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The Role of Innovations in NGO Performance Under Crisis Conditions

Priority areas of development: sociology
Department: Centre for Studies of Civil Society and Nonprofit Sector

Subject of the study: NGO performance in Russia under crisis conditions.

Goal of the study: to elaborate theoretical and empirical background for innovations as a factor of NGO performance under crisis conditions

Used methods:

  • Analysis of Russian and foreign studies, both theoretical and empirical, in key aspects of the problem;
  • Empirical data collection using sociological methods;
  • Empirical data collection basing on principles of historicism, systemacy and complexity, using comparative historical and comparative legal methods;
  • Mathematical methods of data analysis;
  • Generalization of foreign experience of the practice of innovative approaches in NPO performance under crisis conditions

Empirical Base of the Research:

  • Results of the previous studies of nonprofit organizations conducted by the Center for Studies of Civil Society and the Nonprofit Sector in 2009-2014;
  • Official statistics, data of sociological and historical research on the various aspects of development and implementation of social innovations in Russian civil society, and also data of the state of nonprofit sector;
  • Data of NGO study conducted by The Center for Studies of Civil Society and the Nonprofit Sector in 2014. The sample consisted of 1000 organizations of 33 Russian regions. The questioning was conducted using a quote sampling (quotes representative for legal forms and year of registration of an organization). According to these quotes, heads of organizations which are located in urban districts, urban settlements and other municipalities were interviewed. Regions were selected under their 1) urbanization index, 2) quantitative indicator of nonprofit sector development and 3) indicator of economical development of a region, counted as ratio of per capita gross regional product (GRP) to the average for Russia. The basis for the selection of respondents were registers of NPOs and public associations in these subjects of Russian Federation. The selection was carried out mechanicaly. No more than two-thirds of the total number of respondents in each region of the Russian Federation were interviewed in its administrative center (except for Moscow and St. Petersburg).
  • Data of the qualitative online survey of Russian civil initiatives (100 cases), aimed at solving social problems of the territory. Cases were selected based on the year of occurrence (after 2009), and actors, who initiated the initiatives - individuals or a small group of like-minded people. Additionally, the selected cases were checked for eligibility with criteria of social innovation.
  • Data of semiformalized personal interviews with representatives of volunteer centers. A total of 12 interviews with managers and specialists of the Center of training of volunteers "Sochi - 2014" were conducted in four cities of the Russian Federation


  1. A conceptual apparatus of the concept of social innovation in relation to the activities of NPO was elaborated. Operationalization of the concept of innovative NPOs were conducted. Indicators of innovation NPOs are related to the characteristics of products and services provided by NPOs; the characteristics of participants in activities of NPOs; with the beneficiaries of social services and products on the part of NPOs.
  2. A justification of the concept of sustainable operation of NPOs and the role of the third sector as a favorable environment for development of social innovations was proposed. A number of characteristics of non-profit organizations determines the comparative advantage of the third sector to the commercial or public sectors in the production and dissemination of social innovations. Among these are characteristics of the involvement of various stakeholders to solve one problem, the establishment of horizontal networking, proximity NGOs to direct beneficiaries, their values ​​and needs, using a variety of resources to ensure sustainability of the organization, including the involvement of volunteers.
  3. On the basis of the developed instruments for identifying innovation activity of NPOs an empirical study of NPOs was conducted. On the basis of segmentation of NPOs by index of innovation 4 groups were allocated: Innovation leaders (14%) are NPOs that have implemented innovations in more than 5 areas; innovation advanced NPOs (16%) - organization that implemented innovation in 3-5 areas; innovation-oriented NPOs (18%) - the organization that implemented innovation in 1-2 areas; non-innovative NPOs (52%) - the organization that has not implemented the innovation. Innovative leaders are stable, they have diversified funding sources, active interaction with the environment, attracting a large number of volunteers.
  4. During the pre-Revolutionary and early Soviet period network organizations have created innovative forms of cooperation between voluntary associations themselves and with government institutions and government agencies; network organizations have also developed innovative forms of corporate protection of the population, and involved the most poorly protected categories of Russian citizens, such as teachers, doctors, civil servants, students and others.
  5. A theoretical justification of significance of institutional conditions for the development of innovative NPO was developed. Basing on the example of Social Impact Bonds a relevance of these arrangements for the Russian system of social management was analysed.
  6. Basing on the example of empirical data on the interaction of NPOs with the subjects of the environment the hypothesis of a correlation between levels of interorganizational interactions and innovative NPOs was confirmed. A quarter of Russian NPOs (23%) cooperate with all the subjects of the environment and the most active in innovation.
  7. Our country has not yet established the legal framework and financial instruments to promote the development of social innovation in the organizations of the third sector. State does not specifically develop social innovation in NPOs and does not form the framework conditions and incentives to do so. However, the relatively favorable conditions created by the activities of NPOs and stability in terms of public policy and financial stability of the organization. The current position of NPOs, as evidenced by empirical evidence already suggests a potential for innovation, not just work "on the brink of survival."
  8. On the basis of empirical data survey of NPOs the hypothesis about connection between introduction of organizational innovations and improvement of the sustainability of the organization was confirmed. A high level of innovation of NPO positively correlates with the amount of funding received, as well as with the number of sources of funding received by the organization. A number of administrative factors contributing to innovation of NPOs were identified. In the sphere of relations with the external environment factors are - participation of various external stakeholders in the decision-making process, participation in online communities. In the sphere of relationships with internal stakeholders - a greater number of employees, increasing the number of volunteers, including employees in decision-making process. In the area of organizational culture – greater focus on innovations. In the field of process and resource management - availability of sufficient resources and existence of a strategic plan.
  9. On the basis of Russian empirical data a hypothesis that the use of marketing tools of fundraising has a positive impact on its performance and the volume of attracted funds was confirmed.
  10. Factors that are positively affecting the orientation of NPOs to the development of ethical consumption were identified. These are factors such as: degree of innovation of NPO's external activity, competitiveness in attracting funds (participation in various competitions projects), communication, openness, etc. The potential of NPOs as one of the key social forces in the development of ethical consumption is underestimated not only the leaders of NPOs but also by other social actors.
  11. It was revealed that in the social mechanism of formation of ethical consumption in Russia there are a lot of disagreements at the present time. These disagreements are related with inconsistent perceptions of the key actors their own role in the process.  

