Development of the charitable sector in Moscow

Reflections from the non-profit making sector – charity in the city






The Russian charity sector is definitely on the up. It’s also clear that Moscow has firmly retained its leading position, as this is where the majority of funds are concentrated, where established areas of cooperation are in place, and where significant amounts of the country’s finances are centred.

There are a number of state authorities in Moscow which work closely with donors, including the  Ministry of Health, Ministry for Economic Development, distributors of the main state grants etc. Even those organisations that work across the country and operate in electronic networks, lawfully and practically, are generally based in Moscow.

The organisation of charity work in Russia is mainly undertaken at urban level, as the necessary resources are not available in rural areas. Enterprising people do not have the characteristics associated with living in a capital city, but this in no way makes up for a lack of donors. Charity work is undertaken by a small percentage of the population, so one of the most important indicators of the project’s success will be attracting a large audience. This puts Moscow, as the country’s most populous and richest city, in a more advantageous position.

A difficult choice for Muscovites


New funds are constantly being opened up in Moscow. Several charity events and projects are held and run in Moscow every weekend. (Stand-out events taking place in the near future are all being run by Moscow-based organisations).

The level of charity work has increased significantly in Moscow during recent years. Volunteer groups operate in every major children’s hospital, with several groups visiting various large clinics’ departments at the same time. There are volunteers in every orphanage. Anyone wishing to help out could be faced with a difficult choice – joining the “Danilovs”, the Volunteers’ ClubFriends on the Street” or, for example, the original project “Brother for a sister”.

                        Activities of the Volunteers’ Club

Anyone wishing to donate money or unwanted clothing to the homeless can do so at the many reception points that are available all over Moscow. Orphanages in the capital and surrounding areas are literally overwhelmed by gifts, particularly during the holiday period. At the same time, the distribution of community charity resources is swelled by large numbers of those wishing to set up social cooperatives. So, you’ll often see written things like “25 work colleagues prepared to organise a treat for orphaned children with lots of presents – please pass this on to social institutions no more than 200 kilometres from Moscow”. Not for nothing was an article written in Moscow with the title “No gifts for orphanages”.

This doesn’t mean that Moscow is not blasé about the needy in Moscow. In Moscow, as elsewhere, there are sections of the population who are given little help, e.g. sick adults or migrants. However, here one can find special funds for children suffering from practically every kind of illness.

From Moscow protests to social initiatives


If one speaks of social cohesion, then volunteer and general social initiatives are set within the framework of a “new alliance” faction which is growing in strength following the collapse of the political protest movement. The latter was unsuccessful in changing the world quickly, globally and politically – we will attempt this slowly, locally and socially. Not surprisingly, and as with the protests, this movement is urban in character and even significantly Moscow-based as indeed the protests themselves were.

A picket protesting against the Dima Yakovlev law

Taking part in various social initiatives in certain Moscow circles has become, if not fashionable, then certainly the norm, particularly after thousands of Muscovites were involved in aid to the Crimea.

When corporate visits are made to orphanages and occasional help is given to animal shelters, Muscovites are not at all surprised nor do they consider it heroic and selfless as was the case 5 years ago. Those involved in this movement are well-known – they are not isolated citizens but more a community formed around various interest groups. Conversely, as soon as a particular interest group emerges, it sooner or later becomes integrated within the charity sector.

This phenomenon is particularly noticeable on internet fora and other network platforms. Whatever the subject, be it cars, cinema, children’s education, cookery, gardening, sooner or later either an idea will emerge for joint social leisure activities, or for organised collections of money for the needy. For example, internet fora include a site on pregnancy, family and education which, in time, led to the opening up of their own funding for help for children, a well-known history of the establishment of the volunteer anarcho-syndicalist body “Together”.

It’s evident that Muscovites are leaders in this process. Moscow is the country’s most technologically-developed city. On-line charity would be unthinkable without sufficient numbers of skilled IT individuals. One simple, financial fact bears this out – daily donations over the internet to the “Mercy” fund using electronic currency or credit cards are extremely uneven. A sharp drop has been detected around midnight Moscow time (when Muscovites are going to bed) with donations practically ceasing by 1am. This lull lasts to about 8.00 Moscow time. This means that the main bulk of on-line donors are in Moscow, or at least in the same time zone as the capital.

