“…the existence of small, but independent funders who can support – regardless of politic or economic preferences – progressive, pioneering initiatives, whose voice may not be heard among the many seekers of funds or whose concrete results will only ripen on the long run, is particularly important…”
“…grantmaking experience, thorough knowledge of civil society and an open, transparent and accessible system, based on time-tested methods can only guarantee the efficient and controllable use of the funds. Thus, money will really be channelled to where it is most needed and to those who can make the most out of it…”
Fundraising, donations, philanthropy – these seem to be favourite buzzwords among civil society organisations nowadays. Among the dwindling of the foreign support of the 1990s, the growing hardships of the governmental budget and the administrative burdens that go with the European Union’s financing schemes, more and more NGOs realize that they can’t rely solely on grants any more, they must explore new, alternative funding methods and instruments.
However, these words are still mostly used in negative contexts: the underdevelopment of Hungary’s philanthropic culture is a commonplace at the increasing number of conferences and workshops dedicated to the issue. At the same time, statistics and research show that for example in 2004, organizations working for public goals received the equivalent of around 90.5 million dollars worth of private donations in Hungary. The contradiction is illusory.
If we take a look at the distribution of the 1% personal income tax donations, we find that for years always the same issues and organizations benefit the most from this instrument: (diseased) children and (stray) animals – Hollywood gurus knew it for long that having children and/or dogs in a film is the recipe for success. This isn’t any different in the world of real private donations either. Although everyone acknowledges the importance and the social role of environmental, human rights or consumer organisations’ work, somehow they become less attractive, their cause cannot mobilize emotions when it comes to actual giving.
But this is (primarily) not their fault: most people only realise their values when they are personally faced with the contamination or loss of their favourite walking or recreation spots or when they feel that others decide without consulting them or indeed against their will about the fate of their direct environment. The situation of environmental NGOs is particularly different, as many see them – through the mediation of mass media – as ever-protesting, destructing bands of people who can only say NO to everything.
With noisy demonstrations in the foreground, it is often less eye-catching or more difficult to explain why it is important to save a marshland somewhere or a small plant that nobody ever sees, or what do environmentalists to promote renewable energy sources, to prevent waste production, to keep public transport or for the local, practical implementation of the theoretical values of sustainable development, so often mentioned nowadays. Under such circumstances the existence of small, but independent funders who can support – regardless of politic or economic preferences – progressive, pioneering initiatives, whose voice may not be heard among the many seekers of funds or whose concrete results will only ripen on the long run, is particularly important.
As associates of the Environmental Partnership Foundation we experience these programs day to day, as their consequences affect us as well. Over the past few years we made considerable – and sometimes successful – efforts to maintain our transparent, flexible and ‘user friendly’ grantmaking program, fine-tuned during one-and-a-half decade of experience, supporting the activities of Hungarian environmental NGOs – but to this end, we are also in the need of support. Our long term goal is to become such and endowed foundation, which using the proceeds of its assets can operate an open small grant program.
However, we realise that achieving this – though not hopeless – is a story of the future: the concept of ‘endowed foundation’ is brand new and completely unfamiliar in Hungary, and most potential donors be it corporate or private feel that if they contribute to an endowment, their money becomes ‘dead’, it won’t bring any returns. But fundraising for independent grantmaking is not much easier either: those who devote resources to public purposes often feel that the money used to cover the administration of grants (i.e. the operation of the foundation) is a loss from the point of view of the final beneficiary.
In reality, the contrary is true: grantmaking experience, thorough knowledge of civil society and an open, transparent and accessible system, based on time-tested methods can only guarantee the efficient and controllable use of the funds. Thus, money will really be channelled to where it is most needed and to those who can make the most out of it. In the best case, such support is also coupled by the transfer of knowledge and experience and other tools of technical assistance, such as training or links to experts and media – but this also requires the operation of a small, but well-prepared organisation.
More recently, the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been becoming better known in Hungary as well, and more and more businesses feel they should do something for the benefit of the direct or indirect environment they work in, be it voluntary work, in-kind contribution or financial donations. Today, CSR mostly manifests in the former ways, and concerning the latter we often see that companies provide funds on an ad-hoc basis to issues sympathetic to them without any prior knowledge of the social needs and the organisations addressing them. Of course, there is no problem with this – but we are convinced that providing support through independent grantmakers is more efficient even in purely financial and economic terms – and this is what we, the Environmental Partnership Foundation can offer…