That was the message delivered by various business leaders to an audience of Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) representatives during a panel discussion on Sept. 4.
"People think differently, but business people do have a sense of duty, and patriotic feelings," said Rolands Barenis, a representative from the Aldaris Brewery.
"Many business people once wanted to become actors, sportsmen or part of the helping professions themselves, but fate interfered with their dreams. Now they are willing to compensate for this by contributing financially."
What deters many from acting on this impulse to help, according to Ingrida Udre of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, is lack of confidence that the requested assistance will be used appropriately.
"When they turn for help to our company, many agencies do not stress accountability. They have a plan for how to spend the money, but sometimes when we look into it, we find the details are very scant."
Companies also find it difficult to determine which charities are worth helping. Barenis recalled how last year he was approached by a "persuasive mother and her energetic daughter" for assistance with the daughters' studies at the Academy of Music. Wanting to help what he thought was an emerging local talent, the Aldaris representative agreed to help promote her. Shortly after, Barenis met a respected conductor who informed him that he knew the young woman and found her talents mediocre.
"I cannot be a specialist on culture, education, sports, social issues. Who do I choose?" Barenis said, adding he gets 80 letters a day requesting financial assistance.
Compounding the problem is the huge number of agencies to choose from, which increases every year. There are approximately 5,000 NGOs currently working in Latvia, up from just 2,500 two years ago. Many agencies focus on the same issue, making it confusing for potential donors.
"Many companies find it hard to find their bearings among NGOs," said Gunta Anca, editor of Linva, a newspaper geared towards people with disabilities.
"They meet with one retired persons group, then they meet another. Soon they are asking 'How many of these groups are there?'"
Other NGO representatives agreed.
"There is an enormous number of NGOs, but not a large number of trustworthy NGOs," said Ugis Rotbergs of the Latvian Nature Fund.
To help businesses sort through the various charitable agencies, the Head of the Social Committee on Riga's City Council, Henriks Lacis, is proposing the creation of an NGO database. This database would include a detailed profile of NGOs and their activities as well as some financial information that would help companies decide whether or not to make a donation.
A clearer legal definition of what constitutes an NGO is also needed, according to Iveta Nikolajeva, a legal adviser with the NGO Center. "You cannot find a definition of this term (NGO) in any of our laws," she said.
Charities with the greatest chance of receiving a donation are those that develop a detailed outline of how the money will be spent and are not expecting a corporation to cover the entire cost of a project.
"We look to see if an organization only collects donations or do they do some additional work to fund themselves - we want to become partners and not just give a handout," Udre said.
Business support to NGOs is becoming increasingly more important. The main source of income for over a third of all NGOs are donations from private enterprises.
The panel discussion was part of a two day meeting of NGOs from Riga and the Riga district organized by the NGO Center. Meetings of NGOs have also been held in other districts.
More than 800 participants from over 280 NGOs have taken part in meetings of NGOs held in Latgale, Kurzeme, Zemgale and Vidzeme during the last week of August. The Center is hoping NGOs will form stronger ties with businesses, government and each other during these forums.