Laws and Other Mechanisms for Promoting NGO Financial Stability

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Laws and Other Mechanisms for Promoting
NGO Financial Stability
by David Moore

Reprinted from:
The 2004 NGO Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia (Eighth Edition: May
2005), the US Agency for International Developmen t / Bureau for Europe and Eurasia – Office of
Democracy, Governance, and Social Transition.


Among the most pressing questions facing the non-governmental, not-for-profit (NGO)
sectors in countries in the CEE/Eurasia region is financial sustainability. From Albania
to Uzbekistan, NGOs are still predominantly dependent on foreign donor funding. In
many countries of the region, foreign donors are withdrawing or reducin g their levels of
support, thereby increasing the urgency of the challenge of long-term sectoral

This paper seeks to present an overview of legal mechanisms that have emerged in the
region of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and the Newly Independent States (NIS)
relating to financial sustainabi lity, and particularly, for promoting indigenous sources of
NGO funding. Section I sets the context by examining potential NGO income sources.
Section II provides a brief overview of good regulatory practices that support a
sustainable sector and have deve loped as trends in the region. Section III then turns to
highlight innovative funding mechanisms that cont ribute to financial sustainability of the
NGO sector.

This paper does not seek to focus on the fi nancial sustainability of any individual NGO,
but rather on legal and infrastructure aspects of financial sustainability of the NGO sector
as a whole. Any of the good practices and innovative mechanisms highlighted here may
be appropriate for some NGOs but not appropriate for others. In considering the sector as
a whole, however, it is important to adopt a holistic approach, as we find below.


To appreciate the challenge of financial sust ainability it is necessary to understand the
potential sources of revenue for the NGO sector. This is particularly true in countries
where the NGO sector is largely dependent on a single category of NGO income. While
there is, of course, tremendous variation in the sources of NGO revenue among countries
and NGOs within any sector, there are at th e same time identifiable trends of NGO

Nearly all NGO revenue falls within thr ee broad categories. They include (1)
government funding, and (2) private giving, or philanthropy, and (3) self-generated
income. Government funding includes a broad range of direct and indirect support.

Direct funding comes in the form of state subsidies, government grants, and contracting.
Exemptions from taxation can be consider ed a government subsidy. Private giving
usually comes in the form of cash and in-k ind donations from individuals, businesses,
and foundations or other grant-making legal en tities. The efforts of volunteers may also
be considered donations and can be embr aced by the concept of philanthropy. Self-
generated income includes membership dues, fees and charges for services (that is,
economic activity), as well as income from investments.

In 2003, the John Hopkins University Compar ative Nonprofit Sector Project published a
comparative analysis on global civil society, which based its findings on research in 35
countries, including five countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
1 Among other issues,
the overview examines the sources of NGO income. The results are revealing:

• Self-generated income is the dominant s ource of revenue in nearly every country
surveyed (53%);
• Government or public sector support also ranks as a significant source of NGO
income (35%);
• Private giving – that is, individual, co rporate and foundation-based philanthropy –
accounts for a smaller portion of NGO income (12%).

It is critical to underscore that there is no ‘magic bullet’ for the financial sustainability of
the NGO sector. Solutions to the challenge of s ectoral sustainability must lie in a holistic
approach, recognizing the re lative importance of all categories of NGO income.


Good regulatory practices have emerged in many countries throughout the region to
support the financial sustainability of NGOs. Each major category of NGO income, from
self-generated income to government funding to private philanthropy, can be encouraged
through appropriate regulatory mechanisms. While not all countries have adopted such
progressive regulatory approaches, they ar e common enough to be identified as trends
and referred to as ‘inter national good practice.’

Government support

Government support comes in the form of tax exemptions – in effect, indirect
government subsidies – and in the form of di rect financing, via budget subsidies, grants
for specific purposes, and contracts to perfor m certain work. Tax exemptions recognize
that NGOs are using income to pursue a not -for-profit mission, often for the public
benefit. For example, income from grants a nd donations is typically exempt from income
taxation. Direct government financing is grow ing in importance as an income source for
NGOs. As recipients of government grants and bidders for government contracts, NGOs
1 The study included 16 advanced industrialized countries, 14 developing countries from Africa, Asia and
Latin America, and five countries from Central and Eastern Europe, including the Czech Republic,
Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovak ia. See “Global Civil Society: An Overview,” Lester M. Salamon,
the John Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project, 2003.

are becoming increasingly engaged in service delivery. Legal frameworks generally
allow NGOs to receive government funding and, to a somewhat lesser extent, to
participate in public procurement procedur es. Furthermore, governments in several
countries have developed innovative approaches to government funding, from the
creation of public funds to ta xpayer allocation mechanisms.

