To most of us in North America, philanthropy and fundraising are a way of life. However, in countries where formal philanthropy is not a part of the history or the culture, can a government or a group of people bring about a wholesale shift in how its citizens perceive the concept that will lead them to behave accordingly? This is the very challenge being undertaken in South Korea today.
South Korea has grown and changed and is now a modern and highly competitive economic force in the world. Koreans are educated, ambitious and very forward-thinking, and they have worked hard to take the best ideas and accomplishments of other countries and incorporate them into their society.
One concept that Korea wants very much to develop is that of philanthropy. In Korean, the word that comes closest to philanthropy is nanum, which means, literally translated, “sharing.” It is a larger concept than our definition of philanthropy, “voluntary action for the common good,” because it incorporates all types of sharing, from one’s food to one’s help to one’s wealth.
“Korean culture has a long tradition of giving,” says Bekay Ahn, CFRE, principal of the International Council for Nonprofit Management (ICNPM) in Seoul. “Koreans are taught values of selflessness and compassion from a young age, so this has been very conducive to the gradual growth of philanthropy.” In fact, the tradition of giving, called dure, comes from a long history of everyone pitching in to help with the harvest.
Ahn believes there are several reasons for Korea’s interest in philanthropy. Many individuals now in leadership positions in Korea, from business leaders to faculty at Korea’s many universities, were educated in the United States, where they were exposed to American philanthropy and the role it plays in American society. Also, now that Korea and Koreans have become economically successful, they realize that they can and should give back. Ahn calls this trend “national self-actualization.”
At the same time, but not for the same reasons, nonprofit organizations in Korea developed and flourished. As the country developed its strong democratic government, starting in the late 1980s, and as its economy began to grow strong, many nonprofit organizations formed to promote human rights, build social networks and provide a way for citizens to influence the government.
The past 15 years have seen the nonprofit sector expand dramatically. Social services had traditionally been considered to be the responsibility of the government, but an economic crisis in 1997 changed that mindset. Although Korea recovered rapidly from that downturn, its people saw how much suffering had taken place and began to understand that the government could not meet all the needs of its people.
Currently, there are an estimated 30,000 nonprofits operating in South Korea.While many international charities such as UNICEF, the Red Cross and Planned Parenthood have had operations in Korea for many years, one of the largest Korean nonprofits is the internationally recognized Beautiful Foundation (www.beautifulfund.org/eng/index.jsp) in Seoul. The Beautiful Foundation, with its mission of building a just and equitable society through the sharing of wealth across society, has had a major impact on philanthropy in Korea through its several primary efforts, including the “1% Sharing Campaign,” which encourages all Koreans to contribute 1 percent of their money or time to a cause they believe in.
Although current statistics are hard to come by, it is estimated that corporate giving represents nearly 40 percent of Korean philanthropy, and individual giving accounts for the rest. Although middle-class household giving goes up and down as the economy fluctuates, individual giving overall continues to grow each year. In addition to direct mail, mass marketing and some major-gift fundraising, Korea is seeing an increase in many new forms of fundraising.Face-to-face fundraising, or street fundraising, has become popular, especially among smaller charitable organizations.Since Korea has a high-tech society, various new and creative fundraising websites also have appeared in the last several years. Large Korean companies, such as Samsung and LG, have used social media to encourage giving, but a relatively new website, called Nboon (www.advancedtechnologykorea.com/12986), and other sites allow any individual to raise funds for any cause.
The government still plays a major role in the support of nonprofit organizations, with most organizations receiving substantial support in the form of government grants. In addition, the Korean Department of Health and Welfare has sponsored an annual International Conference on Nanum (Sharing) for the past three years to bring together thought leaders from nonprofit, academic, government and corporate communities to share ideas about specific philanthropic topics.
Along with the growth of the nonprofit sector, the fundraising profession has begun to emerge. At this point, only the largest foundations, nonprofit organizations, universities and hospitals have fundraisers on their staffs or engage in largescale fundraising campaigns, and many professional fundraisers in Korea work as consultants. However, this is changing. With some 350 fundraisers working in Korea, there is increased interest in the profession itself and in professional development. Many Korean fundraisers have attended conferences and other fundraising training opportunities in the United States, Europe and Asia.
There is also greater interest among fundraisers in coming together as professionals. In late June, the first roundtable meeting of professionals was held in Seoul, and monthly meetings are being planned to discuss a variety of topics about fundraising techniques, training and other topics of interest. Recent discussions have begun on how to bring formal fundraising training and perhaps a certificate program to Korea.
South Korea is a vibrant, energetic and thriving country that has its eye very much focused on the future. Its future is definitely one where philanthropy will play a major role in the success of the country and where professional, ethical fundraising becomes a major catalyst for that success.
A special thanks to colleagues in Korea-Bekay Ahn, CFRE, principal, and Steve West, FAHP, senior fundraising consultant, at ICNPM (www.icnpm.org), and Young-Woo Choi, Ph.D., president and CEO of Daum & Nanum Co. Inc., an associate firm of Brakeley, in Seoul-for their contributions to this article.
Pat Bjorhovde, MAPD, is coordinator of the AFP Youth in Philanthropy program and was one of two Americans invited to present at the third International Conference on Nanum in Seoul on June 10, 2013.