The Community Chest is refocusing its energies on emergency cases The Community Chest, the organisation that collects and distributes more public donations than any other group, has decided to change its strategy. Thirty-six years after it was founded, it is becoming more flexible to better meet urgent social needs, says the group's chief executive Cecilia Li Wing-yin. It will put more emphasis on supporting services and agencies that do not receive funds from sources such as the government and Jockey Club. 'We aim to meet the most pressing needs of society,' Ms Li says. Hong Kong people are still generous when it comes to giving, but the Asian economic downturn and the crippling effects of Sars have seen a slump in donations. The past year saw just $177 million in donations, compared with $237 million in the peak year of 1997/98. Donations were $6.8 million in 1968/69, when the chest was formed. Since then, the public has given more than $3 billion for the group to distribute. Ms Li says the chest is responding to the drop in donations by meeting pressing cases. The introduction this year of a Rainbow Fund was aided by a $1 million donation from the Hong Kong branch of the Bank of China. Ms Li says that behind the glamour and prosperity of the community, there are still many people struggling to survive. The Rainbow Fund was established to help those facing a personal or family crisis. In its first six months of operation, the fund made emergency donations to 1,100 people. The Community Chest was created in 1968 to more effectively channel public generosity. Before that, scores of charities sent volunteers out onto the streets with collection boxes, leading to confusion. 'The chest collected money from people who wanted to support a wide range of welfare services,' Ms Li explains. 'By giving once to the chest, people knew their donations were being used to help a large number of good causes.' Funds are distributed to 141 social welfare agencies which operate 2,262 service centres helping the elderly, the mentally and physically disabled, young people's associations, families at risk, former mental patients, ex-convicts, the terminally ill and many other groups. About a million people benefit from the chest every year. A key part of its philosophy is that every last dollar donated goes to charity. There are no deductions for administrative costs; these are subsidised by the Jockey Club. Giving is easy. The chest organises about 50 activities a year to raise funds. These include its annual Walks for Millions, which sees many sponsored people marching across Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories to raise funds. Some people make regular contributions from their pay packets through a contribution scheme and companies do the same through a corporate plan. Chest staff and volunteers grasp every opportunity to organise innovative fund-raisers. When the Real Madrid football team visited Hong Kong, a gala dinner was held for players and wealthy donors. To coincide with China's first manned space mission exhibition, a charity dinner was held at Government House. In November, funds will flow into the chest's accounts from a two-day open day at the Police Academy and from Aiming High, a charity run up the stairs of Two IFC tower, Hong Kong's tallest building. The core of the chest's philosophy remains 'In Hong Kong and for Hong Kong only'. The chest's campaign committee chairman, Raymond Or Ching-fai, says that in good times and bad, Hong Kong people show an impressive selflessness in giving to good causes. 'In an environment of growing economic confidence the people have yet again risen to the occasion,' he says.