Private philanthropy

The most common mechanism for encouraging individuals and corporations to make
cash and in-kind donations to NGOs is through tax incentives for donors. Corporate tax
incentives for giving to NGOs are commonl y available throughout the region, and
generally in the form of tax deductions.
2 Individual tax incentives are also available in a
substantial number of countries. While impo rtant, tax incentives are not sufficient to
promote corporate philanthropy; donors give ba sed on a variety of motivations, of which
tax preferences are only one. The establis hment of community foundations in several
countries has sought to appeal to a wider spectrum of donor in terests in giving. At least
equally, if not more important to NGO su stainability are the donated efforts of
3 Yet few countries in the region have developed a framework to support and
encourage volunteering.

Self-generated income

One of the most significant i ssues affecting the ability of NGOs to generate their own
income are the laws and regu lations governing income from economic activities. In
nearly all countries, NGOs are able to engage directly in economic activities, within
certain defined limitations. Furthermore, in many countries, income from economic
activities is exempt from taxation, albeit to a limited extent. Critical to many associations
and membership organizations is income from membership dues; such income is exempt
from taxation in nearly all countries in the region.

Grant-making foundations may rely signifi cantly on investments and the income
generated from those investments, in the form of interest, dividends, and capital gains.
While a substantial number of countries in the region do provide full or
exemptions from taxation of investment income, few countries have created an
environment that supports the maintena nce and growth of endowments.

2 The only countries that do not provide donor incentives for corporate giving to NGOs are Azerbaijan,
Belarus, Macedonia and Russia. Re form initiatives are underway in Macedonia to provide such incentives.
3 According the John Hopkins study referenced above, the picture of civil society organization revenue
changes when the contributions of time represented by volunteers are added to the contributions of money
and treated as part of philanthropy. The resulting proportion of sector revenue breaks down as follows:
self-generated income (43%), government support (27%) and philanthropy (30%).

Government Funding

Funding trends indicate that government funding is the second largest source of NGO
revenue internationally (second to self-generated income). Indeed, for NGOs engaged in
health and social service activities, gove rnment funding represents the predominant
source of income in most countries. A nd in many EU countries, including Ireland,
Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Austria and the U.K., government funding
represents the largest source of revenue for NGOs. This Western European funding
pattern is indicative of the significance of th e welfare partnership approach, in which the
state provides financing for public servi ces, but relies on NGOs for their delivery.

It is inevitable that CEE/Eurasia government s with shrinking resources will increasingly
look to partnership with private actors to deliver public services. Yet the potential impact
of government funding is far broader and can potentially affect the entire NGO sector,
including advocacy and human rights organizations. Government funding takes many
forms, from tax exemptions to subsidies and grants, to more innovative mechanisms,
which we will examine here.

Percentage Philanthropy

A tremendous amount of attention has been devoted to the rise of percentage
philanthropy in recent years – and for good reason. Percentage philanthropy – that is,
legal mechanisms allowing taxpayers to allocate a certain percentage of their tax payment
to beneficiaries, including NGOs – is one of the most truly innovative funding
mechanisms to have emerged from Central a nd Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, it is not
without controversy. Nor is it not a panacea for NGO sector sustainability.

The first controversial issue relates to how to classify taxpayer allocation mechanisms.
The very name “percentage philanthropy” directly labels this mechanism as philanthropic
giving. After all, the taxpayer is choosing to give a percentage of his tax payment to a
private beneficiary rather than to the State. At the same time, the money received by the
beneficiary is government money (that is, m oney owed by the taxpayer to the State) and
not a donation of the taxpayer’s own money. In this way, the taxpayer allocation seems
to fall more properly within the category of government funding. At best, the percentage
mechanism can be seen as a hybrid and called transitional philanthropy.

