NGO Center helps Latvia help itself

  • 2002-02-07
  • Krista Taurins, RIGA
Some of the kids at Riga St. Nicholas Shelter know what it's like to sleep in the staircase of a building. Others live without access to indoor plumbing.

But for the hours between school and going home that they spend at the shelter, they cook dinner together, watch TV and videos, play computer games and know their way around a washing machine.

All of this is thanks to donations, largely made by local companies. Even the roof of the two-room shelter was donated. Their director explains all it takes is asking.

"You have to work, you have to ask, and you have to search (for donations). If you look, you'll find them. People here are shy about asking," says Diana Vasilane. "No one wants to ask."

Latvia's NGO Center is working to promote philanthropy as a way of supporting the country's non-govermental organizations.

Kaija Gertnere, director of the NGO Center, explains that NGOs like the Riga St. Nicholas Shelter have four main means of funding their activities.

They can conduct economic, but not for profit, activity. They can rely on government grants or funding - rare in Latvia.

They can hope for international aid, but that's largely drying up. Big donors like the U.N. and Soros Foundation or countries that provided support through their embassies are decreasing their funds to Latvian NGOs.

Finally, NGOs can look to individuals or companies for donations. This last means of funding is receiving the NGO Center's attention these days.

"NGOs and private business are not on the same wavelength," says Gertnere. "Businesses hear ?I need' rather than ?I can offer' from the NGOs."

Business are able to get something in return already - a rather favorable 85 percent tax return on money donations. This works well for larger corporations.

Small enterprises, however, lack the resources to fill out the cumbersome paperwork to get the tax returns, says Gertnere.

They are also less willing to donate because the donation can only come from profits - many show no profit in order to avoid taxation, or keep two sets of accounting records.

Private individuals get a 25 percent tax return on donations.

The NGO Center is working on reforming the legislation so that NGOs can get the support they need to accomplish their goals. Discrepencies in NGO legislation do not promote NGO activities or the development of philanthropy, Gertnere says.

The NGOs themselves also face obstacles. Some lack long-term strategies, others have not developed a relationship with the private sector that would provide them an income. There is also low civic participation in addressing problems, Gertnere says.

Asking for help

"(If you ask a company) for contributions toward an effort, that's OK. Asking for money is downright impossible," says Debbie Stout, an American long-term resident of Riga who is organizing a Valentine's Day ball to benefit the children's rehabilitation center Mes Esam Lidzas (We Are Beside You).

With a free room, discount banquet and free champagne from the Radisson, and other drinks from Coca Cola and Cido, the center will be able to take home some profit from the 24 lat ($37.50) ticket price of the Feb. 16 ball. Additionally, lottery prizes have been donated from local restaurants, electronics firms, a travel agency, clothing store and others.

Radisson SAS Hotel's regional PR manager, Sandra Dimitrovich, lists about 10 charities and events the hotel sponsors. The Radisson's involvement ranges from buying its Christmas decorations from disabled people, to splitting the cost of a piano for the Riga Dome Choir School with the Austrian Embassy.

As the Radisson is undergoing renovation, sheets, tablecloths, clothes, aprons and other items were given to Riga Boarding School 1, which is home to 155 orphans.

"We are always trying to see what we can do for the community," says Dimitrovich.

Offering services is one way small-and-medium sized enterprises can also participate in funding non-profit organizations.

"A small paint store can give paint, if they have maybe two cans left of one color of paint. That might be all a children's home needs to paint its nusery," Gertnere said.

Stout agrees

"You have to make an effort and prove you're not just sitting here asking for money," she says. "A lot of times, getting products is not as dificult."

For information on the Valentine's Day charity ball, call 371 951-9961.