Stronger public support for NGOs in the regions
In the course of a round table that discussed the issue of reciprocity between NGOs and the public, the general director of the Tsirkon Group, Igor Zadorin, presented the results of research carried out on public support for NGOs in the Russian regions, looking at problems and prospects.
The main conclusion drawn as a result of the research was that positive changes have taken place. The fact that the work was undertaken in 2008 and 2010 has made it possible to follow movements in the key indicators relating to public attitudes towards the work of communal organisations. Sociologists carried out mass surveys (with 500-600 respondents), arranged focus groups of 25-49 year olds in Barnaul, Kaliningrad, Krasnodar, Moscow, and Nizhny Novgorod, and surveyed chief executives of NGOs (about 30-37 people in each city). It became clear that the level of information current amongst the public about charitable or communal organisations operating in their city had risen appreciably. The number of positive replies to the corresponding question had grown from 30% in 2008 to 50% in 2010. However, as Mr Zadorin remarked, the lack of a television advertising campaign had made little difference to public awareness, since so far as the public was concerned the announcements about non-commercial projects simply merged with the rest of the advertising hubbub. The influence of television had diminished. However, the role of advertising hoardings placed in the street had become more important.
Those taking part in the survey had demonstrated a high degree of readiness to engage with communal work. On average over half of the respondents (nearly two thirds in Moscow and Barnaul) indicated their willingness to do so. However, the proportion of those who had put their wishes into practice was far less. Over the two years the situation regarding involvement in work on behalf of the community had not in fact altered.
Nevertheless, amongst those who did take part in communal work, the number giving help as private individuals or as part of an informal group had increased and now predominated. ‘It has now become normal to engage in charitable activity, although not everyone does so’, Mr Zadorin explained, going on to say that: ‘Those who do not do so cover up with references to the socially useful individual activities that they undertake’.
For all that, in the opinion of the sociologist the results of the research bear witness to a positive trend. ‘Change starts first of all in the mind and only after that in behaviour’, he observed. The structure of declared preferences with regard to the different kinds of communal activity hardly changed between the two stages of the research. The most popular was to help children, the elderly, veterans and people with disabilities. The percentage of respondents willing to donate articles to the needy was 41% in 2008 and 52% in 2010, and of those willing to give blood, 18% and 27%. Around a quarter were willing to travel to homes for children and the elderly and suchlike.
The sociologist said there was a disconnect between the above and what the chief executives said about the needs of the NGOs. The organisations need volunteers to take part in co-operative activities. That was the view of 69% of those questioned. But only 25% of the respondents among the public expressed the wish to try that form of working. A significant gap between the needs of the NGOs and the preferences of potential volunteers is noticeable in relation to information and co-ordination work and the provision of professional services to organisations.
As regards public support for communal organisations, the majority of NGO chief executives commented that there were no especial changes. So 25% of respondents pointed to an increase in support. In 2008 only 6% were of that opinion. Representatives of the not-for-profit sector did not rate the transparency of the NGOs in their city very highly, although when it came to their own organisation almost everyone observed that the degree of their openness had increased.
The Agency for Social Information (ASI) and a working group of the public chamber dealing with the development of charity have discussed the results of the research. The director of ASI explained that the research was a project for increasing the level of public support for NGOs, which the ASI, the Centre for the Development of NGOs and the Sozidanie Fund supported by USAID had been implementing over a period of three years. She said that the most serious challenge for NGOs was the disconnect shown up by the research between what was needed and possible for communal organisations and the wishes of potential volunteers.
A leading PR expert said that the clear message received from the research as to what the target audience of communal organisations want could be used as a ‘good recipe for an NGO PR campaign’. Another expert in the development of volunteering said that the work could support NGOs in planning their operations and particularly in working up grant applications.