The Red Cross Society’s PR fumble troubles China’s charities

Coins and bills from a Red Cross Society of China collection box are counted as donors hope the money is going to disaster relief. Photo: CFP

Surely some people must feel sorry for Guo Meimei, the black-haired bimbo whose no-brainer of a no-no has helped complete the tarnishing of China’s largest emergency aid foundation. 

The 20-year-old supposed popsy of an executive of the Red Cross Society of China (RCSC) was surely just having fun when she frittered away part of her day uploading pictures of her grossly expensive playthings. Did she really not know that people connected to a charity foundation should keep a low profile if they’ve somehow managed to earn a 3-million-yuan Maserati and a wardrobe of designer outfits? 

Now, a month after suffering the humiliation of an intensive Internet “flesh search” into every aspect of her life, the butterfly effect of her dopey pretentiousness has spread disaster across China’s charity industry. 

“Without credibility, there is no future for charitable foundations because you can’t fundraise. Without funds you can’t help the poor or the disadvantaged. In the end, you will lose the trust of the people,” said John Fitzgerald, representative of the Ford Foundation in China.

While Guo’s singular act of stupidity left the public slack jawed, many were not that surprised and lashed out with suspicion and outrage.

Lack of transparency the key

“People are angry at the RCSC for its lack of transparency and because a mistress with pretty face can so easily take advantage of the collective good will so easily,” explained Yao Jinxing, a sociologist with Peking University.

The RCSC’s initial reaction to the controversy might also become a classic case study for how not to handle a public relations disaster.

Its threat to sue anyone who spread the Guo gossip, further enraged netizens who were insulted by the lack of contrition and assumed the foundation has more to hide.

Subsequent statements by RCSC included a deep apology and promises of an internal investigation. This week, however, netizens are in an uproar again over the RCSC’s retreat into silence. People want answers to basic questions such as how are a charitable foundation’s executive got so rich and how its money and businesses are handled.

“The real winner of the award for philanthropic transparency in China should be Guo Meimei,” said Kang Xiaoguang, director of the Institute for Non-profit Organizations under the Renmin University of China in Beijing.

Kang’s silver-lining theory to the ultimate outcome of the Guo/RCSC fiasco received waves of applause at the annual meeting of the China Foundation Center (CFC), which had been scheduled far in advance of the outbreak of public hostilities.

The CFC maintains an online searchable database of the annual reports of over 90% of China’s foundations. The CFC’s goal is to “increase the level of trust towards charitable foundations and promote fundraising.”

The RCSC is not a member of the CFC, nor is its annual report listed on the CFC database.

Tarnishing the image of charities

Celebrating the first anniversary of its founding in a shroud of public disdain, the theme of the meeting could not have been more appropriate or perhaps ironic: “Transparent Philanthropy and the Harmonious Society.” Held earlier this month the meeting brought together representatives of more than 120 charity foundations researchers, policy makers and donors.

“Without transparency, China’s charities have no credibility, so rumors are easily spread on the Internet and a young beauty can ruin all the good deeds of a generation of charities in China,” lamented the Ford Foundation’s Fitzgerald.

China’s 2,286 charitable foundations manage 45 billion yuan in contributions.

Although Guo’s name was mentioned 14 times during the meeting no one from the RCSC was there to defend her or the organization.

Yang Wen came to the meeting in part to  set the record straight. He wants people to know there are two distinct organizations in China that contain the words red cross in their names. 

“We are from The Red Cross Foundation, not the Red Cross Society,” said Yang.

“The fire hasn’t reached us,” said Yang of the maelstrom of criticism leveled at the RCSC.

Saddled with similar logos and almost identical names, the CRCF struggles to separate itself from the controversy that has engulfed the RCSC. “No matter how hard you try to explain it, the public will always find a way to talk back and criticize,” said Yang.

“Fundraising might be affected,” acknowledged Zhang Yuzhen, a manager with the Beijing branch of the CRCF, referring to donations from individuals. “But our major donors are corporations,” she added with a shrug.

Source: Globle  Times

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