Experts discuss new Concept for Promoting the Development of Charitable Activities
The Director of the Department for Strategic Development and Innovation at the Ministry of Economic Development, Artem Shadrin, has said that a new Concept for the development of the charity sector is being drawn up on the instructions of the Chairman of Government, Dmitry Medvedev. An earlier Concept outlining measures to support the development of charitable activities and volunteering in the Russian Federation, received government approval in 2009.
‘We now have an opportunity to take the next step: not just to fine-tune ways in which support can be given at the federal level, to adjust tax incentives, or expand support for property ownership, but to take a broader view and discuss developing the charity sector, rather than limiting the conversation to ways of giving state support,’ Shadrin said.
Galvanising state institutions to work more actively with charities is especially important, as well as motivating business to understand the charitable sphere better, and encouraging leaders of non-profit making programmes to become more closely involved in the development of social policy at federal and regional levels. Charities are the bearers of innovation, as well as key stakeholders, Shadrin emphasised. The new Concept could assist the making of systemic decisions to develop the charitable sector, help assess what kind of large-scale projects might inspire this qualitative leap.
Suggestions from experts contributing to the planning of the Concept include proposals to introduce benchmarking for charitable work, as well as to develop a system for training administrative personnel, and encourage venture philanthropy and corporate giving. According to the Managing Director of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Elena Feoktistova, it is also crucial to highlight the issue of self-regulation in the non-commercial sector. Trust and partnership between different sides can only be developed where dialogue takes place in an atmosphere of stability and professionalism, she says. In addition, the Concept should note the importance of resource centres, which could be significant in supporting the development of charitable organisations.
The Director of the CAF Foundation, Maria Chertok, commented that it was important that the Concept should emphasise the notion of a ‘philanthropic climate’ and the need for its improvement. This should take place through dialogue, she said. The role of the authorities in relation to the Third Sector should also be defined to prevent situations such as the unexpected change to the format for reports introduced by the Ministry of Justice. Chertok feels that, today, charity work is in stagnation because incomes – individual and commercial – have fallen. The Concept should raise the issue of non-profit making organisations receiving commercial and passive income, and clarify concessions given to people who make on-line donations.
General Director of the Vladimir Potanin Foundation, Oksana Oracheva, argues that it is essential to change the very idea of what constitutes ‘philanthropy’. In current legislation, the word is narrowly defined as help given to a specific individual. This causes difficulties when support is needed for long-term or infrastructure projects, and complications when vital social issues have to be resolved. In particular, Oracheva says, the support and development of volunteering and charitable giving should also be recognised as philanthropy. Oracheva believes, that the Concept should consider developing ways of funding individuals as well as ‘juridical persons’ or legal entities. It should also consider how charitable foundations could more easily receive non-financial forms of material support.
The Executive Director of the Endowment Foundation of the European University of St Petersburg, Svetlana Lavrova, believes that the Concept should include a proposal allowing organisations to repay loans using charitable donations or endowment income. In the US, for example, a non-commercial organisation can have its credit rating evaluated, and this model could be included in the long-term Concept. Overall, endowments are an essential strategic tool for supporting non-commercial organisations, and far more attention should be given to them, Lavrova says. Specifically, this is about protecting the possibility of co-funding endowment contributions, with benefits and tax incentives for legal entities making donations to endowment funds.
The Pro-rector of the Higher School of Economics, Lev Yakobson, argued that the new Concept should be more detailed than the previous one. Before outlining concrete measures for state support, the Concept should fully describe the current position of the charity sector in its entirety, and the help it requires. The document should be correctly positioned and have the right focus, Yakobson stressed. The state can create conditions in which charities may claim certain concessions, but the process should be voluntary. New benefits are needed, but should be available only to organisations that independently take on voluntary responsibilities. Aside from this, the Concept should highlight the need to create a model for disseminating information within the charity sector, to help share knowledge and experience, as well as assist training.
Public Chamber member Elena Topoleva believes the document should recommend that the state takes part in the process of encouraging a culture of charitable giving. In addition, she suggests revisiting the question of subsidising the regions, since this has worked well in helping to encourage and develop volunteering.
Following the publication of the previous document (‘The Concept of Promoting the Development of Charitable Activities and Volunteering in the Russian Federation’, approved in 2009) the government recommended that regional authorities should refer to the provisions of the Concept when preparing regional socio-economic development programmes.