Local philanthropy of Federal importance: Community foundations in Russia

The growth of community foundations across the Russian Federation is captured in a handy new infographic and a more detailed report, “Local Philanthropy of Federal Importance: Community Foundations in Russia.” This updated information has been brought to the field through a partnership of CAF Russia, the C.S. Mott Foundation and the Russian branch of Evolution and Philanthropy. The report was launched in May 2014 at meetings in both Moscow and Tyumen (Urals Region). Larisa Avrorina, Manager of CAF Russia’s community foundation development programme, explained that the research which identified some 45 community foundations, working across 27 regions of the Russian Federation, probably underestimated the number of such bodies. In reality, there is an additional 13 organizations that are using a community foundation model and approach, although not necessarily identified as such.

Over recent years there has been a clustering of community foundations for support and exchange purposes. The largest clusters were noted as the 15 community foundations in the Volga Federal District; 14 in the Siberia District; and six in the north west District which includes Saint Petersburg.  Interestingly the initial attempt made to establish a community foundation took place in Moscow in the early years of the 1990’s, but this floundered. The Togliatti Community Foundation, which was launched in 1998, remains the longest surviving Russian community foundation in existence, and has acted as a role model to many that were developed more recently.

Seven distinct characteristics were identified from the research as shared by the community foundations studied:

(i) Building social capital (trust and relationships) and a sense of community;

(ii) Acting as centres for local development and fundraising;

(iii) Engaged in promoting civic activism;

(iv) Creating a new philanthropic culture and traditions;

(v) Proactively contributing to a sense of community responsibility and engagement;

(vi) Providing a knowledge hub on local community issues, needs and opportunities; and,

(vii) Offering a neutral space for negotiation and partnership between the local administrative authorities, business interests and community activists.

This latter role is further reflected in the reported structure and composition of community foundation boards: 43% business, 37% community and 20% government representatives.  The majority of business interests involved came from the small and medium sized sector that had a close identification with their local communities.

Local philanthropy, local leadership

One of the current trends identified in the report was the fact that community foundations are emerging not only in urban areas but also in areas of small rural settlements. Out of 18 new community foundations established since 2008, 13 of them have been rooted in rural areas. This development was supported by World Bank investment in a “Local Self-Governance and Civil Engagement in Rural Russia” initiative, which recognised community foundations as a key infrastructural element and helped with the creation of the first alliance of rural funds across Perm Krai.

The importance of credible local leadership was also identified as an important aspect in the creation of a sustainable community foundation.  This can take the form of a single leader of some local standing, or a group of people who have sufficient authority with representatives of local elites to coordinate activities with regard to priority issues, but also have an understanding of the social innovation that is required. Putting in place an efficient organisational framework that has the capacity to mobilize a broad base of local philanthropy is also seen as a prerequisite for positioning community foundations in the area of donor services. This may apply to independent philanthropists, but also to the larger donors in the field of corporate social responsibility and indeed sources of municipal and federal government. Interestingly, while international grants are still listed as a funding source, the resources and opportunities in this area are now rather meagre. A shared challenge for many of the community foundations is finding the funding to meet their administrative and organizational costs, although these on average now amount to only 15% of their overall expenditure.

Priority areas of work

Over 90% of the community foundations support initiative groups in their local communities. This stands in marked contrast to those philanthropic organizations that prefer direct operational programmes. The main priorities for the awarding of grants include funding for organizations working with vulnerable groups and projects aimed at improving the local environment and quality of life more generally. Focus groups and other forms of community consultations are organized to inform the nature of local priorities.  While the standard grants awarded are small in monetary terms, it is argued that they are invaluable for building a sense of community self-esteem and participation. In a number of the remoter rural areas where there are few community-based organizations, the community foundations themselves act as community development centres. A re-invigorated emphasis on evaluation and the assessment of impact has also emerged as a recent trend. The Regional Alliances of Community Foundations have supported collective initiatives to map social well-being and community needs.

The study notes that with the honourable exception of the Ministry for Economic Development, there is still considerable work to be done in raising the profile of community foundation work with other government structures; a task that will require considerable time and effort. Such profile raising could also usefully take place with major corporations. What is important, however, is that there is now a growing evidence base to allow that task to be addressed in a positive manner.

Read the report “Local Philanthropy of Federal Importance: Community Foundations in Russia”, available in English and Russian  

L. Avrorina (ed. L. Tikhonovich) CAF Russia, 2014

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