Once winter is upon us, we easily hear the sound of bells jingling everywhere, and when we follow the bell’s sound, we find men shaking bells in front of a red box engraved with the words Salvation Army Charity Pot. Living in tough times after Japan’s financial plunder of Korea, the appearance of a Salvation Army Charity Pot made Korean people donate money to help the poor. This idea of helping people more misfortunate than oneself started the donation culture in Korea. Donating began with donations of money; however, as the years rolled by, people started to donate other things like rice, tangible assets, and even one’s talent. What have you donated to help others? Have you only donated money?
• Money Is All that I Can Give to You
When we think of the word donation, money is usually the first thought that comes to mind, clearly showing how we are used to donating money. Since 1928, when the Salvation Army Charity Pot first appeared in Korea, Korean people started to donate money systematically.1 Of course, even before the Salvation Army Charity Pot appeared, people were helping others via gifts of money. However, it was only when the Salvation Army Charity Pot appeared that people started to give money not only as a means of one to one aid but as structured donations. This phenomenon is important because it was the first time Korean people gave to a charity or organization. The Salvation Army Charity Pot program brought about the donating culture in Korean society.2 Since then, many other donating organizations and programs have followed in the footsteps of the Salvation Army Charity Pot. The KBS program Experience the Realities of Life is an example of a money fund raising program. On the program, TV stars work at various places to earn money for the day. They bring the money to the studio, and it is donated to people who need help. Also, Korean government made money boxes in public places. People drop paper money or coins into money boxes, and the money is used to help the poor. Besides this, some people donate money individually to orphanages or universities to better children and youth’s educational environments. The Gimbap Grandmother, Lee Boksun, is one famous person who donated her property to a university to help lower income family children receive a university education. For a long time, Koreans merely donated money on either a one to one basis or to a charity organization that redistributes the money. However, today, the donating method has diversified. People now donate not only money but also tangible items like goods and talents.
• Donation Betters a Star’s Image
Nowadays, many TV stars donate. The most famous are Sean and Jung Hyeyoung. They have continuously donated time and money. Also, Cha Inpyo, a famous actor, loves to help children. Aside from these people, there are lots of singers and actors who donate money and time to helping other people. Following the trend of TV stars, fan clubs and individual fans have also started contributing. The Shin-hwa fan club is the first ever fan club to donate rice to the poor. They donate rice garlands whenever there is a Shin-hwa concert. Normally, garland is made with flowers but Shin-hwa’s fan club uses rice sacks instead of flowers. Those rice sacks are then given to the poor. In addition to rice, fans of many stars also donate eggs, ramen, and briquette garlands at concert halls to celebrate the group’s concert and help the poor.3 The fan club of actor Lee Jungi donates rice, eggs, briquettes, diapers, and milk powder to underfed children and senior citizens living alone. Kim, member of the Lee Jungi fan club, said, “We make garlands out of daily necessities instead of flowers to help the poor in Lee Jungi’s name. We want to show others that Lee Jungi is a person who cares a lot, so we, the fan club, donate in his name.” These types of fan club donations show how the characteristic of donating has changed from money to that of necessities which the poor need in daily life. Another unique characteristic shown by fan club donations is that their donation betters a star’s image. Whenever fans do a certain behavior, people consider a celebrity with generous fans to be a kind person. Consequently, nowadays, many fan clubs have started to donate on behalf of their favourite star. This donation style has become a new trend and is having a huge influence in Korean society.
• Buy It, You will be Helping Others
Today, we can also indirectly donate when we make purchases. We do not need to give money or our time. Instead, after a purchase, the manufacturing company will donate a specific amount to help the poor. Currently, there are two different donation ways. The first way is the One for One donating system. For example, the shoe company TOMS is now operating a 1+1 donating system. When Blake Mycoskie, the president of TOMS, visited Argentina, he saw over 200 children walking barefoot through the streets, which enlightened him to start the One for One donating system. That is, when a customer buys one pair of shoes, another pair is automatically donated to someone that needs it.4 Lee Hyukchan, a student at Hanyang University said, “I bought TOMS shoes with my girlfriend. We chose this brand because buying TOMS shoes, we can help stop children from going without shoes. I hope more and more children can experience running in shoes.” Since 2006 when the brand TOMS launched, it has donated over ten thousand pairs of shoes.5
Another way of donating is the donation of money to a specific group of people by the manufacturer after a customer makes a purchase. The most interesting characteristic of this method is that donations are made to specific groups of people. For example, Heeum sells eco bags, bracelets, postcards, and pouches cheaply, and when when customers buy them, Heeum donates the money to comfort women. Jun Sooyung, Division of Korean Language and Literature, said, “A few days ago, I bought a Heeum bracelet. At first, I didn’t know the significance of the bracelet. However, once I learnt that I would be helping comfort women, I didn’t hesitate to buy more. In fact, I bought five of them, one for each of my friends.” Another example is B market. B market is an online market that supports B campaign. B campaign has four different programs: B friend, B water, B green, and B connect. Customers that buy a B friend bracelet or cap are considered friends of domestic underfed children. One who buys a B water bracelet is donating water to people who need fresh clean water. Likewise, the B green program helps protect nature and the B connect program helps domestic underfed children, senior citizens living alone, and foreign country children living in poverty.6 Nowadays, many people are interested in these kinds of donating systems because they can both buy things they want and help people at the same time.
