Philanthropy research in Armenia

Currently, the non-profit sector is the largest channel of initiating and implementing philanthropic actions in Armenia, although the sector faces different kinds of challenges, and needs government support for growth and sustainability. The government should acknowledge the key role of civil society organizations in society’s democratization process and should make further legislative changes to provide good opportunities for their engagement and growth (Minasyants 2014). Both sides can help each other: philanthropy can be developed and grow in a democratic society while non-governmental organizations help the government to become democratic (Payton and Moody 2008). The research conducted by NGO Center Civil Society Development Organization (hereafter the NGOC) was funded and supported by the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL) was aimed at mapping out the issues that affect philanthropy in Armenia and identification of good practices and shortcomings along with providing specific recommendations on how the environment for philanthropy in Armenia could be improved. The research was carried out in May – September 2020 through desk study, official inquiries, online semi-structured surveys as well as in-depth interviews. Taking into account that the active phase of the research coincided with COVID-19 pandemic, most of the research methods were applied online which brought limitations in terms of reaching out diverse audience representation, especially when it came to the government structures on local and national levels and business companies. The report explores existing legal regulation on various methods for fundraising from both companies and individuals, individuals related to the use of crowdfunding platforms, donation text messages, credit card and online giving, street/public collections, charitable boxes, possibility for online collections, charitable lotteries and auctions, as well as to what extent the regulation is easily implemented in practice. The study identified that in Armenia, philanthropy is regulated by the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia (RA), the RA Civil Code, the Law on Charity, Law on Public Organisations and the Tax Code and other legal acts, as well as international treaties of the Republic of Armenia. The charitable organizations and or individuals may utilize fundraising strategies, without specific limitation if the process corresponds to the overall regulations. A necessary pre-condition for organizing street public collections or installation of donation boxes is approval/ permit, very usual in written, from the business owner (for instance, the charitable boxes installed in Malls) or from the municipality/ Local Self-Government Body (in case the boxes are placed in public spaces). The process in case of local municipalities may vary based on the official document circulation procedures, and usually is quit time consuming and bureaucratic. What as to the charitable lotteries, there was no any example identified through the interviews or desk review, neither any regulation in the legislation. The auctions are also not very common strategy or method of fundraising utilized by the Armenian CSOs, though there were some rare mentions about them by some of the interviewees. It is worth to mention that there is no clear/ institutionalized self-regulation approaches in the area of fundraising among the CSOs (e.g. a code of conduct, quality seal, etc). Only small number of CSOs/ NGOs with advanced capacity have written policies, protocols and procedures. The latter are not required by law, neither considered as an institutional priority by the CSOs themselves. Due to shrinking / limited financial resources, the competition between the CSOs is high; this fact inhibits having a joint Code or agreement among a group of CSOs on how to engage in fundraising. Thus, there are legislative regulations that apply to both those who implements philanthropy and its users (in both cases, these can be organisations and individuals). In any way, they are not sufficient and there are a number of areas, which may need further regulation such as tax benefits for individual donors, etc. The research has been also looking at business companies’ approaches and experience of philanthropy and donations. The cooperation of commercial organisations with CSOs is implemented within the framework of Corporate Social Responsibility programs of the companies, as well as through material and in-kind support directly provided to individual CSOs, including through volunteering. It is noteworthy that in some cases donation is qualified as a “social investment” in line with the general CSR approaches rather than philanthropy. In some cases, charitable or CSR programs target State Non-Commercial Organisations (SNCOs) that operate in the cultural, scientific or educational fields or contribute to the sports development, as well as sports federations, zoos and botanical gardens. There are also companies that provide direct assistance to individuals, mostly addressing health and education issues (e.g. reimbursement or transfer of tuition fees). The research showed that bigger companies tend to work in partnership with the CSOs rather than provide direct support, especially when the size of donation is also big. This decreases the amount of paper work and procurement challenges on the ground, along with preventing the company itself from investing human and organizational capacity when managing the process directly. The research has also explored the banking system in the context of philanthropy CSO fundraising experience. According to the analysis, the bank accounts that are opened for collecting donations are served according to the basic terms and tariffs of banking service set by the banks. The information on opening accounts shows that the process of account opening is usually easy and not time consuming. The requirements defined by the RA legislation apply to all types of accounts opened in the bank. Meanwhile, based on international experience, banks considered accounts for donations as subject to high risk. Therefore, banks conduct additional enhanced / due diligence checks of these accounts in accordance with their internal procedures. And finally, the research explored the fundraising tools being utilized by the Armenian CSOs. Organisations / initiatives can be conventionally divided into two major groups. The first group implements fundraising directly, i.e. an organisation, individual or initiative raises money for the implementation of its own programs and initiatives. This group includes those organisations that have headquarters or representative offices outside Armenia; the funds are raised for the implementation of the Armenian programs of this organisation. The second group includes those organisations / initiatives that raise funds for other organisations to implement their programs. The report highlights the experience and practice of the CSOs to utilize such fundraising methods as crowdfunding, donation text messages, online giving, street/public collections, charitable boxes, and online collections. The report is also providing recommendations to the government, commercial organisations and civil society organizations derived from decades –long experience and lessons learned in order improve the legal and operational environment for a more effective philanthropy for the benefit of the final beneficiaries.