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People's Daily Online>>China Society

Exciting times for 'return on society'

By Ed Sander (China Daily)

09:49, December 26, 2011

For small organizations in China that work for charity and social development, "profit" often seems to be a dirty word. This is understandable because unlike big corporations these non-governmental organizations (NGOs) pride themselves to be working for a greater good instead of making a few shareholders and top managers rich.

Small NGOs in China are normally run by a team of people who are highly passionate about the cause they work for, be it the environment, the physically challenged or the poor.

Unfortunately, the small scale of the NGOs and the educational and professional backgrounds of its staff members often come with a lack of business skills. As a result, many of these organizations struggle to find the right ways to raise funds, organize projects and make the most effective use of their resources. Decisions are more often made on "gut feeling" than on a proper business case with an analysis of the "return of investment".

Well, "return on investment" is another dirty phrase. Most certainly this would imply that these organizations are in it for the money. I beg to differ. NGOs are still trying to achieve a result (impact on social development) with their investments (resources like funding by donors and the time and labor given by employees and volunteers). Like any regular business, the NGOs' goal should be to create the highest possible impact with the available resources.

In that case, maybe we should soften up the terminology a bit and call it "return on society" and discuss how NGOs bring tangible return to Chinese society.

There is another reason why professional business practice will become more important for NGOs in the country: accountability and transparency.

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