Seeds of philanthropy growing in Romania

While a series of floods caused severe damage and hardship in Romania in 2005, residents’ response to the crisis created a huge amount of hope for those involved in the country’s philanthropic field.

“These floods were pretty devastating for big regions in Romania, but they provided an opportunity for our society to act,” said Dana Pirtoc, director of the Association for Community Relations (ACR). “The floods caused people to mobilize local resources and we had an explosion in terms of fundraising. We saw that when people have a cause and the mechanism to give, they do give. That is exciting.”

ACR is a non-governmental organization (NGO) located in Cluj-Napoca, a city in the Transylvania region of Romania. ACR staff helps develop, strengthen and promote philanthropy in Romania, a formerly communist country of 22.3 million people bordering the Black Sea in southeastern Europe.

Created in 2001 with a staff of three, the Association has grown to 10 employees and serves as a national resource center for NGOs and businesses on topics related to mobilizing resources to strengthen communities. To date, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has supported ACR with three general purposes grants totaling $260,000.

Dana Pirtoc

Dana Pirtoc

In addition to organizing national conferences on the topic of philanthropy and fundraising, ACR staff also conducts research on the state of philanthropy nationwide and the opportunities for philanthropy development; shares best practices from the field; provides expertise to develop the internal capacity of NGOs; and assists businesses in developing socially responsible programs.

“This is really a ripe time for philanthropy because it seems that after four or five years of struggling, nonprofit leaders are beginning to put their energy into this idea of social involvement. They are starting to see how fundraising can help others,” Pirtoc said.

She added that NGO leaders are beginning to realize that philanthropy needs to be sustainable. The public’s immediate response to last fall’s flooding with an outpouring of financial support, donated items and volunteer help was both timely and appreciated. Yet, there is a growing awareness of the need for NGOs to replace one-time fundraising events with long-term relationships with individuals, groups and businesses, Pirtoc said.

Many NGOs continually struggle to secure enough finances to keep afloat in Romania, she said, but sometimes there is a hesitancy to help others that is often blamed on the country’s decades of communist rule. That totalitarian system pitted Romanians against each other and created dependency upon the state to meet citizens’ every need. While communism eroded people’s ability to trust, societal trust is gradually being rebuilt — as was evidenced by Romanians’ response to their recent floods.

“Giving does exist in Romania. Yes, these examples are like drops of water in a bucket. But it is sweet water in the bucket.”

Dana Pirtoc

Pirtoc’s colleague, Alina Porumb, research and development director, agreed. She said providing education on a variety of philanthropic topics is essential. This includes sharing with business leaders how employee payroll deduction programs can serve as vehicles for people to give regularly to programs that are important to them. In addition, developing long-term partnerships between businesses and NGOs — instead of one-time sponsorships — enables them both to better meet society’s pressing needs.

ACR also educates the general public about ways to participate in the government’s one percent program, which is a national initiative that allows residents to designate a percentage of their taxes to support nonprofit organizations. ACR has provided information to taxpayers and organizations by including more than 350 NGOs in a database that is available on a separate website. In 2005, people could allocate up to a maximum of one percent of their taxes to nonprofit groups. In 2006, the maximum is two percent.

Across the country, people are helping people, Porumb said. She cited examples of artists who voluntarily teach institutionalized children how to express themselves artistically, and ordinary Romanians who sacrificially give money so the elderly have places to live.

“There are little-known things that are being done. If you just follow public debates, you would have the impression that nobody does anything good in this country, but that is not true,” Porumb said.

“Giving does exist in Romania. Yes, these examples are like drops of water in a bucket. But it is sweet water in the bucket.”

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