Russia needs to develop ‘smart charity’

Russia needs to develop a “smart charity” strategy, say experts


17.12.2014, Russian Federation

The main problem facing the charity sector is a lack of a systematic approach, according to participants at an experts’ session on the development of philanthropy and corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects during periods of austerity. In times of crisis, business can often reduce the level of resources for charity, so it is important to develop suitable modern fundraising methods, and work towards improving the image of charities.

Attending this session, held in the Federation’s Public Chamber building, were representatives from Russian and international commercial companies, charities, analysts in the CSR field, as people from the health and science communities.

Discussions on the problems confronting the charity sector during an economic downturn were held at the initiative of the MTS company, the Russian Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Executive Directorate of the “Silver Archer” National Public Relations Award.

According to figures from Rusfond, 73% of Russians offered help in one way or another to strangers in the last year. 46% of respondents who took part in a survey admitted to having donated money to charity. Of these, more than 60% specifically helped seriously ill children, 11.8% donated to help victims of natural disasters, while just 1.5% gave money for the development of culture, sport, education and science. Maria Chertok, Director of the Charitable Aid Foundation, stated that Russian society as a whole was willing to become actively engaged in charitable work. She added that “The idea of doing a “good deed” has taken hold in the public’s consciousness, so our next task should be to promote the values that make the charity sector. We need to move away from emotional charity to a more systematic approach”.

Today, people donate money after having seen, for example, a picture of a blue-eyed baby in the media and heard the heart-rending story of its illness, while, at the same time, most Russians seem not prepared to donate money to medical research, training of health professionals or educational projects.

“It takes 11 years for a doctor to become fully qualified, and 4-5 to assemble a team of professionals in a particular field. If we don’t address the problems of training and the development of professional staff, then in 7-9 years’ time there simply won’t be anyone left to treat sick children. As a result, the question will increasingly be raised as to whether children should be sent abroad for treatment”, says Igor Dolgopolov, leading scientist at the bone marrow department at the N.N. Blokhin Russian Cancer Research Centre.

According to Dolgopolov, the State is planning to transfer responsibility for medical financing to charities, and ultimately, to private and corporate philanthropists.

Unlike public charity, corporate social programmes are undertaken in a much more calculated way by commercial companies. According to Natalya Kaminarskya, Executive Secretary of the Donors’ Forum, 60 top-rated corporate charities invested around 11 billion roubles in social projects during 2013. Kaminarskya stated that “Corporate charity is growing both in volume and quality. CSR projects are highly thought of, routinely last several years, and form an important part of the development strategy”.

The view of those who took part in the experts’ session was that there was an increased risk of many firms having to cut back on resources for corporate social responsibility during the economic downturn, leaving only extremely limited money available for volunteer projects.

“Business can be the catalyst for a systematic approach relating to charitable projects. In times of crisis, to all intents and purposes, levels of capital are reduced. Purchasing power falls, business earns less, which means there are less resources available for charity”, says Leah Sidhin, corporate manager at the British American Tobacco (Russia) company.

According to Elena Kochanowsky, Director of the Public Relations Group “MTS”, the tools available to charities today must be able to meet the challenges that are changing the ways in which CSR projects are being carried out in Russia. Firstly, we’re talking about changes to the ways in which we acquire information, namely the continuing growth of Internet “on the go”, and the number of highly engaged people on social networks. Secondly, economic stagnation sharply increases the public’s expectation levels for social activities undertaken by the business community. Thirdly, there’s a continuing decline in interest at regional level for the federal agenda, with local news very much to the fore. Finally, there is the increased influence exerted by the State in the light of recent political and economic events.

“Today’s corporate charity projects need to offer more than just an opportunity to help others. Initiatives should be systematic, but also simple, safe, “viral” and ideally supported by the State”, Kochanowsky remarked. She added that the MTS project “Generation Mowgli” incorporates all the characteristics of the changing reality within Russia. 114 children have been treated as part of this initiative during 2014.

During discussions, the experts concluded that the general understanding of the value of charity is changing. If the aim before was to find the necessary motivation, now it has become important for help to be properly targeted and subject to well-considered strategic thinking. The experts believe that one shouldn’t rely on funding for charitable or social projects increasing during 2015. That’s why it is very important not only to take urgent action to save the lives of those in need of help in the here and now, but also to develop a systematic approach, working with representatives from the world of culture, education and healthcare, to replicate examples of “smart charity”, develop suitable modern-day fundraising methods and work on improving the image of charities.

Author: Yulia Vyatkina

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