‘Giving December’ campaign tries to foster culture of private giving in Japan

by May Masangkay

Staff Writer

Donate more. Invest in the future of society.

This is the call being made by a network of nonprofit groups, local governments, companies, universities and other entities across Japan as they join hands to organize projects nationwide mainly in December to foster the “culture of giving.”

Under an awareness campaign dubbed “Giving December,” organizers want to inspire the public to give in a country where the spirit of donating may not be as deeply rooted as in the United States and Europe.

While the 2011 earthquake-tsunami and nuclear disasters did boost individual donations and helped heighten people’s resolve to reach out and help one another, a survey indicated such contributions still fall short.

“The amount of donations in Japan is small among the advanced countries,” said Hiroshi Komiyama, head of the promotion committee for this year’s “Giving December” drive, adding that compared with the United States and countries in Europe, Japan “lags behind” in terms of individual contributions.

Marking its third year, the private sector-led initiative will see for the first time the involvement of partner organizations from all 47 prefectures.

For next month, about 500 entities, up from 397 in 2016, will participate, and a total of 125 projects will be carried out, according to Masataka Uo, head of the committee’s secretariat. Last year, there were 71 projects.

Uo, president and CEO of the Japan Fundraising Association, one of the key drivers of the initiative, introduced the findings of a survey, conducted biennially by his group, on the state of donations in Japan. The survey was conducted on a random sample of 5,000 men and women ranging in age from 20 to 79.

It found that the total amount of individual donations in Japan for 2016 stood at ¥775.6 billion ($6.8 billion), up from ¥740.9 billion and equivalent to 0.14 percent of Japan’s nominal gross domestic product in fiscal 2016.

Donations include those given to emergency disaster relief, religious-related activities and the Japanese Red Cross Society. By gender, male donors accounted for 42 percent, while their female counterparts were slightly higher at 48.7 percent.

The survey found that individual donations in 2009 and 2010 were at around the 30 percent level but jumped to 68.6 percent in 2011, reflecting a surge in donations after the 2011 catastrophes.

While the figure fell to 46.7 percent in 2012, the amount of individual donations thereafter stayed at the 40 percent level.

That the figure did not revert to pre-2011 levels indicates a change in the people’s mentality of giving, said Komiyama, chairman of the Institute of Mitsubishi Research Institute. But he added that officials are still “not satisfied” with where Japan stands.

The association cited data from different sources, including the Giving USA Foundation and Charities Aid Foundation in Britain, showing that individual donations in the United States came to $282 billion, which is equivalent to about ¥30.67 trillion.

For Britain, the figure was £9.7 billion, or about ¥1.5 trillion.

To close the gap, organizers hope that projects under the “Giving December” initiative will instill in the people, including youth, the joy of giving and the benefits of charity translated into positive changes in society.

An initiative by high school students to produce an original stamp, or digital sticker, on LINE, a popular messaging app in Japan, is among the 125 projects.

Local or company mascots — collectively known as “yuru-kyara,” which literally means “loose characters” for their laid-back feel — will be officially certified to promote the cause.

On the corporate side, a restaurant in Sendai will offer customers a special drink menu in which part of the proceeds will go to charity.

The “HEROs Award” will be presented to athletes to recognize their philanthropic activities through sports, while Gaba, an English-language school, will hold an event where people discuss charity in English.

The “Giving December” program, which began in 2015, has been generating support, including from celebrities. Lending support for this cause, Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates spoke at a forum that year to discuss philanthropy and innovation.

Overseas, there is a “Giving Tuesday” campaign involving more than 98 countries, including the United States and Canada. Launched in 2012, the movement sets the Tuesday after Thanksgiving as the day of giving. For this year, it falls on Nov. 28.

At a time when the Japanese government is focused on tackling its ballooning debt and issues such as social security, Komiyama underlined the pivotal role of donations in helping projects for public interest and called for the need for the nation to tap into the potential of donations.

“It is necessary to foster a culture of giving” in Japan, Komiyama said.