Russia: difficulties facing CSOs in carrying out charitable projects
Legislation regulating the introduction of charitable projects and on the difficulties faced by CSOs
Olga Shumburova, Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Society, has been speaking about legislation that regulates the introduction of charity programmes and the difficulties faced by CSOs.
Article 17 of the law on “Charitable Activity and Volunteering” includes three paragraphs that set out the requirements for a project’s content, i.e.:
- Including timelines and the various stages of implementation;
- Including estimates of expected receipts and planned expenditure, and funds set aside for the fiscal year to be allocated to the charity programme;
- The charity project must be approved by an organisation’s senior governing body.
This doesn’t appear particularly onerous so there should be no difficulty in fulfilling these requirements. However, in practice the situation is rather different. If we look at data on the
most frequent breaches found by the Ministry of Justice during its inspections, we can see that it mainly looks for non-compliance with the law’s requirements. At the same time, it disseminates information on the importance of charitable work not only to charities but also to CSOs whose responsibilities include organising such activity. The most common mistake made by CSOs is implementing projects that haven’t been formally approved.
Similarly, charity projects are often approved not by an organisation’s senior governing authority but by some other body, e.g. a standing committee or head of an executive board. Other breaches include the absence of timescales, implementation stages or cost estimates.
We are often asked about the content of charity programmes, e.g.:
- Does a charity project have to set out criteria for the selection of beneficiaries?
- If a charity project involves purchasing goods, is it possible to choose a list of suppliers to provide items directly into the project? Won’t this raise questions from the inspection agencies about the proper use of funds?
- Should there be just one charity programme, or should a separate one be created for each project?
- How regularly can changes to projects be made?
The difficulty with all these questions is that the answers are not explicitly found in the law. In order to provide a proper answer in each case, we need to systematically analyse the legislation and refer to past experience and advice. Our lawyers do this on a professional basis and can find the answers but what about CSOs that don’t have legal representation? It would be easier for organisations to operate if answers could be found in legal documents, but this remains an open and contentious issue.
Would it be simpler and more convenient for CSOs if the law clearly regulated every aspect of a charitable project and spelled out rules that are equally understood by all parties? Or, on the other hand, would it be preferable if the law only provided a general framework and left all decisions to CSOs and their governing bodies?
Translated by Neil Hailey