The Economic Crisis as a Wake-Up Call

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Russia had been experiencing a rapid growth of corporate philanthropy before the crisis hit last year. The percentage of money donated by companies was estimated at a level of 10 to 11 percent of their profit (compared with the western level of 2-3 percent). Thanks to the generosity of Russian and international companies, many important initiatives were started, new effective approaches developed to long-lasting social maladies: inclusive schools, educational centers for children with special needs, abandonment prevention and foster care programs, competitive education for underprivileged, self-help groups, social and legal assistance to homeless and migrants, you name it.

Every fashion has an underside; companies compete in generosity and creativity, and creativity is sometimes a weak point. Every Christmas, posters of performances and children's parties for orphans pollute big Russian cities. In an effort to help directly, some companies stuffed orphanages and children hospitals with sweets and expensive toys.

Orphans need help in finding foster families, getting a decent education, integrating themselves into the outer world. But helping with this is too complicated, takes time to understand and get results, to find good providers, get acquainted with NGOs, which are often too full of themselves to explain in plain words what they do and why it is important to bother.

Don't get me wrong – corporate donations were a very important and indispensable part of Russian NGOs' budgets. Out of the fat pie of corporate philanthropy, professional NGOs that provide a net rather than a fish (i.e. long term solutions as opposed to things which give instant gratification to donors) only get a small part. As a result the general population is quite skeptical about philanthropy perceiving it as an expensive eccentricity of the very rich.

Since October and November last year companies really damaged or just threatened by the crisis started revising and reducing their charitable budgets. It is inevitable and understandable — the first responsibility of business is business. Still many companies and firms continue their charitable programs, desperately trying not to let down their beneficiaries. It is very courageous of them, so let's make sure it's smart.

One of the goals (or perhaps a side effect) of philanthropy is to consolidate communities, unite public and private efforts around solving urgent problems. It is one of the instruments to get on the other side of the economic crisis as a stronger, more integrated society. A few months of the crisis have given some evidence that individuals have started donating more to the non-disputable causes, such as saving children's lives, helping those who are in great need. People unite in a time of trouble; they are willing to sacrifice luxury for the sake of necessity. Are companies ready to do the same?

Philanthropy is not a legal obligation but an expression of social responsibility and good will. Thus, we are very grateful to every person and every company that give donations. The only request is – think twice before you choose how your money is going to be spent. There are effective mechanisms to address systemic problems and needs of our society. If you really want your company, your employees, the communities in which you operate and other stakeholders to benefit long term, it does not take spending lots of money it takes spending what budget you have wisely.