Level of implementation: firstly, the materials of this study were used for realization of fourth summer school on the theme «Theoretical and empirical research on the role of innovation in ensuring the sustainability of the third sector in the crisis», organized by the Centre for Studies of Civil Society and the Nonprofit Sector NRU HSE. In 2015 the school was organized in partnership with the Hertie School of Governance. Lectures and seminars, project work with students of the school were conducted by employees of the Center, as well as by invited experts. Five foreign experts from the Hertie School of Governance and other European research institutions took part in the Summer school.

These materials were used for the preparation of informational and analytical bulletin on development of the civil society and non-profit sector in the Russian Federation, published by the Centre for Studies of Civil Society and the Nonprofit Sector. The issue of the bulletin was “Civil society and social innovations”. This issue of the bulletin was widely represented at the major Russian and international conferences. In particular, the Forum "Dialogue - Trust - Action" of the Popular Front, the conference "Inter-sectoral cooperation in the social sphere", Russian Ministry of Economic Development.

Materials of this study were used in the training courses for the staff of NPOs. A series of lectures and seminars were conducted on the theme "Mechanisms for enhancing social communication in the framework of the Russian non-profit organizations in the border regions of the Eurasian Economic Union." The trainees were representatives of the Moscow and regional NPOs.

The study materials used by employees of the Department of Economics and Management in NGOs in the educational program "State and municipal management" of the Department of State and Municipal Administration, Faculty of Social Sciences. In particular, the materials used in the framework of the course "Local self-government and self-organization of local communities" (for students of 3rd year undergraduate), «Fundamentals of Civil Society and Human Rights» (for students of 2nd year undergraduate), "Introduction to Public Administration" (for students of 1st year master), as well as in management course and final qualifying works at the Faculty of Social Sciences.

Recommendations on introduction and area of application: The significance of study results are that they can be used in:  

  • government and municipal management in the development of concepts of federal, regional and municipal level programs and in legal acts in the field of development and support for the civic engagement and feasibility of non-profit organizations. Particularly, the results can be used as a starting point at the legal level notion of “social innovation” and also in the development and implementation of action plan to empower the role of NPOs in the market of the social services;
  • in the process of preparing and holding inter-sectoral collaboration and participation in joint actions in the social sphere;
  • in the training of staff in government and municipal management as well as staff in NPOs;
  • in the curricula of educational institutions of different fields, including NPO management, government and municipal management, in the frame of staff qualification courses for government municipal management.   


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