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Insights for U.S. Nonprofits From the Russia Donors Forum Conference

February 17, 2019

Russia_donors_forumLast fall, I was invited to speak about collaboration for social impact and corporate volunteerism at the annual Russia Donors Forum conference in Moscow. The conference brings together philanthropy and corporate social responsibility professionals from foundations, corporations, and nonprofits to share insights and lessons about how non-financial resources can support philanthropic activity. The invitation stemmed from my work with Global Impact, a U.S.-based nonprofit focused on growing global philanthropy to help the world's most vulnerable people, and my experience there helped broaden my perspective on the international philanthropic sector and the work we do.

My stay in Moscow was eye-opening. Not only did I gain valuable insights into current trends in Russian philanthropy, I also learned how U.S.-based nonprofits can engage with individuals and nonprofits operating within the ever-evolving international philanthropic space. In advance of my trip, I reviewed recent research and reporting on the state of Russian philanthropy, including the 2018 Giving Global Matrix: Tax, Fiduciary and Philanthropic Requirements developed by my organization in partnership with KPMG. The report highlights the complex and varied tax laws that incentivize or disincentivize philanthropic giving in sixty countries around the world, including Russia, and also addresses ten questions designed to shed light on the philanthropic climate in a particular country. Many of the insights from my time in Russia confirmed the findings captured in the report — namely, that a generally supportive climate for philanthropy does, in fact, exist there. Moreover, my conversations and interactions with professionals at the conference deepened my understanding of the international philanthropic sector, as well as how nonprofit organizations and corporations are addressing areas of critical importance through the commitment of both financial and non-financial resources.

In Moscow, I was greeted by a vibrant network of social sector professionals working to achieve greater impact, improve platforms and methods of measurement and evaluation, and address causes and focus areas relevant to their specific country context. And I was reminded repeatedly how important it is for us to follow the lead of country-specific philanthropic communities in providing support and sharing best practices.

There are people more qualified than I am who can speak to the state of philanthropy in Russia, and my intention here is not to offer sweeping or prescriptive statements; rather, it's to offer the perspective of a U.S.-based nonprofit professional who believes in the work we do and would like to see it achieve greater reach and impact. Recognizing the importance of locally defined philanthropic efforts are a key aspect of that. The international philanthropic community can support its peers in other countries by lifting up and providing resources in support of their objectives, as well as sharing best practices — whether they relate to building an effective case for support, effectively communicating to senior corporate leaders the return on investment of volunteerism, or developing useful and efficient processes for measurement and evaluation.

Some of that can be done through training materials or initiatives, such as IMPACT2030, which defines itself as "a private sector-led initiative that, in collaboration with the United Nations, civil society, academia and other stakeholders, is leveraging human capital investments through employee volunteer programs to advance the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)." At conferences and in one-on-one meetings, we often talk about breaking down silos and how that can help make us more efficient and effective. It's a concept I believe needs to be applied more broadly in terms of breaking out of our regional silos. There are learnings from the philanthropic and social sectors in the U.S. that could be replicated in Russia (and other countries); and there are learnings from Russia (and other countries) that would be of interest to those of us in the U.S. As funding streams are further disrupted, the global philanthropic community needs to be better informed about global trends — who is investing, how donors worldwide are identifying and approaching opportunities, where nonprofits are operating, and where synergies may lie.

As we look to the future, I encourage U.S.-based nonprofits to consider how they are already connected to nonprofits in other countries and regions of the globe, as well as how they might connect more often — and in more meaningful ways. The SDGs are one mechanism for doing so. Events and conferences that attract increasingly diverse audiences are another and afford the opportunity to make or deepen authentic connections with others doing similar work in different contexts.

More broadly, we need to think creatively about how we partner and maintain an open dialogue with our peers in other countries; explore less-obvious connections and recognize that while we all work within our own unique context, there is transferable knowledge, including successes and failures, to be shared; and adopt a more global perspective in terms of sourcing ideas and research. There are lessons to be learned from the philanthropic efforts of communities in other countries and regions of the world, and not to take advantage of them fully would be a disservice to us all.

Headshot_samantha_duceySamantha Ducey is director of partner solutions at Global Impact, a leading U.S.-based nonprofit working to build resources and partnerships for the world’s most vulnerable people

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