Hungary introduced the mechanism to Cent ral Europe in 1996, where it bas become
known as the “1% Law.” Intere stingly, the initiative came from the Ministry of Finance,
and the goal was to increase resources for NGOs , while also promoting development of a
philanthropic culture. Indivi dual taxpayers can designate 1% of their taxes to an NGO
(and 1% to a church). There is no cost to the taxpayer; the allocation simply requires
filling out a form and submitting that form with th e filing of tax returns. To be entitled to
4 See “Global Civil Society: An Overview”, Lester M. Salamon, the John Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit
Sector Project, 2003.

receive 1% contributions, a foundation or association must carry out public benefit

Following Hungary’s lead, several other countries have adopted similar mechanisms:
Slovakia, Lithuania, Poland, and most recently, Romania. In Slovakia and Lithuania,
taxpayers can designate 2% of paid tax to NGO beneficiaries. Corporations can also take
advantage of the 2% allocation in Slovakia. Poland uses a somewhat different procedural
approach by requiring the taxpayer, rather th an the tax authority, to transfer an amount
equivalent to up to 1% of his or her income tax.

The second and more controversial issue relate s to the true impact of the percentage
mechanism on NGO sustainability and on th e development of a more philanthropic
culture. There are clear positive benefits to NGOs. First, the sector benefits from
receiving a pool of unrestricted funds. In 2001 alone, for example, the equivalent of
more than 15 million USD was allocated for NGOs in Hungary. In 2004, the equivalent
of more than 22 million euro was allocated to NGOs in Slovakia. Second, NGOs have
increased incentives to reach out and devel op stronger links to the community, thereby
improving their marketing skills and public imag e. Third, taxpayers develop a greater
awareness of civil society and the contributions that NGOs make to society. This may be
especially important in count ries with low levels of trust and understanding of civil
society and may signify an important shift to a more philanthropic culture.

The challenges and limitations of the percenta ge mechanism are also clear. Despite the
impressive amounts allocated to NGOs in Hungary and Slovakia, these resources
represent only a small fraction of overall sector revenue; in Hungary, for example,
taxpayer allocations are less than 1% of overall sector revenue. Moreover, there is little
room for growth of this category of income , as taxpayers are limited to giving only 1%,
and in Hungary, the number of taxpayers who designate seems to have reached a plateau
of about 35%. In addition, the most likely beneficiaries are those NGOs pursuing causes
that resonate with the public (child ren, animals, disease prevention).

Perhaps most troubling, however, is the impact of percentage laws on “true”
philanthropy. A taxpayer may be less likely to make actual donations, because of a sense
that he or she has already ‘given’ to NGOs through the taxpayer allocation. In both
Slovakia and Lithuania, following the introduc tion of the percentage mechanism, the
government abolished traditional donor incenti ves for individuals (and corporations in
Slovakia). The net impact on both NGOs and philanthropy could turn out to be negative;
in other words, the NGO sector may receive less funding over the long term and fewer
individuals and corporations may engage in philanthropic giving. It is too early to assess
the full impact of the percentage mechanism, but it does appear to bring mixed blessings.

Privatization Proceeds

The privatization of state-run enterprises has been a pressing and problematic issue in
countries across the region during the past 15 years. The Czech Government developed a
truly innovative approach in its privatization process, which provided a significant boost

to NGO sustainability, by creating the Foundation Investment Fund (FIF) and by
distributing 1% of all privatization proceeds to the Fund, for re-distribution to
foundations as endowments. The FIF is governed by a board, which includes
representatives elected both by the government and by the NGO sector.

In 2002 alone, 27 million euro was distributed to 64 foundations by the FIF. One-third of
all Czech foundations received significant contri butions from the FIF. This distribution
process created the need for more enabling legislation and led to the enactment of
amendments to the Czech Foundation Law (s ee above). In 2002/2003, there were more
than 330 registered foundations in the Czech Republic with endowments valued at more
than 80 million euros.

