Frequency of scams raises questions about online fundraising

On the 7th of July, in China’s Southwestern city of Nanning, a mother posted a notice online stating that her daughter had been infected by the Zika virus, and that the family did not have money for treatment. Within three days, more than 250 000RMB had been raised through online platforms; however some netizens uncovered soon after that the mother in question owned many restaurants in the area, drove an Audi and possessed various properties to her name. The internet quickly labelled her a fraud, and on the 27th July all of the money was returned.

This case comes after numerous other incidents involving online fundraising, most notably the Luo Er case in 2016. Luo Er was sick child whose father posted similar pleading posts online, raising over 2 million RMB and provoking much controversy. The Standing Committee of the NPC later stated that the Luo Er case constituted illegal covert fundraising.

The use of the internet in the charity sector has seen public engagement in philanthropy increase. According to government statistics, in 1997 China’s public donations stood at 1.4 billion yuan, but 20 years later this has increased to 155.8 billion yuan.

According to the new regulations, when launching a fundraising project, charitable organisations first need to attain public-fundraising qualifications, then formulate a public-fundraising program and file with the civil affairs department under which they are registered. After completing the filing, organisations can use the allocated internet platforms to fundraise online. According to the records of “Charity In China” (organized by the Social Organizations’ Management Bureau of the Ministry of Civil Affairs), there are currently 4523 recorded fundraising projects enacted by 327 charitable organisations across the country.

Last year the civil affairs department declared that 12 online platform organisations could create the first batch of official fundraising platforms for charities. Within the first year these 12 fundraising platforms received 6.2 billion donations for a total of 2.59 billion yuan, 63% of which came from the Tencent-affiliated platform.

In May this year the civil affairs department approved nine further organisations, including Meituan and Didi, to create online fundraising platforms, making for a current total of 20 platforms (one foundation was removed from the list). From the information provided by these organisations, it can be seen that most of the fundraising projects are in education, healthcare, environmental protection and disaster relief. Six of these organisations have launched “business poverty alleviation” projects for impoverished areas to sell agricultural products.

Although the use of online fundraising is high and its influence great, it still suffers from some issues. For example, the “Love Help” (爱心求助) feature that is found on various platforms has been abused. The feature allows customers to donate a proportion of their purchases to charity, but it also allows people to post their own requests for help, and for some it has become a short-cut for making money. It seems that online fundraising platforms have also become a hotbed for fraudulent behaviour. Experts believe that it is the operating mechanisms of the charitable organisations, the lack of transparency and the imperfect feedback system that has created the issue. Many online fundraising processes lack third party supervision.

Online fundraising is developing and there needs to be unity to quickly improve supervisory systems, create better transparency and at the same time improve publicity to let the public understand and care about charity work.

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