Daigo Sato, the man who founded the NPO that set up Japan’s first political internship program, Dot-JP, 10 years ago, has embarked on a new mission this year to help the nonprofit organizations themselves.
In May, Sato established Charity Platform, the first NPO in the country to act as an intermediary for other NPOs. His aim is to help the more than 35,000 NPOs in Japan raise funds by linking them with companies looking to contribute to society.
“Since 1998, when the first NPO law was enacted, the number of NPOs in Japan has risen to more than 35,000. But I thought these NPOs had done little to change society, and I was wondering whether there were other ways to increase their presence,” Sato, 35, said in a recent interview.
After some research, Charity Platform and its 15 employees compiled a database of domestic NPOs and opened the Web site Charity Navi to help disclose their activities and financial statements. The site also offers companies and other donors a chance to vet the groups’ activities and accountability.
The brainchild of the concept was not Sato, however. It was Yoshiaki Murakami, the once high-flying financier who formerly headed investment advisory firm MAC Asset Management Inc. Sato has known Murakami since 1999.
Murakami was sentenced two years in prison by the Tokyo District Court in July 2007 for insider trading, but his lawyers appealed, and Murakami was freed after posting bail.
“In 2004, I had a chance to see him again, and at that time, he told me, ‘To make this society better, NPOs as a whole need to improve,’ ” Sato said.
Sato said Murakami, who was himself a large donor to nonprofits and a staunch advocate of investor relations, told him he seldom encountered NPOs that made him want to contribute for more than a year.
“He said they fail to communicate with their supporters. NPOs are like public companies because they get preferential tax treatment and they should be responsible for disclosing their activities, but they can’t do so because they don’t have enough staff,” Sato said. “Then, we thought about creating the first NPO in Japan that mainly supports fundraising for NPOs (by helping with disclosure).”
Following Murakami’s arrest, Sato said he had second thoughts about the plan, because he thought he had lost a partner. But Murakami later contacted Sato and supported his plan, so Sato decided to go ahead, believing it would help the country.
Sato and his supporters enthusiastically visited more than 5,000 NPO leaders to set up Charity Platform and discussed options for cooperation.
After many discussions, they learned that many NPOs suffer from lack of funding and efficient staff, as well as connections with companies with deep pockets and an interest in charitable activities.
Sato also met with several business leaders, who told him they had no idea which NPOs were responsible enough to trust with their money.
Sato is now busy managing Charity Platform’s first major charity campaign, Say LOVE, which involves 3,300 shops and taxicabs.
For the campaign, which runs through Christmas, Charity Platform asked six well-known retailers — The Body Shop, Soup Stock Tokyo, Nihon Kotsu, Aoyama Flower Market, Dean & Deluca and Donut Plant — to help raise funds for NPOs that are active in areas those firms are interested in, including HIV, child support, and forest preservation.
The participating firms have either put collection boxes in their shops or created special products for the campaign so they can donate some of the revenues to the NPOs.
For example, for two weeks through Dec. 14, each Nihon Kotsu taxi carried a charity box and asked customers to donate — something rarely done by cabbies.
At Aoyama Flower, each shop has created special charity bouquets or wreaths, that cost ¥2,625, out of which ¥300 went to the Say LOVE campaign.
“At Dean & Deluca, Say LOVE products, such as Christmas Ornament Cookies, have already sold out. The company itself was surprised to see how quickly they sold,” Sato said.
Separately, the NPO is also collecting donations with help from Starbucks Coffee Japan under the Smile Kids Project. The NPOs receiving funds from the campaign must report how the money was spent six months later on Charity Platform’s Web site. Sato said these actions are extremely important to convince companies and people they should continue supporting them.
“NPOs themselves have a lot to learn from companies. Reporting their activities as often as possible and meeting deadlines are common practices in the business world, but many NPOs complain it is tough for them,” Sato said, adding that if they can’t clear such simple hurdles, NPOs will receive neither funds nor trust.
“Some may say Japan lags behind the U.S. in terms of the culture of donating, but it all comes down to opportunities and information,” Sato said. “That’s why we want to offer people opportunities to donate and more information about NPOs.”