Lottery Proceeds

Lotteries and games of chance offer an a lternative source of revenue for NGOs. By
directing a designated percentage of lotte ry proceeds to public benefit purposes, the
Government can provide significant support to the NGO sector. In Croatia, for example,
the Government directs 50% of proceeds fr om the national lottery to support certain
public benefit purposes, including amateur spor ts and civil society. Of these proceeds,
14% is currently sent to th e National Foundation for the Development of Civil Society
(see below), which in turn provides fundi ng to NGOs and community initiatives.
Similarly, in Montenegro, the Government has established a lottery mechanism and
directs approximately 60% of lottery proc eeds to finance plans and programs of
organizations active in social services, hum anitarian activities, and other public benefit
areas, though the criteria for di stribution of the funds have yet to be defined. In addition,
in Macedonia, the law provides that 50% of proceeds from games of chance shall be used
to finance the programs of asso ciations of disabled persons, sports and for the Red Cross
of the Republic of Macedonia. The distribution procedures remain opaque, however.

National Funds and Foundations

Strong NGO/government cooperation is fundame ntal to a healthy funding relationship.
NGO/government cooperation can take many forms, from compacts to government
strategy documents, to NGO/government liaison offices. In recent years, both Hungary
and Croatia have established public funds or foundations specifically dedicated to support
civil society and to provide funding to NGOs. Neither, however, has remained free from

Hungary’s National Civil Fund was created by law in June 2003 as an instrument
designed to help provide institutional support to Hungarian NGOs. The Fund is financed
by the Hungarian government, which provides matching funds based on the amount of
actual taxpayer designations under the 1% ta x designation law each year, and in no case
contributes less than the 0.5% of personal inco me taxes collected. Thus, the more money
designated by taxpayers, the more money cont ributed by the Government. At least 60%
of the Fund’s resources each year will be de dicated to providing institutional support to
NGOs in Hungary. Besides covering the co sts of the Fund’s administration, the

remaining funds may be directed towards the support of various programs related to the
development of the NGO sector, including sect or-wide events, festivals, international
representation, research, education or publications. The highest governing body of the
Fund will be a Council, consisting of 17 me mbers, the majority of which (12) are
delegated by nonprofit organizations.

The Croatian National Foundation for the Deve lopment of Civil Society was established
through legislation enac ted in October 2003. As a public law, not-for -profit entity, the
Foundation’s mission is to serve and streng then civil society in Croatia. The
establishment of the Foundation marks a shift from a highly centralized public financing
system, in which the Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs played the critical
role, into a more de-centralized system. The new model of public financing for NGOs —
in which the National Foundation plays an integr al part – envisages an increased role for
multiple stakeholders, including the respective mi nistries, thus ensuring a more equitable
distribution of responsibility among government stakeholders. Accordingly, while the
ministries will be responsible for the fundi ng of and cooperation with NGOs within their
own jurisdictions, the Foundation will focus on supporting grass-roots initiatives and
programs that do not necessarily fall within the competence area of any particular

The clear benefit of the Hungarian Nationa l Civil Fund is that NGOs will have a new
opportunity to apply for much needed institutio nal support. At the same time, NGOs will
have an additional incen tive to increase their efforts at reaching out to citizens for the 1%
designations. There are claims, however, that the Fund is being administered so badly
that it may have negative effects on the NGO sector over the long term. (See the
Hungary report for more details.) Somewh at similarly, the Croatian National Foundation
has been at the center of controversy sin ce the 2004 call for proposals was issued, with
claims from some Croatian NGOs that grant decisions were not properly carried out
under the law. The future sh ape and impact of the new Na tional Foundation thus remains

Private Philanthropy

Throughout the region, there are significant challenges in developing local sources of
income. The development of local philanthr opy presents perhaps the greatest challenge.
NGOs routinely report low levels of citizen un derstanding and interest in civil society,
leading to low levels of donati ons in the form of either monetary support or volunteerism.
Despite the fact that nearly every country has enacted corporate donor incentives, the
complaint that few corporations give still ri ngs loudly. Individuals are even less likely to
donate money, given difficult economic circum stances and distrust of the NGO sector.

