Individual giving in Russia on the rise, while crowdfunding platforms have momentum

The Russian foundation and philanthropy sector, at a glance:

Number of foundations:
10,562, Source: “Transparent NGOs”

Main umbrella body:
Russian Donors Forum, founded in 2000

State of the sector:

  • Emergence of new stakeholders and new ways of operation, e.g. some traditional foundations resort to fundraising activities.
  • Individual giving sector is on the rise, while crowdfunding platforms have some momentum.
  • Since the early days of the sector, corporate philanthropy has played a very important role, especially philanthropy on the part of the biggest Russian companies.
  • The Sustainable Development Goals are a fair addition embedded in their strategies.
  • One of the key players is a government foundation: the Foundation of President Grants.

Biggest opportunity in the sector:
One of the key trends of the last couple of years is cooperation on various levels and among a great variety of stakeholders. Many specialists with different backgrounds are coming into the philanthropic sector, e.g. professionals from the corporate sector moving to charitable organisations and thus bringing new skills and insights.

Biggest challenge for the sector:
One of the biggest challenges is gathering statistical data about the sector, which still needs to become more evidence and data driven. At the same time, working with big data is treated not only as a challenge but also as an opportunity that attracts many stakeholders. In the meantime, building trust in the sector is also among the main challenges.

15. August 2019

Interview with Alexandra Boldyreva, Executive Director of Russian Donors Forum

Alexandra Boldyreva
Photo: Russian Donors Forum

Alexandra, what are the three broad issues that will drive the foundations and philanthropy sector in Russia in the next 10 years?

  1. The gap in competencies and development of technologies will affect the sector’s dynamics and structure. One of the main trends will be the use of digital technologies to fundraise, develop communities and transform the environment. NGOs will have to make a choice either to follow the trend of embedding technologies in their operations or to lag behind. Technologies will increase accessibility and will bridge the divide between the centre – other federal regions – and the most remote areas.
  2. There will be a substantial shift in the understanding of the main concepts of the sector, i.e. who the “subject”/beneficiary is and what aid/assistance is.
  3. We expect further diversification of the sector – diversity of types of organisations and their activities, diversity of causes and diversity of financing sources. There will also be new leaders and points of growth – traditionally, there has been a small number of dominant players, whereas these days the number is increasing and will continue to increase. Most importantly, the boundaries of the sector are expanding, with social entrepreneurs and universities getting on board. At the same time, a bigger number of non-profits tend to embed business approaches in their activities. Moreover, the majority of online fundraising platforms in Russia are purely corporate companies, though their mission is entirely philanthropic. This will all have a huge impact on traditional donors’ strategies, and will make them reconsider their aims and objectives, agenda and mission.

Which topics do you expect philanthropy to focus on?
For Russian donors (both private foundations and companies), one of the most popular causes to support is education (in the broadest sense) and providing support to local communities. As far as fundraising foundations are concerned, the long-standing cause is health and social protection of vulnerable and ill children.

What is traditional philanthropy in Russia, and how do you expect this to develop in the future?
Philanthropy in Russia is very young. At the same time, there is a distinction between the activities of both the most experienced and “oldest” stakeholders in the sector and the new players who emerged in the course of the last couple of years. During this time, Russian foundations have built a wealth of experience to operate in a constantly evolving environment and a challenging economic situation, which has meant that the work of the biggest foundations and companies has become intertwined and/or realized in partnership. All private foundations in Russia operate in an environment shaped by the proactive position of their founders.

At the same time, we see a strong tendency on the part of the leading foundations to reflect on their activities and evaluate their impact. The biggest Russian private foundations support the development of non-profits’ competencies in impact management and evidence-based practice. There are initiatives such as creating a database of case studies and developing standards for different kinds of activities – for example, standards in describing a social programme and a social project. The Russian Donors Forum plays an active role in developing this culture by initiating these projects or partnering with other stakeholders.

What role will philanthropy take?
On the one hand, the search for innovative solutions to societal problems and on the other bringing together existing knowledge and resources.

Will Russian philanthropy be more nationally focused, or will it also be regional and global?
The country’s vast territory and significant range of challenges mean that the philanthropy of Russian foundations is quite nationally centred, but there is a number of foundations that have expanded their activities beyond the national borders to neighbouring countries. However, only a handful of the biggest Russian companies have a global focus in their philanthropic giving.

Is there any other subject which you consider as vital for the sector?
Among the most widely discussed topics in Russia these days are the issues of self-regulation and internal standards. Philanthropy has become an intrinsic agenda item of the largest economic forums in Russia, where foundations and non-profits share their expert opinions. At the same time, the protracted volatile economic situation and foundations' short-term budgets (usually covering only one or two years ahead) have meant that foundations are often merely tactical rather than strategic in their approach. Nevertheless, the sector is growing and the demand for strategic management and professionalisation is on the rise as well.

Are there some developments we are not yet aware of at an international level, but which you see coming along in the future?
Russia is probably in line with the international trend in regard to the digitalisation of the philanthropic sector. Companies hold hackathons and engage charity partners in this work. At the national level, there is a great number of social services-related online portals, including both private and state medicine services. Artificial intelligence and blockchain are deemed to be important in terms of developing the digital potential of non-profits and increasing the quality of their services, their competitiveness, and the impacts they produce.

If people want to get informed about news and trends in the sector in Russia, where can they find this information?
Any information published about the sector still tends to be predominantly published in Russian (Филантроп). For non-Russian speakers we suggest that they get in touch with the Russian Donors Forum (dfinfo[at]donorsforum[punkt]ru) who will be able to provide expert advice.

Compiled by the EZ-Scout seconded to the Association of German Foundations

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