Trends in Institutional Philanthropy in Russia

by Maria Chertok

This is my second post based on the recent Russian Donors Forum Report on Institutional Philanthropy in Russia. I am very encouraged by e-mails and phone calls from readers of this blog, and as the report will not be available in English at least for a while, I believe it makes sense to continue my brief notes.

In the previous post I summarized the key findings of the survey of foundations, and now would like to briefly go through the key trends that were suggested by the participants of focus groups and interviews carried out by the authors of the report.

  1. The number of foundations is growing regardless of the financial crisis. It is interesting that it appears that private foundations – unlike corporate donors or other NGOs – were not impacted by the crises at all. This is probably due to the fact that they were established by very successful business people. Another aspect of this growth is the recently emerging sector of endowments that belong mostly to universities or various cultural institutions – more than 40 endowments were created in the last 2-3 years. Adding to what the report suggests, I would also mention that CAF Russia, in its work with community foundations, witnesses much greater interest in this form of philanthropy in the regions, where a dozen new community foundations spring up every year.
  2. Philanthropy is going public. After years of mistrust and existence on the margins of society, philanthropy is finally coming out of shadows. Media includes philanthropy in its day-to-day interests, with positive or neutral materials prevailing. It appears that society is no longer in two minds about giving – it is approved by the public and becomes part of ‘normal’ behaviour. Finally, foundations themselves are becoming more transparent and open in what they do and how they do it.
  3. The role of the state in philanthropy is growing. In the past year, both President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin made appearances at various charitable events and met with representatives of NGOs and foundations. A number of very important amendments regulating philanthropy, giving and volunteering were adopted, and new governmental financial programmes for NGO support were started. All this is taking place in pre-election times, which once again shows that the state puts stakes on philanthropy development. At the same time, state control over NGOs is not getting any more relaxed and occasional negative rhetoric about western donors finds its way into Mr Putin’s speechs.
  4. Donor and NGO communities have become more active in advocating for their interests and rights. The above-mentioned amendments were actively developed and promoted by a large group of leading sector organizations, as well as the Public Chamber. Lots of efforts were put in to prevent a very dangerous piece of legislation that would have seriously undermined the status of international NGOs working in Russia if adopted.
  5. Linked to the previous point, more consolidation in the sector was mentioned as one of the trends. Donor organizations and other charities remain very much atomized, but there is a growing number of examples where similar organizations or those working on the same territory form various kinds of coalitions. A good example of this would be regional alliances of community foundations that have transitioned from informal coalitions to registered associations. Regular discussion forums like annual conferences or forums also help to overcome the lack of consolidation in the sector.
  6. Philanthropic organizations are tending to become more professional. The idea that philanthropy needs not only good wishes but also a well-planned intervention that requires adequate resources and skills is not as alien as it used to be, and attitude to administrative costs are changing. I am happy that CAF has played a role in this change, through many of its programmes – including the Foundation School, which was named Project of the Year by the report.
  7. Use of technology and new instruments of management, engagement and fundraising is very important for the current development of philanthropy in Russia. Social networks, online giving and various instruments of marketing are very much part of a toolkit that not only drives funds to the sector but also engages new people and makes the sector more open and attractive to the younger generation.
  8. Strong development of volunteering in general, and employee volunteering in particular, was mentioned as another trend that very much determined the outlook of corporate philanthropy and involvement of the general public. This is very much linked with the internet too, as people organize themselves through social networks and other online instruments, forming giving and volunteering communities that eventually become NGOs and start professionalizing their work (or sometimes remain informal). Companies play a significant role too, as employee engagement is very high on their agenda.
  9. Finally, the report mentions that the sector has become a solid object for academic research, and that more data is now available, including the current report itself. It is a key sign of the growing importance of philanthropy but also gives hope that foundations and other donor organizations will be able to receive well-informed feedback that can influence their work to the better.

In conclusion: I fully subscribe to the above points, but it is still important to have in mind that the philanthropic sector in Russia is very small and young, and all the trends mentioned in the report should be taken in perspective. We have made great progress compared to ‘point zero’, where we were only 10-15 years ago. However, there is still a lot to do to make philanthropy a real player both in terms of its size and power but also in terms of its own identity as an agent of change. I believe that this report is another step toward this overarching goal.

Maria Chertok is director of Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) Russia.