In promoting the development of a more philanthropic culture, the focus is properly on
greater community involvement, stronger ties to constituencies, and civic activism.
Undeniably, however, there is a strong bene ficial impact on the sustainability of
organizations that receive support from phila nthropic donations of time and money. It is
through this lens that we will now examine two innovative trends in the area of
Community Foundations

As of September 2004, community funds have been established in several cities in
Bulgaria. Four of these community funds have raised a total of $144,506 in cash and
$69,140 as in-kind contributions from local so urces. Foundation resources were then
used for a variety of community-based proj ects, including modernizing streetlights,
renovating a public swimming pool, and creating a children’s playground.

A “community foundation” is a local not-for-p rofit organization that works to gather,
manage and redistribute local resources fo r the good of the community. Governed by a
cross-sectoral board with representative s of business, government and NGOs, the
community foundation has a diversified funding base, fed by contributions from business,
local government and NGOs, as well as individual s. Usually organized on the local level,
the foundation makes targeted grants to a speci fic geographic region. In some cases, the
foundation will develop an endowme nt to support its goals.

Bulgaria is not the only country to boast of the growth of community foundations.
Indeed, the community foundation concept has ga ined momentum in several countries in
Central and Eastern Europe, and in Russia. In Slovakia, for example, there are at least a
dozen community foundations, perhaps the most famous being the Health City
Community Foundation. In only a few years after establishment, this Foundation was
able to create an endowment of $300,000. In Russia, at least 15 community foundations
have been established and have actively supported scholarships, study visits and
exchanges, among other activities.

The impact of community foundations is clea r. They raise public awareness of local
needs, increase local particip ation in meeting local needs, stimulate cross-sectoral
dialogue and partnerships, and promote indivi dual giving. Finally, the establishment of
community foundations can, if managed properly, create a long-term local source of
funding for civic initiatives and local NGOs. While community foundations are more
about building communities than endowments, the community foundation concept is an
important model for promoting philanthropy and the sustainability of the NGO sector.

While usually viewed through the prism of civic activism, volunteerism is also a critical
aspect of NGO sustainability. Indeed, the picture of civil society revenue portrayed
above changes when the contributions of time represented by volunteers are added to the
contributions of money and treated as a s ource of philanthropy. According the John

Hopkins overview, “the inclusion of volunteers in the revenue stream of civil society
organizations boosts the average philanthropic share of total revenue from 12% to 30%.
This reflects the fact that contributions of time, even when valued conservatively at the
average wage in the fields in which vol unteering occurs, are twice as large as
contributions of money or material.”

Since the UN International Y ear of Volunteers in 2001, there has been increased attention
on promoting volunteerism in many countries. With greater attention being paid to the
benefits of volunteerism, the importance of the regulatory framework for volunteerism
has been brought into sharper focus. An enabling legal framework is one of many factors
affecting volunteerism; others include public awareness of the importance of
volunteerism, promoting private sector su pport, and research on the impact of

Regulatory barriers to volunteeri ng vary from country to country. Often there is simply
no clearly recognized legal status for volunteer s. Without a recognized legal status for
volunteers, host organizations – including N GOs – may risk violating labor code
provisions if volunteers do not receive paid compensation. Contract laws may not
recognize a volunteering contract. In add ition, unemployed individuals serving as
volunteers run the risk of having their unemp loyment benefits rescinded by the State.
Tax laws also may not provide proper treat ment for volunteers; for example, tax
exemptions may be extended to employees for reimbursement compensation, but not to

To overcome these barriers, several countries in the region have launched initiatives to
improve the legal framework for volunteerism. Some countries in the region, such as
Poland and the Czech Republic, have enacted specific legislation on volunteerism. Other
countries, including Lithuania, have adopted amendments to existing regulations in the
labor law. In several other countries, incl uding Bosnia, Croatia, Hungary and Russia,
specific laws have been draf ted and are currently under cons ideration by the respective
governments. A supportive legal framework is even more critical in countries that lack a
tradition of volunteering – or have a tradition of ‘coercive’ volunteering, as is the case in
some NIS countries. Indeed, in Belarus a nd Uzbekistan, coercive volunteerism (i.e.,
government requirements that citizens provide their services free of charge to various
public projects) is still practiced.

Self-Generated Income

Key to the long-term sustainabi lity of the NGO sector in any country is self-generated
income. The NGO sectors in the Czech Re public, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia already
receive the bulk of their revenue s through self-generated income.
5 In the countries of
Southeastern Europe and the NIS region, the pe rcentage of income through self-generated
income is certainly much lower, but will need to rise significantly to sustain the sector.

