“No money but we are still working”, say most Russian NGOs

The Agency for Social Initiatives (ASI) has presented
the results of a survey of about 100 NGOs active in various sectors (service,
infrastructure, information etc), of various sizes and with a range of budgets.
Only 13% of them assessed their financial situation as secure, with
sufficient funds to carry out their programmes. 
41% of NGOs said they can only work on current programmes, and have no
funds to develop new ideas. More than a third of them said that due to lack of
money they are unable to employ qualified staff. More than 40% said that their
financial situation has not changed in the past three years, while 35% said it
had deteriorated. Only 13% considered their financial situation to be
sustainable. In a discussion on the financial viability of Russian NGOs experts
tried to identify the main reasons for the financial instability of the third
sector and to make recommendations as to how NGOs could reduce their current
level of financial stress. Among the reasons for their problems, they assessed,
was the reluctance of NGOs to relate their organisational structure to the tasks they were undertaking.


Experts from CAF Russia, who have been working since
2009 to help NGOs to become financially sound, said that most NGOs do not understand the concept of
organisational development and that it does not necessarily imply an expansion
of activity. Many do not consider new forms of finance such as provision of
paid services, investment, credit etc. CAF Russia’s Director of Programmes and
Relations with Donors, Polina Filippova, said that the majority of traditional
NGOs still feel distrust towards commercial activity of any kind, thinking that
this amounts to engaging in business.  There
are also problems with horizontal communications and information work. Small
NGOs have many possibilities in this area but still do not set up internet
sites, thinking this unnecessary. NGOs were asked whether they had contacted anyone
over the past three months to exchange information. Only 20% had done so! And half
of these had contacted local government offices. So what kind of financial
sustainability can be expected if they consider themselves to be clients of the
bosses? Topoleva said that many NGOs rely on their own
organisations and resources for their development, but it can take years to
formulate a strategy for sustainability, and then suddenly external factors can
bring the NGO to the point of having to close.


Among such factors many experts put the law on “foreign
agents” at number one, since it does not affect just a small group of NGOs
which get funds from abroad, but the whole third sector, forcing it to work in
an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion from the government and society. The
funding of NGOs by the state has increased dramatically, and careful study of
the consequences of this is required. State funding can have a significant
effect on the sector, said Lev Yakobson, from the Higher School of Economics.
While the funds are welcome, NGOs can be required to make concessions about
their identity. Among the systemic problems facing NGOs, one is the lack of
legislation to distinguish NGOs working for the benefit of society from less
scrupulous “competitors”.


Participants in the discussion thought that there was
not and would not be a universal strategy to ensure financial sustainability. So
today it made sense to study the experience of those NGOs which have achieved relative
financial sustainability and are able to make plans for the future. The
Director of CAF Russia Maria Chertok suggested that it would be useful to
organise an exhibition or produce a handbook of such cases, to show what
different options exist.


ASI will put together and publish its recommendations



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