Kumquats are small, modest fruit. Golden and sweet to eat, their taste has a surprising kick. And so they are appropriate metaphors for NGOs—at least according to the committee that awards a prize named after the kumquat, bestowed upon philanthropies by the organizations they fund.

Established by five Chinese NGOs in 2013, the Kumquat Prize is meant to give NGOs a chance to anonymously and rigorously appraise Chinese and international donors in China. As the award committee has explained, “Donors have resources, so they are always at an advantage in the realm of public welfare…It’s always donors judging NGOs, but there’s no rigorous mechanism for NGOs to judge donors.” This year, 13 other NGOs have joined the founding members, increasing the visibility of the prize as well as its impact.

So how were the prizewinners selected? First, the award committee put together a list of more than 1000 Chinese NGOs, drawing on the databases of key Chinese NGO-convening organizations. More than 600 of these organizations were randomly selected to receive a detailed questionnaire soliciting their opinions about the funders of their own organizations. 195 NGOs completed the questionnaire.

The findings offered great insight into the relationship between funders and NGOs in China. Since the last prize questionnaire was distributed in 2013, mainland Chinese foundations are increasingly funding Chinese NGOs. From 2013 to 2015, the number of NGOs receiving funding from mainland foundations increased by 86 percent. Meanwhile, the number of NGOs that received funding from non-mainland funders fell by 36 percent. Sixty-two NGO respondents had received grants from mainland funders for the first time, while 25 received their first grants from non-mainland funders. Overall, domestic foundation support to NGOs has increased, but support remains focused on education. Sensitive areas such as AIDS prevention, LGBT issues, the environment, ethnic minorities, and religious activities are less likely to receive support from Chinese funders.

The respondents were also asked to rank their own funders: Do they provide adequate support and capacity building? Do they respect their grantees’ autonomy? Do they provide adequate administrative and organizational development costs? Do they assist the NGO in identifying additional resources? How helpful is the funder in providing guidance and support to the broader field? The 10 funders with the highest rankings across a range of criteria each received a glass statue of a thumb’s up—and a box of kumquats.

The survey results and prizes were presented to a packed room of more than 100 representatives of NGOs, their funders, and the media, generating extensive discussion on Chinese social media. The Ford Foundation was honored to be among the top 10, alongside the mainland Chinese foundations Beijing Western Sunshine Rural Development Foundation, Narada Foundation, Society of Entrepreneurs and Ecology, Xinping Foundation, Zhejiang Dunhe Charities, and four non-mainland foundations: Chen Yet-Sen Family Foundation, Global Green Grants, Overseas Chinese Foundation, and Oxfam Hong Kong.

It was a great joy for those of us in the Beijing office to participate in the ceremony alongside our partners, and to be recognized for our efforts to support Chinese NGOs in realizing their goals.