5 Czech Republic (47%), Hungary (55%), Slovakia (55%), Poland (60%).

Social Enterprises

Enabling NGOs to engage effectively in economic activities is of paramount significance.
Once the legal framework is in place, the greater challenge lies with developing the
capacity of NGOs. Specifically, more NGOs need to develop available services,
financial plans, and business skills to be able to conduct economic activity effectively.
‘Social enterprise’ projects are one approach to addressing NGO capacity. A ‘social
enterprise’ is a business vent ure operated by an NGO with a social purpose. Social
enterprise projects seek to empower NGOs to operate income-generating ventures and to
make a social impact.
Among the most innovative approaches to social enterprise development is that promoted
by the Nonprofit Enterprise and Self-Sustain ability Team (NESsT) through the Venture
Fund. The NESsT Venture Fund is a philant hropic investment fund providing financial
and capacity-building support to a select po rtfolio of social enterprises owned and
operated by NGOs in Central Europe. All of the social enterpri ses are intended to
generate revenues to help diversify their financing bases and further th
e mission of the
nonprofit organization.
For example, “Vydra” is a national associa tion of young people dedicated to promoting
sustainable rural development in Slovakia. To support this mission and to sustain its
operations, Vydra has launched a “Tourist Camp” designed to encourage tourism and to
create local employment opportunities. The camp will include a buffet near the new
Museum of the History of Fore stry, offering refreshments and meals to tourists, cultural
events on an outdoor wooden stage, environm ental education programs for schools, and
recreation areas for tourists. As anot her example, a Hungarian NGO – the BTA
“Megálló” Group – offers rehabi litation services, self-help, work groups and education
for alcohol and drug addicts. Megálló plans to launch an alcohol- and smoke-free social
meeting point to generate income and further its mission.
Investment Income

The use of “endowments” as a means for cr eating wealth to finance grant-making
foundations and other organizations is not widespread in the region. 6 There are,
however, innovative approaches th at have been adopted in some of the new EU Member
States. The approach taken in the Czech Republic is particularly instructive.

The Czech Law on Foundations re quires foundations to have an endowment with a value
of at least 500,000 CZK (approximately 16,000 Euros). 7 Due to amendments adopted in
6 The term “endowment” is used here to refer to that part of organizational assets consisting of money
and/or property dedicated to a specific purpose, which cannot be diminished during the life of the
organization; periodic income generated by the endowment may be expended to support organizational
7 It is worth noting that many countries do not require minimum levels of capitalization for foundations.
This is a policy decision that depends on the desired concept of a foundation. Grant-making foundations
need to have some minimum level of capital; operating foundations do not. In countries requiring

2002, foundations may now take advantage of a wider range of investment opportunities,
offering potentially higher yields than the more restricted investments permitted under
the prior law. In addition, tax-free invest ments now include capital gains and exchange
rate gains, which should allow further growth of endowments. At the same time, the law
contains rules for safe investment, limiting investment in designated high-risk
instruments. Foundations are also subject to stricter governance rules and independent
audit requirements. Perhaps most impor tant, foundations may now contract with
professional financial institutions to handle their investments and provide consulting.
Taken together, these improvements in law an d practice have created far more stable
conditions for endowed foundations – and ther efore for the entire NGO sector in the
Czech Republic.


Financial sustainability is an ongoing challe nge for NGO sectors in countries around the
world. As the Index reports make clear, th e problem is particularly acute, for the NGO
sectors in the transitional countries of South eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
Those countries that have been most successf ul in meeting this challenge have employed
a range of legal mechanisms that allow NGOs broad opportunity to diversify their
funding bases as appropriate to their orga nizational needs. As these examples
demonstrate, to address the transition of NGO sectors to greater financial sustainability,
governments in partnership with NGOs will need to consider the multiple potential
sources of NGO income. Issues will incl ude promotion of greater opportunities for
philanthropy, but also improved mechanisms for government funding and consideration
of frequently overlooked areas, such as support for volunteerism.

foundations to have significant capital (as in the Czech Republic and Slovakia), there should be an
alternative non-membership form available that does not require minimum capitalization.