What sort of person is an activist?


Putting it simply, the contemporary charity worker or volunteer is a modern-day activist who has many interests and lots of energy in putting their ideas into practice. Whenever possible, such people distance themselves from the covert rules of “every-day life”, sometimes quite blatantly.

From within their ranks, there are so-called “un-schoolers” (who teach children at home and not at school), together with those who give birth at home, not in hospitals. These people reject conventional medicine in favour of homeopathy, leeches, and essential oils treatment; going away to eco-settlements in order to practise yoga or tai-chi instead of lifting weights in a gym, and access lots of information via the internet and not from television. In general, rejecting television puts down a marker – in this community (both for volunteers taking part in protest meetings and for those organising the help volunteer groups) watching television is considered to be a sign not of inferiority but of a tiny mind.

Orthodox volunteers in the Crimea. Photo –

This form of behaviour allies them more closely with another group of volunteers and charity workers who have certain ideals and inspirations – the believers. The group is less well-known in the media but has a large following nonetheless. Above all, one should say that ordinary Christians or believers of other faiths and religions living in Moscow do not have any serious influence on the work of the charity sector. Yes, church-goers have their own reasons for not watching television, but it should also be said that their involvement in charitable and volunteer activities is on average higher across the country, but even more so in Moscow.

Compassion for Christians is an essential part of their service to God, which is why some form of social service is always provided in ordinary Orthodox parishes, in particular to poor communities. In general, the Church organises many individual events and projects, e.g. “Breathing”, “Bus of Compassion”, or “White Flower”, the majority of which are based in the capital.

Business hurrying up from behind


On the one hand, people are constantly striving for a common purpose, with many of them extremely keen on taking part in charity initiatives. On the other, more and more different business structures are getting involved in the charitable sector, especially those that are designed for large numbers of people. Let’s take internet services that claim to be universal such as Yandex and is now regarded as a charity, having created special tools for individual users. Yandex, for example, allows donations to be made on their website, providing users with secure ways of making payments to authorised personnel, amd not only for goods and services. Yandex money has created a “for charity” tab where private users can donate money from their personal accounts, similar to systems employed by hundreds of other operators, or used in purchasing transport tickets.

One organisation which is further down the road in developing the necessary charity infrastructure is They have set up their own service, Dobro.Mail.Ru, which offers users a wide choice of different charitable projects and ways in which they can take part in them. In addition, it is particularly important to note that, apart from operating such a service, is also concerned with the expertise of those involved in an organisation’s activities, which has led to the creation of a non-profit-making partnership service called “Everyone together”, which ensures that proposed projects are well-thought out and laudable, ensuring that the users do not go away disappointed.

In the city, one has started to notice a flurry of social billboards all on the same topic, with the company “Russ Outdoor” particularly conspicuous in this respect. There are also a number of partner advertising agencies, which are putting up several social billboards on the streets of major cities from the “Do you care?!” series. These adverts are related to questions of road safety and a healthy way of life, and to more abstract philanthropic issues such as compassion, honour, faith etc.

Not just for children


Charities are responding to a growing interest among the public in changes in strategy. A sharp increase in the number of charities is being accompanied by fluctuations in quality. While yes there are donors in Moscow, slowly but surely specialists are realising that it is not just children suffering from cancer or orphans who are in need of charitable help.

Ever more specialist funds are being established, such as the only fund in the country that helps adults “Alive”, or the fund for help to medical workers “Brotherhood of Doctors”, and infrastructure projects targeted at the sector as a whole, e.g. “Everyone Together” and “Laboratory of the Cloud Watcher . A project called “Help needed” is being developed in Moscow with the slogan “Let’s help those who help others” – a type of “Fund for funds”.

