击公益领域的垄断行为。



当然在制度建设上,汶川地震对公民参与救灾也产生了一定的推动作用。韩俊魁表示,政府在思想观念上发生了变化,很多地方出台了志愿者条例。在何道峰看来,汶 川地震是第一次允许媒体公开灾难,开启了国家和社会公开讨论问题的先河。“这是巨大的进步,社会组织、公民意识都在觉醒,其意义深远程度要过20年才能明 白。”

为改善与政府的沟通,中国扶贫基金会在2008年5月22日与南都基金会和爱德基金会等机构发起自律行动,承诺公开透明,消除政府担忧,为政府减轻监管压 力,提升公益组织的社会信任度。一周年后,又资助出版了7本案例调查,并联合21家组织发起5.12论坛和规模空前的公益组织交流会,试图通过种种举措建构民间与政府的良性互动,为民间力量拓展空间。 第三方评估的发现

从10年前1 000万的筹款额度,到汶川地震筹款和执行超过4亿元规模的救灾项目并大面积覆盖地震灾区,扶贫基金会完成了大跨越。

当然,报告认为,个别项目还有其局限性,此外民乐村的生计发展项目,作为扶贫基金会开发的首个通过创新机制着眼于社区长远发展的项目,现在仍然在实际操作上 面临一些困难。报告建议,由于生计发展已成为社区的迫切需求,应为民乐村的生计发展项目选择更多的地方进行试点。而且,这类项目应更多依靠当地组织完成。


这项建议契合了扶贫基金会在2010年正式确立的从运作型变为资助型基金会的转型战略。 500万资助草根NGO灾后重建

“灾后重建的1~3年内,为照顾普遍性公平,有些政府并不太欢迎公益组织。对擅长提供差异性公平的NGO持不欢迎态度,草根组织相当艰难。”北师大教授韩俊魁 的发现与不少草根组织的感受契合。不过,他领导的第三方评估发现,在震后三年过去之际,随着财政拨款力度逐步降低,地方官员的态度正在发生积极变化。由于灾区在农村发展、社会心理、教育等各方面仍然存在大量需求,政府对NGO资金、项目和创新模式的需求在增加。这对仍在灾区开展项目的草根组织是个好消息。

目 前,尽管扶贫基金会汶川救灾基本全面结束,但这并不意味着全面退出。扶贫基金会已经投入500万元,正通过公益招投标模式筛选和资助有潜力的草根公益组织 继续参与灾后重建,其目的在于提升草根公益组织的能力,实现公益行业内部有效分工,形成良性运行的公益行业生态。

Translated by Michael Schmale

Reviewed by Kyle Shernuk

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