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Pro bono around the world - Anastasia, Russia

Pro Bono Lab launched in 2020 the study "International Panorama of pro bono". Its objective : analyse the diversity of pro bono practices around the world. Discover the testimony of Anastasia, from todogood in Russia.

todogood is a platform for social change in Russia. They organise pro bono projects between teams of volunteers working mostly in large commercial companies and NGOs and social entrepreneurs that need their skills. As a platform, the job is to define what the NGO needs to grow or overcome the difficulty, and to recruit the right people to solve this problem or help the organisation get the necessary skills.

todogood's mission is above all to develop this pro bono culture, as a daily and normal practice. It's like NIKE who made running something normal for everyone, there's nothing heroic about it, it's not just for great sportsmen!

Anastasia leads all operations, the team and - together with the founder - the strategy in general. She was there from the beginning. In 2016, there were 3 people in the team, today they are 8, some working full time, others part time.

1. Tell us more about the national context in which your organisation operates

That's a very good question. The charity sector has developed over the last 15-20 years in Russia so it's a pretty short history compared to many countries in Europe or like the United States. It's like a "baby boom" of NGOs! Today we have around 111 500 social organizations.

On one hand it's a wonderful trend because it means that people are professionally involved in problems that are not necessarily solved by the State at the moment. Especially in areas such as health, orphanages, homelessness, AIDS etc.

On the other hand, the market is very diverse because there are very few professional organisations that measure their impact, give indicators...out of 111 500, only 3 of them earn more than 1 billion rubles. Otherwise the average annual budget of a charity organisation in Russia is about 6 million rubles. They often have teams of 3-5 people, and their organisation was created on the basis of personal founder’s history or a volunteer or social movement. And at the time of their creation, there is not necessarily a strategy or a concrete long-term vision of what they do.

For todogood, that means that we work with a lot of NGOs whose development strategy was never really fixed and economic model is fragile. Those are the competencies that are the most missing in the team, as know-how, or knowledge.

It also means that it's a big market...with a lot of competition between non-profits. There are many projects that are creating structures to deal with the same topic...rather than trying to do joint actions.

Finally, in Russia, the budgets of CSR departments are quite limited, even for IT companies, unless they are companies that are established in several regions of the country. CSR has less weight in the company. As a result, partnerships between businesses and NGOs have much smaller impact.

The charity sector has developed over the last 15-20 years in Russia so it's a pretty short history compared to many countries in Europe or like the United States. It's like a "baby boom" of NGOs!

2. If you had one legislative measure put in place by your government to facilitate the work you do

It would be a system around taxes for employers. If tax exemption was introduced for companies that set up pro bono for their employees, then it would be a very good incentive to develop pro bono!

3. What are the different activities that you put into place within your organisation?

We have three types of activities:

1) The traditional model I described: having 1 NGO for which we define a need for skills and find volunteers. We don't just match them, we are there throughout the project.
Like consulting companies, we analyse all our experiences, we establish a knowledge base and we try to improve our work. Each team of volunteers who works with us gave access to the methods and analytics we have developed, and with one personal manager accompanying them. This is also what guarantees that they have positive experience even if their NGO-client or task are difficult.

2) Working with companies: here, it is also about developing pro bono but working with the employer rather than people directly and using NGO case as the context of action based learning. In general, we are in contact with the HR department and adapt our work according to their needs, i.e.: personnel development interests, development of soft skills etc. We offer them short and long-term programmes dedicated to their teams so that they have courses and training to improve certain skills (e.g. teamwork, creative thinking, project management in a limited time frame etc).

3) A more recent product for todogood community is an educational program called "Project school". It is mostly dedicated to young professionals who are interested in developing their professional skills and in having consulting experience. The Project school is based on real projects with social organizations so our students always provide some service for NGOs: doing a target audience study or working out communication plan for example. The business case in an unfamiliar market and their project team сompose perfect educational environment – and we support them with four synchronous educational modules: teamwork, storytelling, critical thinking and facilitation. In our opinion, these skills are essential to do consulting or project management in any area.

