Russia: CSOs stronger because of pandemic

“We did not grow, but strengthened ourselves from within” CSOs on the consequences of the pandemic.

3 November, 2020

New perceptions of CSOs (NGOs) and the need for a systematic approach, and the development of mutual aid – how the pandemic has affected the non-profit sector in Russia was discussed at the Community Forum.

“In the midst of the pandemic there has been an increase in demand for assistance from CSOs, and a change in attitudes towards them” stated forum participants.

“CSOs have begun to be treated as experts in their own field of professional interest,” said Yulia Nazarova, President of the Rus food production foundation. Attitudes towards CSOs on the part of beneficiaries, businesses, and grant-giving funds have changed.

“People have seen that CSOs are capable of providing assistance on a large scale”, Nazarova notes. For example, the Rus food production foundation has delivered food products to those in need in 55 regions of Russia.

“The non-profit sector in practice operates in a way that is no different from how business operates. The only difference is the end product. Some produce shoes, others dairy produce, whereas we generate help. And during the pandemic, businesses have begun actively to turn to CSOs asking how they can help.  It is great that the non-profit sector has started to be seen not as participants, but as experts” says Yulia Nazarova.

Donors, as the expert notes, have realised that CSOs are now in dire need of funds to support their core activities, and not just for project work. One of the first to support CSOs during the COVID-19 pandemic was the Vladimir Potanin charitable foundation.

Systemic approach and the State

During the pandemic, many non-profit organisations temporarily refused to promote systemic projects, because all their efforts were directed towards targeted assistance. “This is a dead end,” say the experts.

For example, the Starost v Radost Foundation has been developing a long-term care system in Russia for a long time. “Due to the pandemic, I was distracted by daily tasks such as sourcing medicines and PPE, and hiring new staff,” notes Elizaveta Oleskina, the Director of the foundation. “In order to solve these problems, this systemic approach is vital, and then in a crisis situation the organisation will not be distracted in this way.”

“Surely we knew before the pandemic that there were staff shortages, that home care was inadequate, and that hospitals were in a poor state. But the pandemic has exacerbated these problems with terrifying force and this has exposed existing weak points in the system. Where the system is weakest, it breaks – and it breaks where there is not enough support.”

Most of the Foundation’s resources are directed to providing targeted assistance. Since April 2020, the Starost v Radost foundation has already spent more than the total budget for last year.

And at the same time, the pandemic has hastened decisions that had been postponed, for example on a tax cut for businesses that donate to a CSO.

“Day-to-day issues have shown that it is difficult to expect effective and prompt assistance without systemic changes,” emphasises Elena Topoleva-Soldunova, moderator of the discussion, chairman of the Commission of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation for the development of the Non-profit sector and support for socially-responsible CSOs.

Pandemic – a way to build up your strengths

With growing pressure on CSOs due to the pandemic, donations have fallen sharply. To support the work of CSOs, the Nuzhna Pomosh Foundation organised several campaigns e.g. A Ruble a Day, #ItsMyBusiness, and others.

There has been a clear increase in donations since May 2020. In terms of funding, 2020 has become the most successful year to date for the Nuzhna Pomosh Foundation. It is anticipated that by the end of the year donations received will amount to half a billion rubles.

“For two months we did not take on any new projects and concentrated on fulfilling our current obligations, but during this time we grouped together and prepared for what was to come. In the last month, we raised 39 million rubles. On average, we receive over 1 million donations per day. We have not expanded at all this year, but have strengthened ourselves from within,” says Dmitry Aleshkovsky, director of the Nuzhna Pomosh Charity Foundation.

Forum participants noted that during the pandemic, horizontal links began to strengthen in the sector. Many CSOs began to collaborate more with their colleagues in the sector, and more experienced organisations tried to support the less experienced.

For example, the Obraz Zhizni foundation has united the efforts of non-profit organizations under the umbrella of the emergency assistance charitable programme Mogu i Pomogu.

“For our part, we tried to identify those organisations in need of help. Before that, we were all in a competition with one another, but in this case, there was a ‘truce’. “It was important to help colleagues,”notes Elena Beregovaya, director of the Obraz Zhizni charitable foundation.

A guide for CSOs

A Guide for CSOs, a collection of practical advice from various areas of non-profit organisations from leading experts in the sector, was launched at the Community Forum.

The publication of the collection was made possible by the “NCO-SOKRAT (CSOs for the social and cultural development of territories” programme, the purpose of which is to develop the competence of CSO staff in the regions where the programme is being implemented and in other parts of Russia. The programme is being implemented by the Art, Science and Sport charitable foundation and ASI.

“The pandemic brought the regions closer to us. We were immersed in their issues. It brought us all together, and we realised that we needed a central core of information that structures everything the non-profit sector does,” said Nikolai Trotsky, head of the Regional Development Department of the Art, Science and Sport charity foundation.

The guide contains chapters on fundraising, legal aspects of CSO work, communication strategy, partnering with volunteers etc. The guide will be published chapter by chapter daily on the ASI website starting on 10 November.


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