BEIJING, Jan. 25 -- About a year ago, when Zhang Yanli, president of the Beijing Charity Association (BCA), saw the 2004 financial report of her organization, she felt anxiety.
Donations the BCA received amounted to about 23 million yuan (US$2.9 million). Although there was a growth from prior years, a comparison with some big city associations - such as the Shanghai Charity Foundation (SCF), which received 240 million yuan (US$30 billion) in 2004 - dwarfed those of the capital's major charity organization.
For the nearly 200,000 people who rely on government relief and cannot afford decent schooling and health care, the money was far from enough.
After contemplation, Zhang and her colleagues decided to promote harder. And to do that, they needed to work more closely with the media.
But the association managed to find a powerful partner - the Beijing Evening News, one of the largest circulation local newspapers. They designed a project to solicit donations of artworks from artists living in Beijing for a charity auction, with the Beijing Evening News agreeing to devote dozens of free pages for advertising and promotion.
The revenue will be used for the BCA's current aid schemes, including health assistance for 28,000 relief-taking senior citizens, an annual 1,000-yuan (US$123) subsidy for each of 1,000 poor high school students, and 1,000 wheelchairs for the city's disabled every year.
"The media play an important role in charity," Zhang said. "On the one hand they help discover cases where charity is needed, and on the other hand they can arouse the public's charity awareness."
The involvement of the Beijing Evening News generated telling clout that tallied with Zhang's assumption. Since July 15, the first day the newspaper launched a full page promoting the charity project, the project's donation hotline has been busy answering enquiries.
More than 2,000 calls were recorded in the first two months since then. Although the project was targeted at generous artists, ordinary residents also responded.
"One day a man called in, saying: 'I'm not an artist, but I want to donate some artworks from my collections,'" said Wang Haiping, art director of the Beijing Yanbodu Gallery, who was hired to oversee the collection of donations.
"That was really touching." Despite the tough heat in the summer, there were so many people visiting the office every day - many of them elder artists and some in families, and some artists even donated twice, said Wang.
By the end of last November, the BCA had received more than 500 artworks, including calligraphy, paintings, seal cuttings, sculptures and chinaware. The donors are mainly big-name artists in the capital, including Han Meilin, designer of the mascot of 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The donations were exhibited in Beijing last December and moved to Tianjin, Hangzhou and some cities in Guangdong and Shandong provinces. The BCA plans to auction a first batch before the Spring Festival, according to Cheng Liyan, the BCA's deputy secretary-general.
Cheng declined to predict the gains from the auction but was optimistic about the outcome.
"Owing to the works of these leading artists, the value of the donations is obvious," she said. "Considering the charity theme of the auction, the outcome will be more than a normal auction can yield."
The BCA planned to use 30 per cent of the auctioned money to cover the project's operational costs and the rest for its charity schemes, according to Cheng.
She attributed the imminent success to the partnership with the Beijing Evening News.
"The media can reach many more people than we do," she said. "They let more people know who are in need of help, what we are doing, and how we are going to use their money."
BCA has not finished its financial report of 2005 yet, but Cheng was confident the revenue will be higher than the 2004 level.
Despite the exciting performance in the media-backed charity experiment, the BCA remains cool-minded about the tough journey ahead.
Challenges in the growth of the BCA and the charity industry as a whole include inadequate public awareness, a general mistrust of charitable organizations and restrictive government regulations in some ways, said Zhang, BCA president.
"I've been to Hong Kong and Macao, and I saw so many charitable organizations there, taking care of various welfare institutions as well as numerous donation activities held regularly for public participation," Zhang said. "Charity awareness is ingrained in their minds from childhood.
"It takes long-term efforts to elevate the public awareness (on the mainland) to that level."
The BCA has made it a priority in the near future to build up the "brand image" of its key projects, such as an education aid programme named "Your Love, Their Future," one for the disabled named "Help the Amputees Stand Up," and "Refueling Life," a project that helps congenital heart disease patients.
It is going to strengthen its promotion through co-operation with the media to make these projects, as well as the charitable missions, accepted by more people, Zhang said.
"Charity is not only the responsibility of the rich but also something related to everybody," she said and then borrowed an old Chinese saying: "Only when everyone contributes firewood can the flames run high."
(Source: China Daily)