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The COVID-19 crisis appeared to be a test, which shed a light on the relationship between state, philanthropy and individual giving, and wider civil society. The Charities Aid Foundation consolidated the outputs of a discussion on European governments’ policy responses supporting civil society and facilitating philanthropy in the context of pandemic. It collects good and bad practices to distill lessons, which can help to improve civil society infrastructure and build long-term sector resilience.

The paper identifies the major challenges which civil society faces, highlights promising and discouraging practices and suggests the next steps for policymakers. One of the key observations throughout all the policy incentives is a lack of strategic involvement of civil society  – a community that has been from the very beginning at heart of the response to COVID-19. The same issue is also faced by  philanthropy and individual giving.

With the support schemes, which do not fully address the level of financial need, next to the lack of coordinated, action-oriented efforts, civil society organisations (CSOs) cannot be considered as central to a strategic response to the crisis. Moreover, some states use measures designed to counter COVID-19 to further close civic space, e.g. by tailoring tax incentives or setting up their own funds to collect donations. However, some democratising developments have been seen in philanthropy: there is a wide diversity of donors, and in some countries an increased understanding of the value of greater diversity of methods of giving (both financial and non-financial).

In the current crisis, some lessons can be identified to ensure the resilience of the sector to the next crisis and its sustainability in the future:

  • Governments should be designing response packages specific to the sector and tailored to CSO needs and operations – rather than retrofitting measures to civil society seen as an afterthought, and philanthropy an input of additional resources rather than a partner. The need to advocate for this approach points to the importance of stronger, coordinated/united civil society voice and leadership, and thus well-designed and resourced infrastructure.

  • Governments should consider how civil society and philanthropy can be leveraged as strategic elements and partners in the COVID-19 response (and future crisis), moving beyond an instrumentalist narrow view of philanthropy and mindful of a clear definition of its role vis-à-vis the state. Ongoing collaboration (not just for crisis situations) forums are needed for early engagement and building multi-sector partnerships.

  • Changes in the way the value and role of philanthropy and civil society is understood, approached and worked with must be dealt with to improve their operating environment, with the case for long-term vision and preparedness, collaboration forums and resilience needing to be made now.

The work reveals how policy initiatives have not been adequately designed to incentivise philanthropy and giving in response to pandemic, as well as the weakness of civil society environment in general. Philanthropy should be leveraged as a partner, rather than being viewed narrowly as solely an input of additional resources to state efforts.

It is vital that governments step in and recognise the crucial role of civil society and philanthropy in the immediate response to the crisis and also in continuing to build the resilience of communities they represent and serve.

Your input is valuable: CAF is collecting a repository of best and worst case practices and examples across various policy levers from different countries in this frameworkThis is a live document and additions to the framework are welcome.

The report was prepared with the input from Euclid Network, Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF), Ariadne Network, European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL), European Foundation Centre (EFC), Donors and Foundations, Networks in Europe (DAFNE), Global Dialogue, King Baudouin Foundation (KBS-FRB), Third Sector Foundation of Turkey (TUSEV).

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