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

Guest blog: Converging concepts for more effective philanthropy in Monteverde, Costa Rica

Read the blog in Spanish

What do tourism, sustainable development and community philanthropy have in common? In Monteverde, Costa Rica, a secluded region with the largest complex of private reserves in Central America and host to over one-hundred thousand visitors annually, they all form an integral part of our past and our future. In the following blog, I share some personal experiences with the changing face of philanthropy in my adoptive mountain home.

Where conservation and community coexist. Since the late 1960s, local residents and organizations here have successfully harnessed the capacity of international philanthropy and eco-tourism to purchase and protect more than 25,000 hectares of unique tropical forests. Small-scale dairy and coffee production, mixed with agro- and adventure-tourism, have also helped preserve a predominately rural landscape in most areas adjacent to the protected forests.

Thanks to many of these development trends, residents enjoy a number of employment opportunities and public services, as well as benefit from infrastructure typically unseen in such remote locales. A historically pioneering spirit and sense of community collaboration have also led to the opening of over forty grassroots organizations, educational institutions, cooperatives and public offices. Of course, many of these entities have been beneficiaries of direct business donations and other generous forms of local philanthropy over the past decades.

Testing community resilience. Despite numerous benefits, the progressing drift toward tourism in recent years has continued to produce complex environmental, social and economic challenges that still go unmet. Examples include unplanned urbanization around the town center, increased pollution and stresses on natural resources, the globalization of cultural norms, the homogenization of economic activity, as well as decreased food security, just to mention a few. In order to confront these issues, local organizations, leaders and residents have facilitated participatory planning processes in order to clearly define common goals and strategies between the public, private and non-profit sectors. Often, the central question is “how can we more effectively engage the influential tourism industry to promote desired change?”, whether that be through better growth planning, a more equitable distribution of resources or the implementation of best practices at the individual business and destination level. This question becomes increasingly difficult over time as needs within the community evolve and new solutions are required.

Travelers’ Philanthropy, a potentially key ingredient. In response to this central question, a group of local residents and I have established the Monteverde Community Fund. We specialize in grant making, technical assistance, training and network development in order to support the innovative efforts of existing community organizations and work groups to meet emerging challenges. Our aim is to be inclusive, creative, flexible and supportive, and at the heart of our work are three core beliefs:  


  1. The local community is able to create the change it needs
  2. The absence of organized resource mobilization can inhibit good ideas from becoming tangible realities
  3. The lack of long-term thinking and short-term capacity-building can turn good projects into quick memories



Our principal focus at the moment is strengthening a fundraising platform at the destination level, known as the Monteverde Travelers’ Philanthropy Program, supporting the development of larger proposals with partners such as the local Municipality and Biological Corridor Council, and promoting a culture of grant making.

Photo: Selena Avendaño Leadem

“Travelers’ Philanthropy”, specifically, is a term coined by the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) that simply refers to the tangible contribution of ‘time, talent and treasure’ by tourism companies and visitors to local projects beyond what is generated through normal business transactions. CREST co-founder and co-director, Dr. Martha Honey, notes that a well-organized program can generate significant resources for a host community to promote social empowerment, sustainable long-term development and environmental conservation.[1] This program grew out of a pilot project originally led by the Monteverde Institute and supported by the Inter-American Foundation (IAF), the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF) and CREST. Its main objective is to mobilize resources from a broad network of tourism businesses and equitably channel them to local initiatives by means of a Small Grants Program, with an eye toward community-identified priorities, generating tangible impacts and building capacity for grantees.

Growth of Travelers’ Philanthropy and Community Funds in Costa Rica. Travelers’ philanthropy is not a new practice in Monteverde or in Costa Rica. For years, programs across the country have captured tourism donations for community projects (e.g., sea turtle conservation in Tortuguero, environmental education in the Osa Peninsula, reforestation in Monteverde, etc.). Thus, the innovations of our program are: 1) we are seeking to involve a diversity of local and national businesses as strategic partners in the fundraising process, not just see them as ‘one-off’ donors; 2) we are implementing commercial products such as a “city tour” to create greater financial sustainability; and, 3) we are seeking to equitably support a variety of thematic areas important to the community, not just one single initiative.

Photo: Justin Welch

One of the more interesting trends observed over the past year is the coupling of resource mobilization strategies of travelers’ philanthropy with the concept of a community, or common, fund.  For example, one of the leading national organizations for promoting rural tourism, ACTUAR, is exploring ways in which it can effectively utilize travelers’ philanthropy to further benefit its network of rural tourism associations across the country. Also, the CRUSA Foundation recently announced its new Guanacaste Community Fund in an effort to address some of the environmental and social disparities of this region so heavily impacted by international tourism development. One of their foreseen strategies is using endowed funds to leverage additional private donations from tourism companies and international visitors.

Building a case for the Monteverde Community Fund. As complimentary concepts like sustainable tourism, social corporate responsibility and ecological economics continue to gain traction in Costa Rica, our hope is that potential business partners will see the comparative advantage of a collaborative travelers’ philanthropy program (i.e., one where their contributions can be multiplied by others) combined with a community fund structure (i.e., a model that facilitates participatory decision-making and supports a diversity of projects). Not only does this make sense from a strategic collaboration standpoint, but the act of reinvesting in the destination where they send customers also makes long-term economic sense.

