Grantmakers without borders – Huge need for grantmakers in China

In early November, Grantmakers Without Borders convened a series of one-day conferences in San Francisco, New York and Chicago. Entitled ‘China: Examining the Philanthropic Landscape’, they featured a broad range of China experts from the US and China, including Barnett Baron of the Asia Foundation; Wu Qing, long-time women’s activist; Tiejun Wen, renowned expert on rural China; and Humphrey Wou, founder of AIDS Relief Fund for China.

The days were filled with valuable insights for grantmakers. Among the highlights: China’s non-profit sector is enormous. Some estimate there may be over 2 million charitable organizations, just a small portion of which are officially recognized by the Chinese government. While the government by and large recognizes the value of a charitable sector, exactly what space will be given to NGOs in the future is still very much an open question.

That said, there is huge potential – and a huge need – for grantmakers to become involved in China. Just how and what a grantmaker can fund seems to depend on a number of factors, including the scale of the grant and the grantmaker’s stomach for risk. Funders making larger grants, for example, should align their issue areas with the government’s priorities, such as increasing education opportunities, mitigating the impact of growth on the environment, and addressing health issues such as HIV/AIDS. Funders making smaller grants will have much greater flexibility about which issues they fund and will be able to reach more marginalized communities. Capacity-building is much needed: many groups lack basics such as office space or a computer. General support grants were thus seen as the most critical need for Chinese charities.

Having someone familiar with the China context to bridge the sometimes wide gaps in intention and understanding came out time and again as the sine qua non of grantmaking in China. Another important lesson: transparency is essential, for building trust not just with grant recipients and local communities but also with the Chinese government.

Gw/oB views these conferences as a first step in a longer commitment to increasing philanthropic engagement with China. Next Gw/oB, in partnership with the Clarence Foundation, hopes to convene giving circles in San Francisco, New York and Chicago. Gw/oB also hopes to convene a donor delegation to China in spring 2006.

For more information about these conferences, please visit

For more information about Gw/oB, contact Executive Director John Harvey at

Grantmakers Without Borders
PO Box 181282
Boston, MA 02118, USA
Tel +1 617 794-2253

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