Teaching to Give

Charities Aid Foundation has been working in Russia for 15 years, a long time for a nonprofit organization. What have you achieved over these years?

CAF Russia has a unique mission: we work to create a society where charitable giving is a part of everyday life. All these years we have been working to make philanthropy an effective instrument for supporting innovative solutions to urgent social problems of the Russian society.

In early years of the Russian nonprofit sector, CAF was one of the first that conducted training for NGOs, building their capacity to raise money, design projects, manage their organization and provide better services to the people they served. We are pleased to see that with these efforts, Russian nonprofit organizations have became more professional.

But this was just the beginning. In more recent years we have been focusing our efforts on creating solutions for donors that will let them make donations to charities in an easy and fun way. One of the examples of such solutions is the payroll giving program "They Need Your Help" (www.donatenow.ru), which allows employees of participating companies to contribute to the work of selected NGOs or raise funds for life-saving surgeries for children. Another example is a recently started Internet portal, www. Blago.ru, that allows Internet users to use their credit cards to give to the charities of their choice. We do due diligence of charities and publish reports on how the funds are used.

Apart from working with individuals, we engage companies in philanthropy in a meaningful way. For the past two years we have coordinated an initiative by Russian companies called "Charity Instead of Gifts" (www.realgifts.ru). The idea of the initiative is that the money spent on thoughtless and often lavish corporate New Year's gifts can be directed instead to charity. The initiative has generated more than $2 million, given by more than 90 companies to charities that help children and adults in need.

We are also very proud of the development of community foundations in Russia. The first of them -- in Toglyatti -- recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, and overall there are more than 30 community foundations across the country. They work in small and large cities and bring together corporate and individual donors who are willing to contribute to the development of civic initiatives in their home towns.

Within the framework of The Moscow Times' program "Create Yourself," we have started a series of publications about people who, despite having serious health problems, have been able to find the power and desire to live and grow. Some of them have achieved things that even healthy people can only dream of. Here are two of them -- the others you can read at www.sotvorisebya.ru

The Create Yourself section did not involve the reporting or the editorial staff of The Moscow Times.

As you have mentioned, CAF not only develops individual giving but also promotes corporate philanthropy. Has the government's attitude to companies that are active in philanthropy changed?

Indeed, we were the first group to start a serious conversation about corporate philanthropy in Russia. In 1997 and 1998 we conducted the first seminars on corporative philanthropy, which were not very successful because at the time the idea did not resonate with companies' philosophy.

Today, 10 years later, the situation has changed dramatically, and corporate philanthropy is now an integral part of every company's business practice. We are very happy to see that corporate giving has become more strategic and social impact oriented and less money is spent reactively in response to "wish letters."

The role of the government -- federal and regional -- is very large in Russia, and corporate philanthropy is no exception. In the early days, 99 percent of companies' philanthropic money was distributed by direct government order, so basically corporate giving was considered by companies themselves as a government relations instrument rather than anything else. Now the situation changed a lot. A growing number of federal and regional governments see companies as partners in social and economic development rather than purely cash cows. We are witnessing how the government in consultation with companies and civil society organizations is setting up a legal framework that enables transparent mechanisms for companies' participation in funding education, culture and social development. The recent Endowment Law that enables individual donors and companies in particular to make significant and long-lasting contribution to the sustainability of nonprofit institutions is the best example of this process.

In recent years Russia has seen a fast growth of private and corporate foundations. What is CAF's involvement in this, and how can you help those who are in the process of setting up a new charitable foundation?

CAF as an organization working around the world has a strong experience in advising donors who wish to establish their own philanthropic institutions. Our advisory work helps us to advance our vision and stimulate giving that will produce the best social results for those communities and groups our donors work with. We have a good understanding of donor needs and knowledge of the best practices in Russian and international philanthropy. We also have a well-established working process and methodology. We use our expertise to offer advice on how to set up a governance and legal structure for the new foundation, to work with our clients to develop the foundation's approach, strategy and programs and to run feasibility studies. We also have expertise in establishing endowment funds under new Russian legislation. Apart from that, we help our partners build their senior staff capacity and can actually run specific programs on a foundation's behalf.

Finally, this October we will launch an educational program for Russian private foundations called "Foundation School," which for the first time in Russia will provide a systematic high level training for foundations' founders and senior staff. The program will cover a range of key issues for new foundations -- from mission and vision to legal and governance structure, financial strategy and role of endowment, art and craft of designing programs and evaluating the impact a foundation makes. We were lucky to attract top Russian and international experts and practitioners to teach at the school, and we are looking forward to providing this educational opportunity to the new Russian foundations professionals.