Nevertheless, I can attest that it has been no easy task to develop the idea of Travelers’ Philanthropy and the model of a community fund simultaneously. Not only is raising new funds a challenging endeavor, but so too is the more protracted process of soliciting proposals, selecting projects and providing follow-up. Based on our experiences to date, I am consistently reminded of the concerns shared by other community foundation practitioners in the 2012 meeting of GFCF partners in Dinokeng, South Africa who spoke of the challenges in articulating the case for community foundations and demonstrating their added-value. I often reflect on the ideas and insights shared by these veteran peers and have more than once referenced the indicators of intangible impacts compiled in the report “A New Generation of Community Philanthropy.”[2] Both resources have been essential to staying motivated and focused in our worthy endeavor.

As I look forward to the future of the Monteverde Community Fund, I am encouraged by the small but steady successes and am heartened by the fact that we are following a similar path of many well established foundations. Thanks to additional support from the Inter-American Foundation and local donors we were able to fund four environmental and social projects in the first year alone. Projects ranged from water resource protection and alternative energy to a community radio station led by youth and a campaign to control the stray animal population. And, our network of business supporters seems to grow almost by the day. Certainly, we too will leave a lasting footprint on the history of this place we call home.

Justin Welch is Executive Director of the Monteverde Community Fund. He has had extensive experience with multi-stakeholder processes and resource mobilization strategies since his arrival to Monteverde in 2006. Welch is an environmental science and policy specialist by training, and has worked for the University of Georgia, the local Biological Corridor Council and the University of Costa Rica on various consulting projects regarding water resource management and land conservation. Between 2008 and 2013 he led the Water Resources Program, and later the Community Programs Department, at local non-profit, the Monteverde Institute. Contact: admin@monteverdefund.org; 506-8313-0799.


[1] Welch, J. and R. Bailes [2013]. The Quick Guide for Establishing a Destination-wide Travelers’ Philanthropy Program: A Synthesis of Best Practices from Around the World & Experiences from Monteverde, Costa Rica. Monteverde Institute.

[2] Hodgson, J., B. Knight and A. Mathie (March, 2012). A New Generation of Community Philanthropy. Global Fund for Community Foundations and Coady International Institute.

Next Door Neighbours Half Way Round the World: from Minnesota to Perm

Nancy Straw, President of the West Central Initiative in Minnesota, U.S., reports on her recent visit to a community foundations conference in Russia

As much as I enjoy travelling, why would I travel to the last city on the way to Siberia in mid-November?  Perm is 683 miles east of Moscow, the easternmost city in Europe: during Soviet times, the city was closed to foreigners, due to the munitions factories located there.  I did not go just to see a wonderful performance of the ballet “La Sylphide” and tour the museum of unique wooden religious sculptures, although they were delightful.  I was there at the invitation of CAF Russia to attend a conference for foundations and funds based in smaller communities and rural areas in Russia.

Community foundation (CF) work started in Russia in the mid-1990s, with work in more rural areas starting a few years later.  Community Foundations and Funds now exist in many areas and in a wide variety of forms.  Our discussions were centered on topics of interest to the people attending the conference and included fundraising in a rural area, types of projects funded in rural areas, working with others (including local authorities), and what to do when you have very little or no money.

All of my presentations were based on the concepts of Rural Development Philanthropy (RDP). RDP is a community-led approach, developed by a group of U.S. community foundations and community foundation hybrids, which creates locally controlled assets and invests them to strengthen rural places.

Different language, same issues

While the language is different, the issues we deal with are the same.  We have a hard time getting people to volunteer.  We work on social issues such as meeting emergency needs, alleviating poverty, caring for children and improving education.  There are cross generational programmes, environmental programmes, support for the arts and programmes for people with disabilities. We deal with outside influences that are beyond our control.  Companies downsize and we lose jobs in our communities.  Our youth leave smaller communities for more urban areas and do not return.  Incentives for new technology development and its use in cleaning up environmental concerns are supported.  Some schools no longer offer courses in the arts; only the basics of an education due to cost cutting measures.

One of the local presenters commented that government would like to stop paying for some things and rely on philanthropic money in CFs to pay for those services.  Sounds very familiar! We talked about the historic role of CFs in the U.S. and our ability to take more risks than government to try out new service models and programmes.  Once proven, we would ask the government to step in and support those successful programmes over the longer term.  While this may have worked in the past, it happens infrequently today in the U.S. as government funding levels for all services have declined.  Our colleagues in Russia are starting at a time when funding is not available for government to take over support for successful projects, so they may not have the opportunity to do the more risky pilot project work in the same way we have done it here in the past.

