There are a number of key differences between the West and the East when it comes to public welfare activities and charitable giving. 

In the West, the majority of charitable donations come from individuals; in the US, for example, over 80% of all donations to charities and nonprofit organisations come from individual donors. In China, the majority of charitable donations originate from the corporate sector. 

China has seen an increasing number of tech companies engage in public welfare activities, even when they might not immediately translate into profits – this can mainly be attributed to tech growth and innovation.

Here we look at the key differences between the Western and Eastern worlds when it comes to the use of technology to drive charitable giving. What factors contribute to the distinctions and what lessons can be gleaned from them?

Digital infrastructure aiding mass involvement

The existing digital infrastructure and technology landscape plays a key role in how charity is facilitated in the West and East. The West had a headstart in technology adoption, leading to early development of fundraising platforms, crowdfunding websites and social media campaigns. The first crowdfunding platform – ArtistShare – was launched in 2001 in the US and many crowdfunding websites have emerged over the years, including Kickstarter and GoFundMe.  

China, however, has experienced a rapid leap in technological advancement, which has made way for the integration of innovative tech solutions directly into charity efforts. 

The rise of China’s tech philanthropy is unprecedented and represents a truly transformative approach to doing business. Many Chinese tech companies build on the network effects of digitisation by implementing crowdfunding at every segment of highly integrated tech platforms. For example, Chinese internet tech giant Tencent crowdfunds through different applications including WeChat, WeChat Payment and WeChat mini-games.

China has the biggest number of internet users and the fastest growing eCommerce market in the world.. Online platforms and social media driven initiatives have transformed how its people think about giving to charity.

120 million internet users donated through online fundraising platforms in 2021, attracting millions of donors, and tens of thousands of institutions and enterprises. Tencent raised over 400m yuan during its 99 Giving Day last year.

China has seen a wealth of successful philanthropic projects over the years, all driven by innovative and highly integrated tech platforms. For example, Sina Charity, which has supported thousands of projects online with donations from 40 million users over 10 years.

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Integration of online and offline efforts

Another feature of the emerging model for charitable giving in China is the integration of online and offline practice which has gone a long way to deliver success. For example, Alibaba’s 95 Philanthropic Week has mobilised 220 million people to take part in rural education, elderly care and women’s employment, besides just online donations. 

Payment systems and digital giving 

In the West, digital payment adoption varies, but it’s generally not as widespread or integrated into daily life as in China. In China, platforms such as WeChat Pay and Alipay are deeply embedded into every aspect of people’s lives. In the West, digital payment platforms like PayPal are popular for online donations; however, while digital giving is growing, more traditional methods like checks and in-person donations are still common. Digital giving platforms also tend to focus more specifically on fundraising, rather than providing a vast range of integrated services.

Driving donations through gamification 

China’s mobile-based and gamified approach to fundraising allows nonprofits to weave charitable giving into the daily habits of donors. Gamification can take fundraising to the next level on social media and digital payment platforms. For instance, WeChat is cleverly amplified for 99 Giving Day by the creation of ‘red flower’ tokens that users convert into money and donate to charity. Tencent even brought video games to children’s hospitals in Paris, with free games featuring adaptive technologies.

In China, handling as well as giving is a key focus for charitable giving. By providing free trials, many Chinese enterprises have acquired an army of fans. Charitable initiatives can positively influence businesses by translating into commercial success later on – a benefit that is often overlooked. 

Peer power

Digital platforms in China work hard to drive peer influence. The ‘WeChat Pay Do Good Together’ project uses digital feedback to connect compassionate people and those in need – a thank-you message is sent to a donor, inspiring peers to follow suit. 

The first ever 99 Giving Day ushered in the new ‘Donate Together’ charity model, where WeChat users encourage their social group to give by clicking on the ‘donate together’ button – a simple but effective model to inspire peers.

Cultural norms

In the West, there is a long tradition of individualism and personal philanthropy, such as Steve Jobs focusing on AIDS-related charities over the years. This has translated into technology being used to facilitate direct connections between donors and charitable causes. 

In contrast, collectivist cultures in the East emphasise community and group-oriented efforts, leading to more integrated and coordinated technology-driven charity initiatives. Time and time again we see the masses united in a shared cause, such as Alibaba’s Singles Day, which was first launched to bring together solitary figures in China and each year sees Alibaba’s digital platforms, Tmall and Taboao, serve as the foundation for the day, bringing together the masses and driving donations.

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