Why should NGO turn into business?

I’ve been receiving newsletters from many animal rights & welfare organizations, and I really appreciate their effort to preventing animal abusing and promoting animal welfare. But these days a letter made me worried about NGO in China.

The letter came from a local organization I’ve never heard of. It’s been supporting itself by various donation in the past, but recently it’s lack of money and ask for help. I was a little bit sad when it reminded me of the animal welfare NGOs I’ve been operating for several years.

The first problem is that it’s really hard to get support from people around you. Just imagine how it is like when a small group of young students protesting “Eating Dog” in North-East China, where “Dog Hot Spot” is a long-time traditional dish.

The second and even bigger problem is money. You do need money to print promotion materials, to rent stuff & equipment for campaigns, even to provide foot and lodge for animals getting hurt or lost. There are tens of such NGOs in Beijing and still growing everywhere in China, but no one can escape from this reality.

2 years ago, I took a visit to a animal activist in Beijing, with over 100 dogs and cats in her home. Everyday she has to pay over $150 USD just for animal’s daily food, needless to say other costs like medicine when they are ill. She has sold her house in center district and take care of those animals full time. It’s a really touching story, but what should she do when the money is burnt out again?

I believe NGO is a necessity of a healthy society, but one thing fatal is: Turn NGO into Business.

There is a huge different between Chinese NGOs and western NGOs: Most Chinese NGOs never speak out for itself until it’s running out of money; while on the other side, western NGOs are so good at Public relation, digging every chance and employing every channel to be a cover story, to be on TV shows, to protest or be protested, to sue powerful organizations or be sued by them, to be a common signal on media, to make everyone know its existance. Damn! What a good trick here!!!! Everyone tends to donate money when a famous guy is in need. It’s human nature!

In other words, a smart NGO should make itself a distinct Cultural Signal, and find those people who match the signal. GreenPeace did bunch of famous events(towards government or big companies) to show the world that GreenPeace is an extreme but really cool NGO. Now there are 2.8 Million young people are proud of being a member of it, and every year billions of US dollars are going to Greenpeace office as donations. Mozilla Fundation is also taking advantage of its crazy fans (including me) by turnning itself into a unique presentative of “Open, Safe, Stable” network life. I’m so willing to spend $30 to buy a Firefox Tee right now.

In fact, GreenPeace is a special case if we talk about donation since it refuse any donation from government or commercial organization, just to keep itself neutral. Most wester NGOs, however, like WWFIFAW, WSPA, have great fundrasing lessons to teach its members how to connect with media, to get cooperation with commercial parties, how to get sponsor from others and give them reward, and how to bring benefits to all sides. This is what Chinese NGOs should learn.

It reminds me of a quite impressive case in China: Fenbid, a pain-releasing medicine made by GlaxoSmithKline, featured a Chinese volunteer in its wild spreading advertisement, who spend his whole time taking care of 103 orphans in rural area and teaching them everything. This is a successful case of how to integrate charity with commercial.

Without an effective plan and resources, it’s really irresponsible to create an NGO just with passion.

Chinese version of this post: NGO与商业化