Strengths and weaknesses of Russian CSOs, government and business in the pandemic

Strengths and weaknesses shown by CSOs, government and the business sector in dealing with the pandemic


Solidarity, switching targets and resource centres like ladders in Hogwarts. What impact 2020 has had on the CSO sector.

Dual online working

The pandemic highlighted the flexibility shown by both government and CSOs in adapting to the new circumstances. According to Sergey Shepanov, advisor to the head of the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs, they were able to move rapidly online, adding interactive features and reaching all potential online fora, even Clubhouse.

According to Elena Topoleva, Director of  ASI, the pandemic unexpectedly revealed a low level of digitisation of the CSO sector based on information from the Centre for Research on Civil Society and the Not-for-Profit Sector of the National Research University’s Higher School of Economics. It turns out that many CSOs did not have the proper equipment or software, which delayed their transition online for a short while.

Corporate volunteering and corporate social responsibility

Irina Zhukova, Chair of the National Council for Corporate Volunteering, highlighted the huge increase in the number of employees who have started to take the initiative in offering to help. Smart volunteering began to develop in March last year when it was impossible to go out and help offline.

Corporate volunteers have helped CSOs in optimising their finances and devising new marketing strategies. As a result, the National Council is now seeing more and more companies wanting to join in. Zhukova also noted the value of high-level recognition of volunteer work which also helps develop corporate volunteerism.

Another incentive for companies was the introduction of tax relief in 2020. According to experts, it does not particularly affect those who have provided support over a long period but it may prompt those who have yet to offer help to reconsider.

However, despite an upsurge in support and general mergers last year, CSOs are expecting a fall in donations from companies during 2021 given many of them are starting to wind down their corporate social responsibility commitments.

Resource centres and the Federation Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights (HRC)

Svetlana Makovetskaya, a member of the HRC, said that the Council was aware of a large number of people’s associations around CSOs. She also highlighted the importance of resource centres which advised CSOs and citizens on how to access social support quickly. “It was unclear to some people why there are CSOs for CSOs in Russia, i.e. resource centres and projects. It was during the pandemic that their usefulness became clear”.

Resource centres moved like ladders in Hogwarts, i.e. flexibly, but eventually leading to where to go for help. They were largely involved in providing support to CSOs in the fight against Covid.

The HRC and the Timchenko Foundation both noticed another feature of the pandemic, namely the emergence of patronage offered by institutions such as residential care facilities and hospitals.

Makovetskaya also said that the HRC is very concerned about rising CSO administration costs. New reporting requirements are in many cases exceeding the administrative capabilities of even the larger CSOs.

Targeted assistance

Experts have noted the flexibility of donors who focused on providing systemic support for CSOs and their activities in general.

However, this did not happen in every case. According to Kira Smirnova, Executive Director of the Everyone Together charity, CSOs switched their efforts to targeted humanitarian aid during the pandemic. Most donors were also more willing to provide direct assistance without CSOs having to incur admin costs.

During the Covid crisis, CSOs have had to process much more paperwork which has led to many CSOs operating at full stretch.

Another problem that arose during the pandemic which Everyone Together noticed was the rather archaic nature of fundraising. Fees for the use of personal bank cards (to speed up the process) have gone through the roof, which is an issue the sector has been struggling with. And finally, we should not forget the enormous amount of work undertaken by CSOs in managing volunteers engaged in their activities.

A plenary session “Lessons learned from the coronavirus epidemic: New challenges involved in supporting CSOs” opened the XIII Ministry of Economic Development’s conference on inter-sectoral cooperation within the social sphere which took place in Moscow on 26 March. A recording of the plenary session is or will be available on:


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