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Endowment building in Russia - the Penza Community Foundation “Civil Unity” shows the way 

Endowments workshop organized by Penza Community Foundation


In recent years community foundations in all corners of Russia have undergone a period of development and growth, and these rural funds “can be considered the main drivers of success for local philanthropy development in Russia” - this according to a 2017 report released by the Charities Aid Foundation Russia, and supported by the GFCF. When Size Matters: The Phenomenon of Community Foundations in Small Towns and Rural Areas of Russia, further illustrates that these local foundations are carrying out vital work across the country around the development of civic responsibility and activities, the revitalization of public spaces and community centres, and the reviving of traditions - to name but a few of their varied activities. 

For community foundations in North America and Western Europe, having an endowment fund is a given. Conversely, for many community philanthropy organizations in other parts of the world, this remains an aspiration. However, in Russia, thanks to the pioneering work of the Penza Community Foundation “Civil Unity”, the topic of endowment building has become more accessible and, for many Russian community foundations, may now also seem more possible. The GFCF spoke to Oleg Sharipkov, Executive Director of the Penza Community Foundation “Civil Unity” - which was established in 2002 and is located in Penza (about 650km southeast of the capital Moscow) - about their work to encourage endowment building in Russia.


GFCF: Tell us about your work over the past few years on community foundation endowments.

Oleg Sharipkov (OS): The Penza Community Foundation “Civil Unity” was one of the first rural-based organizations in Russia seriously considering the issue of endowment building. In 2015, we received a GFCF grant to explore this in depth, as the topic was still fairly new to Russian community foundations specifically, with new legislation on endowments having been introduced in 2007. According to various estimates, there are somewhere between 150 and 200 organizations in Russia that currently have endowments in some form - however, these are mostly museums and universities. As few as five to ten are socially-oriented NGOs (primarily private funds, such as the Hospice Charity Fund or the Elderly Assistance Fund) and only one is a community foundation (which is our organization, in Penza).

We were the first community foundation who went through the entire process of registration, and then worked with local philanthropists to raise funds for our endowment. Currently, the total capital of our endowment is approximately $130,000 USD. Our local donors are largely made up of wealthy individuals living in Penza, and we also held one mass fundraising campaign which yielded good results. So far, local corporations and companies have contributed very little to our endowment, but this is something we will work on, moving forward.


GFCF: What difference has having an endowment made to your work?

OS: 2018 will be the third year that we have received income from the endowment, which we invest directly back into our local community. We support NGOs’ social projects and other local initiative groups - and now that we have this endowment, we can invest more in this local civil society, helping these groups to mature and develop as institutions. As a result, some have started applying for (and receiving) large national grants. So the groups and initiatives on the ground that we work with have certainly seen a change in the way that we operate, and have benefited from this.

Local recipients of Penza grant funds


GFCF: How have you shared what you have learnt?

OS: In order to share our experiences around endowment building, including how to approach the registration phase, with funding from the GFCF we produced the first book on endowments that is written in Russian. We hope this publication - “Endowments: How to Start” - will specifically help other community foundations working in Russia. The GFCF was the first partner who gave us this opportunity to explore the topic of endowment building in local communities, and the Penza Community Foundation “Civil Unity” is a leader in this sphere due to that support.


GFCF: What kind of interest has your work created among other Russian community foundations? 

OS: Since the publication of the book, the team from Penza Community Foundation “Civil Unity” has become recognized as an expert on the formation of endowment funds in Russia. Our staff has been organizing and leading educational seminars on the topic across the country, which have been specifically aimed at community foundations. Several funds in such regions as Irkutsk and Ulyanovsk decided to create their own endowments as a result of their participation.

We also continue to carry out research on the topic of Russian endowments, to stay on top of any new developments and trends. Most significantly, in April 2018 we will be organizing a conference “Endowments in Russia”, which will bring together participants from 50 different regions of the country.

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