Russian attitudes to and contributions to NGOs in Russia

HSE study reveals a third of Russians contribute to the work of at least one NGO


A study entitled ‘Trust and Participation: what do citizens know about NGOs?’ has been completed by the Centre for Civil Society Research, together with the non-profit sector of the HSE Research Institute. The research forms part of a large-scale monitoring project on Russian civil society and has taken 14 years. It is based on the results of polls conducted throughout the country from 2009 to 2019. About 4,000 people participated in the surveys, all of them adult residents of cities and villages. Irina Mersianova, Director of the Centre for Research on Civil Society and the Non-Profit Sector of the HSE Research Institute, recently presented the results at the ‘Blagosphere’ Centre.
People trust their loved ones
‘Our research shows that the baseline is trust. From a scientific point of view, this is a justifiable expectation,’ Mersianova said.
The surveys showed that trust in NGOs is linked to trust between citizens. Today, 23% of Russians believe that most citizens can be trusted. In 2009, only 18% of respondents believed this to be true. The highest figure was 28% in 2017. Overall, the percentage has increased in the past decade.
Surveys indicated that people have a level of trust in their immediate milieu: 67% agreed that ‘most people from the social environment can be trusted’.
The number of Russians who believe that ‘there is greater harmony and cohesion among people in our country’ fell to 34% in 2019.  In 2017, the figure was at 48%. However in 2019, 75% of people are ‘ready to come together and participate in a joint activity if their ideas and interests coincide’. This is the highest recorded percentage over the entire period of research. Two years ago, the figure was just 56%.
Russian Attitudes to NGOs
This year the number of respondents who say that they ‘participate in the activities of at least one NGO’ came to 29% – the highest recorded figure so far.


With regard to how far Russian are aware of non-profit NGOs, if they trust them, and are willing to participate in their activities, the lowest percentage can be seen in 2011 (15%).  A sharp rise was noted between 2015 and 2017, when the percentage rose from 16% to 28%. People appear to participate most readily in garden associations (7%) and trade unions (6%). Only 3% were involved in the work of charities.
The number of people who trust at least one non-profit organisation was variable: in 2015 there were 38%, in 2017 – 65%, and in 2019 the figure fell again to 59%.
The proportion of Russians who were well-informed about individual NGOs or civic initiatives in their area fell from 85% to 81% over the last two years. Nevertheless, these remain the highest recorded levels.


The activities of trade unions, garden associations, and disabled societies were most widely known. A quarter of respondents could name some charities, 13% knew of charitable foundations, and 9% could list some human rights organizations.
The most trusted organisations were trade unions (15% in 2019), veterans’ associations and garden associations (14%) and societies for the disabled (12%).  People had heard something about these organisations, and felt they could reasonably trust them.


Charities were trusted by 11% of respondents, and 7% had faith in charitable initiatives (such as collecting money or goods for homeless people, orphanages, victims of violence or the needy). In 2017 these initiatives were trusted by twice as many – 15%.  The level of trust towards charitable foundations ‘providing money to resolve various issues’ was at 6%. This figure has remained stable over the last two years.
Levels of distrust
Public associations and other NGOs which people did ‘not trust at all’ included political parties (24% in 2019), religious communities (17%), and ‘charitable foundations that provide money to resolve various issues’ (10%). In 2019, 5% of respondents did not trust charitable initiatives. This figure has vacillated between 3% and 6% in the last ten years.
Men over 55 years of age with incomplete secondary or special education at secondary level mostly responded that they ‘did not trust any NGOs’. Women were generally more trusting, surveys showed.
‘This research should be studied by every representative of the non-profit sector, in order to understand how to approach further work and how to build relationships with other citizens,’ said Elena Topoleva, Director of the Agency for Social Information. ‘In our discussions on factors influencing responses, Timur Nasretdinov (head of the analytical department of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, ed.) noted that the mood of citizens had deteriorated sharply following the introduction of changes to the pension system. This may also have impacted on attitudes to NGOs (…) We must seriously consider how to improve our work, so that people know more about us, trust us and participate in what we do.’
A fuller version of the study’s findings is available here.