There were many operational similarities, too.  Competitive grant rounds with submission deadlines are common.  There are programmes offered which charge fees to help generate income for a fund or CF, and much interest in social venture fund models.  Some funds receive support that cannot be used to pay staff salaries; they deal with a lack of financial support for their organization’s infrastructure and general operations because just like in the U.S.,  some donors want every dollar to go directly to helping people in need.  Several funds have grown organically within their communities, and others have been formed with more of a “top down” approach, with community and government leaders establishing the funds.  Some funds have buildings that house their programmes and also are used for various community activities, others are provided space free of charge, and many of them rent space from others.

Rural areas and urban areas in Russia experience the same sort of tensions that we do in the U.S.  Smaller communities do not have enough human or financial resources to work only within their own community but need to partner with neighboring towns and villages.  Rural infrastructure is not kept up as well as it is in urban areas, and there were comments about roads that are in poor condition in some rural areas.  Rural communities lose their youth to more urban areas for education and more job opportunities, and communities recognize that as a major challenge to their continued viability.  The number of nonprofit organizations can be very low in rural areas, and is more concentrated in cities and urban areas

Key differences

There are some key differences between CFs in Russia and in the U.S.  Frequent changes in local government structure and local leadership can make partnering difficult.  As CFs navigate those changes, they often must deal with the perception that local government controls the funds because the roles of government and CFs are not clearly defined.  If government leaders misunderstand or disagree with work a fund is trying to do they can make things very difficult for them.  Government officials do not always understand how the funds work or the purpose of the funds, which also happens here.

When it comes to fundraising, there are many stories in Russia that tug at the heartstrings.  Programmes that benefit schools, education and children are popular.  Donors everywhere give for a variety of reasons – passion, desire to help, tax savings, or to improve their image in the community. Businesses do not like too many different organizations asking them for donations, and some businesses in Russia are anxious to donate to their local fund to help improve their image.  People are reluctant to ask others to give when they are face-to-face.  There is competition with other organizations that also raise money.

Extractive industries are numerous in Russia: gold mines, diamond mines, oil fields.  Not many of the CFs benefit from those industries unless the companies extracting the resources provide donations to them.  I did not hear of any taxes or other government plans to keep some of the wealth in the local communities after those assets are depleted, and once that wealth is gone to an urban area, it is very unlikely any of it will ever return to the rural area.  There are examples here in Minnesota that could be helpful to those communities, like the Iron Range Resources Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) that receives financial support from taxes on mining.

Due to the extreme distances between communities in Russia, several of the funds have developed in isolation without much influence from other funds or foundations.  This provides a certain level of freedom to develop into the type of fund that is most needed in their area, and they may not be told what they are not “supposed” to do according to traditional CF work.

Learning from each other

There are many areas we could learn from and with our friends in Russia.  How can we all do a better job of telling our stories about our work?  What are the ways we can increase transparency and increase our credibility to obtain and retain the trust of our local people?  How do we decide what NOT to do when there are so many good things happening in our communities?  What can we really impact in a meaningful way with our limited human and financial resources?  How can we overcome turf issues that keep people from working together?  Are our young people receiving the right type of education to prepare them for a career?  How do we deal with the tension between environmental issues and development issues?  What are the most meaningful outcome measures and who pays to gather in information?  What techniques help to assure that your CF is not used like a bank – money in and money out – without strategy and planning?  What are the best ways to hold grant recipients accountable for the use of funds?   What are the most effective ways to engage our partners (businesses, local government, individual donors, nonprofit organizations, schools and universities)?

Working in philanthropy, no matter where it happens, we have significantly more in common than we have differences.  The human desire to help others and to make life better for those who come after us is universal and the hope inherent in our work feels the same everywhere.

While it was cold and snowing outside, the people at the conference surrounded us with a warm, welcoming atmosphere.  I hope my new friends in Russia will continue our communications and I would love to host them on a visit Minnesota.

West Central Initiative is a regional community foundation serving the nine west central Minnesota counties of Becker, Clay, Douglas, Grant, Otter Tail, Pope, Stevens, Traverse and Wilkin. WCI invests resources in our communities for regional success, using the tools of economic development and community development, and by promoting philanthropy. Learn more at www.wcif.org.

“The Story behind the Well”: a new report from the GFCF and Coady International Institute

What are the key ingredients that are required to make “good development” happen and how can they be fostered? The story behind the well: a case study of successful community development in Makutano, Kenya is a new publication from the GFCF and the Coady International Institute. It tells the story of Makutano, a community in rural Kenya, which over the course of the last fourteen years has transformed itself from a poor, inaccessible and arid “outback” into a thriving hotbed of people-led development.

So what were the drivers for this success? Well, as the report describes, there were several. One was the bold vision of a handful of individuals who believed that for development efforts to be effective they needed to be conceived, owned and direct by the very people they were meant to benefit.  Another was the role played by the a fledgling voluntary association, the Makutano Community Development Association, which saw itself as part of a collective and community-wide effort to improve local livelihoods and standards of living. And a third key influence was the enduring support and of a key partner and funder, the Kenya Community Development Foundation, Kenya’s first public grantmaking foundation, which was established in 1997 with a determination to approach development differently.

The report, co-authored by Halima Mahomed and Brianne Peters, draws on field research and interviews with key individuals who were part this process.

We invite you to read the report, share it with colleagues and to share any comments or feedback with us. To read the full report click here.