In recent years in Moscow, homeless people have been added to the ranks of those in need of support, thanks to the efforts of Dr Lisa Glink, and those requiring palliative care in hospices due to the success of the educational, one might even say propaganda, work of the hospice help fund “Faith”. Thanks to these efforts, which have now been followed by the fund “Old age is a blessing!” the plight of old people has achieved greater prominence in the eyes of the public. Attempts made to replicate the experience of Lisa Oleskina and her colleagues in other regions have not led to any proven success.

The above advert reads:

“We can’t cure them, but we can help them

SMS donation to hospices

Text the word “Faith”, followed by your donation amount, to 2420”

When “benign leisure activity” becomes too much


With such an idea, the number of events cannot help but increase significantly. Concerts, exhibitions, festivals, markets, master-classes and dances take place more or less throughout the year, which during key months (around New Year and the start of summer), take on almost epidemic proportions. On any weekend, 7 or 8 events take place simultaneously. A variety of “benign leisure activities”, if one can call them that, are spreading, where culinary activities and various master-classes go hand in hand with traditional markets and concerts, and where even an exhibition of fashionable handbags in a suitcase-shaped pavilion on Red Square is, to some extent, regarded as charity work.

Secondly, when somewhere and something or other becomes too much, there is a qualitative leap and step up to a new level. The emergence of large-scale charity events such as “Ethical Bazaar” where dozens of organisations take part are the kinds of charity activities which have helped in attaining this new level. Or, for example, major performances put on by the Mali Theatre, where all revenues generated as a result go to the “Faith” fund.

Charity shops operating in Moscow have become a constant growth area. These include the “Charity Boutique”, which is helping the funds “Gifts of Life” and “Faith”, together with the “Shop of Happiness” which was opened by the non-profit partnership “Everyone Together”. These are trade outlets whose profits are devoted to charitable causes and which operate as normal shops, trading in basic clothing items and costume jewellery.

Thirdly, charity initiatives are gradually becoming embedded in every-day life. Let’s say it’s possible to make a donation as a menu item across all fast payment access points and also at automatic cash machines of every bank. Such an option is often not available in the provinces. In addition, in any place where great numbers of people come together, e.g. in large shops, transit lounges, trade centres, fashionable restaurants etc, it’s almost obligatory to have a cash box for some charity fund or other. In Moscow, the  “Shokoladnitsa” network of cafes has produced a charity booklet, while “Coffee mania” (another Moscow coffee network) has been selling special charity cakes for some time now.

Charity as part of the urban social landscape


Moscow has become the first city in which charity and volunteering are an essential part of the urban social landscape, with agreement on co-operation having been made between the volunteer alliance SVOD, a range of other non-profit bodies and the Moscow Government. The third conference of Moscow-based volunteers has been held with the support of the Moscow Department of Culture – a large-scale event with hundreds of participants, master-classes, concerts with special prizes etc.

One further phenomenon needs to borne in mind here – the ever expanding implementation of the most diverse technological tools, which for many years have been mainly used in charity work. This is crowd-funding in all of its forms. If earlier donations and funds were almost exclusively collected by religious organisations, now “large-scale funding” is expanding across all conceivable areas of the ordinary Muscovite’s daily life – from the internet journal “Kolta” and the archaeological expedition to Egypt to the patriotic film “The 28 Panfilov Heroes” and the new animation work of Garry Bardin. Special network platforms have been established such as Bumstarter, Planet, together with a number of smaller ones.

On the whole, we can say with sufficient certainty that, as long as there is not another economic collapse, political crisis or involvement in external events, the charity movement will continue to grow and expand its activities, attracting new people and new initiatives along the way.

Russian society, lacking a distinct fundamental idea, consensus, ideas, and authority will inevitably become structured – and, like any kind of structure, will seek to find a position of strength from which to operate. Moscow, as before, will be the most progressive in this respect. In overcrowded conditions and the strongest social layer, efforts to find their “own kind of people” and join forces with them are becoming increasing compelling. This means that there will be no shortage of charity initiatives in Moscow.

Author: Vladimir Berchin

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