• My Talent Can Make the Poor Dream
One’s talent can foster dreams in the poor. All generations can donate their talents but the most active generation in talent donation is the young adults. Many people in their 20s have made clubs to donate talent. There are teaching clubs for teaching lower income family children, so they can study in a good education environment, soccer clubs for teaching soccer, medical treatment clubs to treat people, and so on. Hanul talent donation club is good at music, rapping, and dancing. Therefore, it hosts music and dance concerts for poor people who cannot afford to enjoy a cultural life. CCYP is a wall painting talent donation club that uses its talent to create a better environment for people. They once went to a farming village in Chungnam Boryeong with 89 university students and painted on the wall three theme imageries: Active Farming Village, Salubrious Farming Village, and Happy Farming Village.7 Just like people in their 20s, there are lots of TV stars who donate their talent. On October 26th, famous groups including DJ DOC, Beast, Dynamic Duo, and 2AM participated in the 2013 Redoubled Courage Concert without being paid. They donated all income from tickets to university students who need financial assistance.8 Also, world renowned popera singer Lim Hyungjoo joined and sang in the EBS global project Angla, Three Brothers and a Sister who have Lose Hope without being paid. These acts are truly new phases in the donation culture because now we can help other people even without money.
• Don’t Tell Anybody about My Donation
As time goes passes, donation types and methods are continuously diversifying. Therefore, nowadays we donate even talents. However, as the donation culture spreads, problems arise. From the company’s perspective, not only large companies but also small and medium-sized enterprises, there is sense of obligation to donate. Following this, companies have started to deviate from the true essence of donating. They donate for the purpose of tax credits and use donating as promotional means to better the company’s image. Representing Social Enterprise Park said, “It is true that companies are now using donations as a way of improving their image. However, nonprofit organizations like Social Enterprise dare not refuse their offerings because non-profit organizations need the help.” Similarly, from examination of individuals, people donate not just to help others but to use the donation as a way of showing precedence. In modern society, people want to flaunt good attitude and action to others. Therefore, people use SNS or the Internet to show precedence. For example, when we see people wearing Heeum bracelets, we know at a glance that they helped comfort women.
There is a saying, “Don’t let your right hand know that your left hand is helping others.” This saying means one shouldn’t boast one’s precedence. In the past, when people merely donated money, people would often be heard saying, “Don’t tell anybody I donated the money.” It is good that the donation spirit in Korea has increased. However, if people were to keep the “essence” of donating and did not show off before others, the essence of donation would be maintained within the Korean donation culture.
1 Shin Sungduk, “[Seoul] Celebrating 84 Years of The Salvation Army Charity Pot,” Oneclick, December 7, 2012
2 Same as Footnote 1
3 An Eunsang, “SHINWHA Fan Have Donated Rice Garlands at SHINWHA Concerts Since 2007,” Star Today, January 21, 2013
4 Min Jihye, “Buy One Pair of Shoes and a Second Pair Will Be Donated TOMS...TOMS Shared Warm Heart to Children’s Feet,” Hankyung, January 24, 2012
5 Editorial Department, “TOMS, Donated Over Ten Thousand Pairs of Shoes to Children Who Need Shoes,” ACROFAN, July 10, 2013
7 Lee Jihyun, “Paint Wall Painting On Farming Village Walls, University Club CCYP in Boryeong,” eNEWS24, March 3, 2013
8 Kim Nayoung, “No Guarantee, Yes Donation, Stars Share Talent,” Star Today, October 24, 2013