Fundraising in the Chinese Canadian Community

I grew up learning about fundraising and philanthropy from my mother, watching her work with different local charities and nonprofits in my community. In the past few years, I started noticing some of the charities that benefit from my mother’s fundraising are very prominent organizations such as Canadian Red Cross, Sick Kids Foundation, Princess Margaret Foundation, World Vision, etc.

As Chinese Canadians are a part of a very generous community, it is easy to understand the motivations to engage with this new and rapidly growing donor population. However, before you begin drafting a fundraising plan, there are a number of questions your organization needs to answer. Although Chinese culture has trickled into the mainstream culture in recent years, it is important to understand that the group does not define the individuals who you may be working with.

According to Statistic Canada’s 2011 census, The second highest number of newcomers coming to Canada are emigrating from China (10.5%). Chinese is the second largest visible minority groups in Canada, accounting for 21.1% of the visible minority population and 4% of the total population. Another fact to consider is that, Chinese Canadians living in the GTA are moving further north from the traditionally preferred regions of Markham, Scarborough, and downtown Toronto into areas like Richmond Hill, Aurora, and Newmarket.

Like with any other donor group, it is important to understand your audience before approaching someone in the Chinese Canadian community. Chinese Canadians do not make up big group from China – there are many differences among these groups in terms of age, religion, social and professional networks, economical background, language spoken and written, interests, and their relationship with Canada. Let’s take a closer look at some of these groups:

Chinese from the People’s Republic of China (PRC)

  • Mandarin speakers, writes in simplified Chinese (Chinese writing with emphasis on less pen strokes)
  • Most recent arrivals to Canada
  • Philanthropy and volunteering likely not familiar concepts to newer arrivals as China is still in the process of building these ideas as practices in their society

Chinese from Hong Kong/Macau

  • Cantonese speakers, after 1997 when Hong Kong reverted back to China, many people of Hong Kong also spoke Mandarin. May also be English speakers
  • Read and write in both traditional and simplified Chinese
  • Very accustomed to philanthropy and volunteering
  • May be aware of Canadian organizations that are part of the international movement such as Red Cross, YMCA, and United Way.

Chinese from Taiwan

  • Mandarin speakers, writes in traditional Chinese
  • Accustomed to the practices of volunteerism and philanthropy
  • According to Statistics Canada, they are now placed in their own group of Taiwanese Canadians

Canadian-born Chinese/Overseas Chinese

  • Share a common heritage with Chinese from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan
  • May not necessarily be fluent in spoken or written Chinese, may prefer to communicate in English
  • Familiarity in Chinese cultural practice will vary based on household practices
  • If they grew up in the Western hemisphere, should be familiar with philanthropy and volunteerism

Once you have identified who you are talking to, the next step is to formulate a strategy to communicate with them and let them know who you are as an organization. Here are some tips on what works and what might not work with the Canadian Chinese community.

Tip #1: Relationship building – Who do you know?

There is a very strong emphasis on building relationships when doing business with Chinese Canadians. Similar to how you would compile a list of major gift prospects, you want to identify strategic partners who are highly respected in the Chinese Canadian community and who can effectively communicate your organization’s values. It is typically better to first recruit individuals with a marketing or communications background as you will have to cater your message to their preferred language as well. Hiring staff who are ethnically Chinese and who can read and write in Chinese can be a huge asset to your fundraising and stewardship endeavors. Another opportunity is leveraging government support such as the Chinese Embassy and Chinese Consulates which can open doors for connecting with Chinese immigrants and businesses.

Tip #2: Reaching out – Ways to engage the community

A key to success for an organization is to be open to changes in delivery methods in fundraising. The first step is to truly understand and appreciate the community one is seeking to engage. As mentioned before, Chinese culture places a large emphasis on cultivating relationships. This means they are much more receptive to face to face points of contact such as special events compared to more traditional fundraising strategies such as direct mail. Federal leaders of parties understand this well and during this year’s federal election, have even made attending their local Chinese communities’ mid-autumn summer festival events as part of their campaigning strategies.

Surprisingly, online giving has been proven to be positively embraced by Chinese Canadians. Sandra Wilking, the first female Chinese-Canadian to be voted to public office in British Columbia as an immigrant judge, suggests in her article from The Philanthropist that the attractive factor is the immediacy of the act and donors being personally invited by a friend to give. Bequests and legacy giving is not very receptive among the older generation of Chinese Canadians. From my personal experience, this is due to a cultural mentality to pass on wealth to the next generation rather than supporting the community.

Tip #3: Stand out from the pack – Mobilizing the media

Do not underestimate the power of the Chinese Canadian media, a vast majority of Chinese Canadians still get their news from traditional media such as television, radio and newspapers. These channels play a key role in connecting with a wide spectrum of the Chinese Canadian community. In Toronto there is 2 television stations Fairchild TV and Omni TV; 3 radio stations: A1 Chinese Radio (AM1540) and Fairchild Radio (FM88.9 and AM1430); and a variety of newspapers with the biggest being World Journal (primarily target Taiwanese Canadians), Ming Pao, and Sing Tao (both with origins in Hong Kong). Many large charities such as the Canadian Cancer Society, Sick Kids, and World Vision have found success in engaging Chinese Canadians this way.

Tip #4: Be a part of the community – Developing a volunteer committee

Recruiting volunteers from the Chinese Canadian communities may be another valuable asset to your organization if you hope to further your relationship with the group. I volunteer for a lot of my mother’s fundraising events growing up, where she acted as liaison between the Chinese community and the volunteer fundraising committee created by organizations such as Red Cross and World Vision. Many of these volunteers are individuals in the Chinese Canadian community with strong ties to businesses and community leaders like my mother. They act as representatives of the organizations within the Chinese Canadian community, building relationships on their behalf and sharing the organization’s values with the public. Diversity and inclusion plays a major role in stewarding volunteers, many young professionals are very knowledgeable about diversity and bring very specific skills and interests to the organization. Having ethnically Chinese staff to help coordinate with these committees may allow for more transparency, culturally sensitive practices, and in avoiding misunderstanding.

I will use myself as an example, I chose to enroll in the Humber Fundraising Management Program because I felt the fundraising prospects in the Chinese community was too small. Not only did I want to establish my own career as a fundraiser, I want to be acknowledged as a fundraiser that can do more than just stay in my Chinese community. I am more than happy to utilize my experiences fundraising in the Chinese community to support a worthwhile organization, but it is very important to be that I am recognized for my value as a fundraiser and a connector, not just my ethnicity and connections to my culture.

Sandra Wilking in her article brought on the discussion about whether volunteers from ethnocultural/racial communities are a challenge or a valuable asset. As a Chinese Canadian, I wholeheartedly believe that we are an asset to any organization who is willing to take the effort to engage with our community. I have lived on both sides, living in the Chinese Canadian community while working in the mainstream charitable sector. I was not hired because of my ethnicity, but because of my experience and skills I brought to the position I applied for. However, I think I am ready to become the bridge to connect my community with causes and organizations that I care about. My only question is, are your organizations committed and ready to join me?


Wilking, S. (2001). Engaging Ethnocultural/Racial Communities: The Chinese-Canadian Experience. The Philanthropist, Volume 24, 23-30