Standards and Mechanisms for Regulating Public Benefit

Letter from the Editor

The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law

Volume 2, Issue 1, May 1999

Dear Readers,

This issue of IJNL is a special issue for a number of reasons:

  • It is the first issue of the second volume of the Journal, which means that we have successfully completed the first year of publication and are launched on the second.
  • It deals with a special subject – the legal treatment of public benefit organizations in Europe. We are publishing this issue to commemorate a special event – the fall of the Berlin Wall almost ten years ago. Since that time, civil society has grown to a remarkable degree in Central and Eastern Europe. The work of ICNL and its many local partners in creating a better legal enabling environment in the region has played a small but important role in that growth.
  • In addition, we are pleased to report that we have received commitments for funding that will permit us to continue to make IJNL available for free through the ICNL web site. Although we plan to move toward a paid subscription basis within the next few years, at present the only paid subscribers are those who receive the Journal in hard copy.

Beginning the second volume is an important milestone – the reception for the first four issues – Volume 1 – has been extremely positive. As we noted when we produced the first issue just one year ago, IJNL is a unique publication. It is the only legal journal dealing with developments affecting not-for-profit organizations world-wide! We greatly appreciate the interest IJNL has generated, and we intend to continue to meet the high expectations of our readers.

We also greatly appreciate our readers’ suggestions for change – any new publishing venture needs to be responsive to its market. We can maintain a high degree of responsiveness to your needs because the publishing format chosen – online publication – is easily capable of change. So, we encourage you to keep us informed of your needs and wishes.

As indicated earlier, this issue is bit different from our earlier issues – it concerns a single subject for a single region – the regulation of “public benefit organizations” in Europe. As most readers of this Journal are aware, ICNL is well-qualified to produce this special issue. Lawyers involved with ICNL have been helping to develop a more enabling legal framework for NPOs/NGOs since the 1980’s, and the first regional focus of our work was in Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Building on earlier conferences held in the region (Sinaia (Romania) in 1994, Tallinn (Estonia) in 1995, and Budapest (Hungary) in 1996), ICNL has worked in all of the countries of the region on a number of path-breaking projects in legal, fiscal and regulatory reform. Projects are presently staffed by lawyers from the Washington and Budapest offices of ICNL and our local partners. A majority of those lawyers are from the region.

In 1999 we decided to use a conference venue once again to discuss a burning issue – one that is relevant not only in Central and Eastern Europe, but also in Western Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union to the east. That is the issue of how to regulate a special class of NPOs/NGOs, those known as “public benefit” or “public utility” organizations. This is a vast topic, with highly nuanced issues. Thus, the decision was made to reduce the complexity of holding such a conference by limiting it to Europe. By making this choice we by no means wish to suggest that the issues are not relevant in other regions – to the contrary, the discussion could just as well have been held in Asia or Africa. And we hope that other such regional discussions can be held in the future, and that the comparative materials from the May 1999 conference in Budapest will be useful in that context.

The title of the conference was “European Civil Society in the 21st Century: Standards and Mechanisms for Regulating Public Benefit Organizations.” The participants and speakers came from all over Europe and lent their expertise to both plenary and working group discussions. They included Per Ove Englebrecht, the Director of Social Economy of DG XXIII of the European Union, who set the stage with a very informative keynote address, Richard Fries, Chairman of the Board of ICNL and former Chief Commissioner of the Charity Commission for England and Wales, who spoke about the role of the commission in regulating public benefit organizations in England, Petr Pajas from the Czech Republic, Nilda Bullain from Hungary, and Michael Boyadjiev from Bulgaria, who discussed other aspects of the conference program. A complete conference agenda and list of speakers and working group leaders is attached. Further information about the conference and a participant list can be obtained by sending an e-mail to the Budapest office of ICNL at

We are extremely grateful to our local partners, the Civil Society Development Foundation and the Nonprofit Information and Training Center, and most particularly to the staff of the Budapest office, for their yeoman service in making the conference a huge success!

This issue of IJNL includes not only papers and other documents from the conference but also a few papers that deal specifically with “public benefit” problems in Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union. We hope that by expanding the scope of our coverage of this issue to include these papers we will be able to provide a single reference tool on “public benefit organizations” that is useful to scholars and practitioners around the world.

In our December issue we plan to revert to the more typical IJNL format, with our regular features. In that issue readers can expect to find updates on the legislative front from various countries, including Kyrgyzstan (a special notice on recent developments is included in this issue because of the significance of the new legislation!), Montenegro, and West Bank/Gaza, a report on the ongoing tax discussions in South Africa, reports on cross-border giving and corporate philanthropy, and discussions about conferences in China and Israel that considered various issues affecting the legal enabling environment for NPOs/NGOs.

ICNL is grateful to those who have supported this publication, including the United States Agency for International Development, the World Bank, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Wallace Global Fund and others.