Private Charity: the Situation in Russia
The main representatives of the ‘third sector economy’ are non-profit organizations and independent voluntary bodies. Despite the obvious importance of the contributions from volunteers, charities, and NGOs to the resolution of social, ecological, and legal problems (among others), their status is extremely unstable. The activities of NGOs are severely restricted by legal regulations, and their financial situation depends mainly on the generosity of individual donors and businesses.
Last year, Russia moved up from 138th to 130th place in the annual ‘World Giving Index’ [ru] compiled by the Charity Aid Foundation (CAF). Each country's ranking is based on several indicators: private individuals’ donations, voluntary work, and impromptu charitable acts (for example, giving money to beggars). Despite Russia's moving up on the list, the situation cannot be considered favorable for the charity sector.
In terms of charitable donations in Russia, business contributions remain incomparably higher than private donations. This can be explained by the fashionableness of corporate social responsibility (which in one form or another exists today even in small businesses), as well as the fact that large corporations are obliged to fulfill certain budgetary redistributions in the regions where they maintain a presence.
No provision is made in Russia for tax breaks or other incentives for donors, and — despite the best efforts of the non-profit sector to expand through social media and the wider mass media — there are very few successful cases. This is possibly because ideas about mutual aid and voluntary participation in the resolution of problems that are not one's ‘own’ have yet to become mainstream.
According to the research carried out, only 5% of those questioned across Russia donate to charity. Certainly, on a national scale, this seems insignificant. But this is not to say that there is a lack of successful ‘people’ projects, financed by private philanthropy. While much activity exists only in cyberspace, the effects of charitable organizations’ work is quite tangible and real, and confidence in these groups is undiminished. The proof: the Tugeza [ru] (“Together”) community.
“Togetha: Suddenly Inflicting Good!”
The section on the official Tugeza site, titled ‘Who Is Doing This?’ states the following:
Нас часто с опаской спрашивают: «Кто вы, ребята?» Мы теряемся, краснеем и не знаем, что ответить в двух словах. Мы не религиозная секта, не политическая партия, не благотворительный фонд, да чего уж там, мы даже плохо знаем друг друга.
Tugeza began its life on the blog dirty.ru [ru] and eventually became, on August 7, 2010, a volunteer project. The names of the organizers are not a trade secret, but finding them is practically impossible. This is on purpose, as Tugeza is not a hierarchical structure but a ‘charitable anarcho-syndicate,’ as it is called by its creators.
Tugeza is now a community without leaders. The running and moderation of the portal is handled by coordinators: the founding fathers and newer volunteers, whose participation is strongly encouraged. Sometimes this coordination is carried out on a regional basis and the monitoring of activities being carried out is taken on by volunteers who live not far from (or at least closest to) to the location where the aid is being directed.
Tugeza helps to attract financing for projects all over Russia that are diverse in both theme and scale: at the moment, volunteers are raising funds for a rehabilitation and education complex in Kaluga [ru] and last month helped an equine therapy center in the Pskov region [ru].
The technology on which the work of Tugeza is built is called crowdfunding [ru]: the collective collaboration of people who voluntarily pool their money or other resources (as a rule, via the Internet) in order to support the efforts of other people or organizations.
How Tugeza works
It all begins with a discussion through the community's social networks: who needs help? And what kind of help? Each project is jointly organized, so that anyone wishing to can make a contribution and share what they have to offer — transport, for example, or the possibility of helping not by collecting money but by donating unneeded clothing, a drumkit, for instance, or bringing friends along to volunteer. This way, as practice shows, significant resources can be shared: time, as well as money.
Next comes the most interesting part: information about the new project is posted on the Tugeza site, such as how much money must be raised and the timeframe involved, what it is being spent on, and who is being helped. Sometimes the beneficiaries are located in isolated rural regions where there is no Internet access, without the chance to comment on what is going on or take part in the fundraising themselves. In such cases, this work is undertaken by Tugeza organizers, who more often than not remain behind the scenes.
All funds are raised virtually, via e-wallet. On the one hand this complicates fundraising (not everyone has an e-wallet) but, on the other, it makes it simple to keep track of things. Tugeza fights the mistrust of e-payments and, even moreso, of ‘e-philanthropy’ as best they can: they have released data regarding the proceeds of their Yandex e-wallet, so that everyone can see that their donations have been received. After the completion of the project, they can see on the same site how their money has been spent.