Each team of volunteers who works with us gave access to the methods and analytics we have developed, and with one personal manager accompanying them.

4. What’s your economic model ?

We try to keep a diversified economic model. We have a price for our clients-NGOs for the pro bono service we put in place to cover our expenses. There may be additional constraints (difficulty, duration etc) and this may change the budget.

Also we are providing volunteer and training events for companies.

In addition, we participate in some calls for projects to get grants. In the last 3 years, there has been an important call for projects from the State to support non-profits. In my opinion, this call for projects aims at directing sector’s activities and ensuring that funding for non-profits comes from within Russia and not from outside. In our case, these are considerable sums covering over 60% of our core activities today. But it cannot cover operating expenses... so it forces us and many other organisations to work on other formats and projects on a permanent basis, which can be difficult and at the same time professionalising the organisation and forcing it to be more transparent.

In the last 3 years, there has been an important call for projects from the State to support non-profits.

5. Share with us an inspiring example of a pro bono programme you put in place recently:

We worked with Notchlezhka, an organisation active on homelessness in Russia already over 27 years. A team of 4 volunteers from different companies helped them with marketing issues.

The NGO went through a difficult period last year, knowing that in Russia, homelessness is highly stigmatised and Notchlezhka was living through a communication crisis after the creation of a "homeless laundry" for homeless people to wash their belongings in Moscow.

The project aimed a creation of a new «corporate club» concept to build a sustainable partnership with corporate donors who can support the NGO on a regular basis. As a result, it allowed the organisation to start working more with companies and get 20% increase in corporate fundraising three months after the launch of the concept.

6. In the survey, you said you’re involved in “networking activities”: can you tell us more about this?  

To get new followers by word of mouth, we want to create a likeminded people community, it's an ongoing project and a long-term goal.

We trust that todogood is bringing together people who have different profiles but who have the same values, the same ideas, and who have a desire to develop or change something. People who in our opinion should be part of the civil society which needs to be developed. Who can be useful one for another and can act together.

Before the health crisis, there were networking meetings and public case-days in Moscow and an award once a year to congratulate those who had the most impact pro bono project with us. I hope we will be able to develop these activities in 2021.

todogood is bringing together people who have different profiles but who have the same values, the same ideas, and who have a desire to develop or change something

7. Have you adapted your activity to the coronavirus situation?

The whole team switched to remote working. It's a challenge for the team, but we're getting there.

We've gone digital on all our current projects. As a facilitator, we have "tips&tricks" to make sure that the missions go well, that the volunteers work well together...it requires from the project managers to be even more present to accompany the projects. One positive point however: geographically, we can mix teams from different territories, different regions, other countries. This is no longer a problem.

Our corporate projects are put on hold, which creates financial risks for us. We have to look for other sources of income.

And our educational program “Project school” that was already in progress has gone online. We had to re-work our masterclasses with the teachers, find new techniques to increase engagement and improve assessment… As a result, I think we invested twice as much time in the product.

We lost efficiency in the moment but acquired new skills and learned to do online education, much more scalable and demanded. What is not too bad in this new world of change and uncertainty.

8. Why is pro bono important according to you, and why it will be even more relevant in the future?

I think that the practice of pro bono helps build a civil society. In the case of Russia, this is even more important because people do not feel much trust in the State, NGOs or anyone around them. With the various crises they have experienced, people rely more on themselves. So they are not always able to work together.

Having experience outside of work, pro bono broadens one's networking and vision of what can be done in terms of collaboration with different people.

Finally, it allows cool social initiatives with small budgets to have access to resources that they don't necessarily have within their teams and go further. On the other hand, volunteers who do pro bono work have the opportunity to test their talents and professional experience in another sector.

© Photo by Michael Parulava on Unsplash


🌏🧐 Intéressé.e par le Panorama International du pro bono, et par l'engagement citoyen à l'international ? + d'infos par ici

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