It’s almost Halloween.

You know what’s REALLY scary?

Not the giant animatronic spider in your neighbor’s yard.

scary halloween spider

I was talking with some Russian human rights lawyers the other day. They were visiting from Russia, and they told me how fundraising in Russia has gotten so much more difficult lately.

OK, HOW difficult?

IMAGINE for a second.

If you get any money from outside of your home country, any money at all, you have to register a foreign agent. If you don’t register, you can be fined 300,000 rubles.


What does registering as a foreign agent mean?

Well, there’s a bunch of propaganda going on all the time about how foreign agents are undermining Russia. No one wants to associate with a foreign agent.

So imagine your charity is doing a bunch of good work. It’s getting money from US foundations.

Now, you have to choose between getting a stable source of funding from outside your country OR trying to fundraise just inside Russia.

If you are a US nonprofit this doesn’t sound so bad, right? So, we’ll just fundraise from inside the US, no problem, we do that anyway!

Well, the US has 300+ million people. That means that there are a LOT of people who are able to fund us. Most of the foundations in the world are in the US. Most of the major corporations we get sponsorships from have offices or a base in the US. Plus the median income and standard of living is higher in the US than it is in Russia. That means people have more disposable income to give to our nonprofits. Oh, plus, we have tax write-offs for people who do this. And when a corporation sponsors you, it makes people have a positive feeling about that corporation. Plus it’s a tax write off for them too.

Sure fundraising is hard. But you think YOU have it tough?

Imagine that nonprofits were vilified. Imagine that no corporation wanted to associate with you. Imagine that just seeking funding could actively hurt your nonprofit.

In July 2015 a major Russian nonprofit called the Russian Dynasty Foundation folded rather than register as a foreign agent. They used to give grants to help Russian people do science research. Now? That is all gone.

Apparently Moscow is cracking down particularly on human rights and democracy organizations, including the Open Society nonprofit, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and others.

The human rights lawyers told me that just mentioning the words LGBTQ in Russia constituted endorsing the LGBTQ lifestyle, and actively promoting it means you might be imprisoned, or worse.

Russian LGBTQ activism

Pussy Riot getting whipped by the Russian government hired Cossacks in protest of the Sochi Olympics in 2011.

Can you imagine not even being able to MENTION LGBTQ people? Having to say, “those different people” instead?

That is what it is like in Russia.

WHY is it this way?

If it seems like this new law is mainly affecting people who are trying to help raise awareness and advocate for human rights in Russia, I have to ask, why? Why are they cracking down specifically on these kinds of charities?

WHY do certain Russian politicians want to crack down on people who are gay? Is this related to them cracking down on human rights organizations? Is it about xenophobia? What is it about?

Then I remembered living in South Korea.  In South Korea I ran into a lot of Korean people who were prejudiced against Japanese and Chinese people or even African American expatriates. Now, to be fair, they have been invaded by Korean and Chinese people numerous times. But Korea is an ethnically homogeneous society. And in societies like this, sometimes you have to find someone to hate. And people who are even nominally ethnically different from you are easy to scapegoat.  There’s still a lot of discrimination for gay people in Korea as well.

Maybe in Russia, which is also pretty ethnically homogeneous, they need someone to hate and scapegoat. As the Human Rights Watch reports, the mere fact of mentioning LGBTQ people being called LGBTQ propaganda shows you how severely restrictive and homophobic the society is. And maybe human rights organizations don’t shut up when they crack down on LGBTQ activists.

For example, simply singing about how they wanted Putin out got the feminist anarchist punk rock group Pussy Riot arrested. And Pussy Riot members have been outspoken in their support of LGBT rights.

What would YOU do if you were a Russian nonprofit?

Would you focus on getting new donors from within Russia?

Would you work on advocating to overturn this law with the other large nonprofits inside Russia?

Would you, like the founder of the Dynasty foundation, just leave Russia indefinitely?

What would YOU do?