The first community foundation in Latvia 0

In its first decade of operation, the Talsi Regional Foundation will have to reconcile two different factors – the public’s desire to see quick results and the slow process of accumulating resources, which will occur gradually over the years.

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On February 24, 45 socially active residents of the Talsi region gathered in the Talsi People’s Hall to found the “Talsi Regional Foundation” – the first community foundation in Latvia. This act fulfills the claim first made one year ago when describing the Talsi residents’ forum: “the people of Talsi are ready for philanthropy.”

One year after the residents’ forum

On the 27th of April of last year over 100 local residents gathered together at the Talsi residents’ forum to share their ideas about the future of their town and to agree on eight projects that might improve life in Talsi. The forum was organized to cultivate local awareness of problematic issues and to encourage participation in their solution, thus developing community[1] philanthropy[2] – the donation of one’s skills, time and money for the betterment of local society.

After the conclusion of the forum, working groups continued to meet for discussions in their free time. While searching for the best solutions to the problems at hand, these working groups became actively engaged in the process of fund-raising and, in the end, a portion of the proposed projects have been carried out. However, in order to ensure the further implementation of such projects, the idea was developed to create some sort of long-term mechanism for the development of local philanthropy, such as a community foundation.

Since September 2002, over 60 local residents – including local entrepreneurs, NGO representatives, state and municipal employees and active members of society – have met for 12 separate discussions of this issue. The newly minted “Talsi Regional Foundation” is based on the model proposed by the participants in these discussions and conforms to their idea of what a community foundation should be, given Latvia’s dimensions and socio-economic situation. 43 of these participants have become the founders of this foundation.

Philanthropy has ancient roots in Talsi

The Talsi Regional Foundation was founded in a historic place – the People’s Hall which was built by the Talsi Society of Friends (founded in 1887). Much like today, local residents came together in the 19th century to pool their labor, time and money for the well-being of the region. After a scant few years of existence, this society was so described: “it would be difficult to find a familiar face in the environs around Talsi, whose name does not appear on the list of the society’s members.”[3] Through industrious and faithful effort, the Talsi Regional Foundation could assume a similar position in local society. As history constantly reminds us, almost everything that is new is really the rediscovery of something long forgotten – there have already been two organizations in Talsi founded to gather resources for the support of charitable activities: the Arlava Farmer’s Aid Society, founded in 1870, and the Talsi State Gymnasium Student’s Aid Society, founded in 1923. Both were closed in 1940.

The Talsi Regional Foundation was founded by 43 residents and legal entities, with two more people joining the group of founders during the meeting itself. By the summer of next year, the number of members is expected to grow to one hundred and the goal is to reach 325 members by 2009. In order to ensure a diverse group of members, the foundation’s statutes dictate that each newly accepted member must seek out one new member. Membership in the Foundation is not limited to just residents of the region, but is open to any private individual or legal entity in Latvia or abroad with a feeling of allegiance to Talsi and a desire to support the development of the region through the Foundation.[4]

The mission of the Talsi Regional Foundation is to cultivate a local tradition of philanthropy and to further the development of Talsi and the surrounding region by supporting projects in education, culture, the arts, amateur sports, literature, social activities, regional history, environmental protection and other areas of non-profit activity as determined by the Foundation.

Pressing demands and the slow process of gathering finances must be reconciled

In the first decade of its work, the Foundation will have to reconcile two conflicting factors. On the one hand, there is the desire of forum participants, foundation members and society-at-large to see quick results – building a playground for children and playing fields for youth etc., which require a great deal of work and sizable funds. On the other, community foundations normally receive support from the returns earned on an untouchable endowment. Currently, the Talsi Regional Foundation’s endowment is zero and it will take many years for it to build up.

In order to meet these two separate demands, the members of the Foundation have agreed to pay yearly dues. The minimal sum required both this year and the next is 20 Lats, but members can, of their own accord, choose to pay more. 75% of the members’ dues will be put towards an annual Small Project Program, which will solicit bids for at least one project with every member of the Foundation voting on the outcome. 25% of the members’ dues will be placed in a Permanent Endowment, to provide for the payment of grants from the endowment’s returns in the long run. These grants could begin in 8 to 10 years. It is hoped that resources from other sources will be added regularly to facilitate a quicker accumulation of funds. This approach will ensure both immediate support and the ability to create an endowment that will provide supplemental resources in the future.

Private individuals and legal entities are welcome to give or donate to the foundation, either indicating or not indicating a specific purpose and can even dictate the terms of use for their donation. The foundation will use such donations for the realization of projects put forth by foundation members. Donors do not have to be members of the foundation.

The development of community philanthropy

Latvia’s experience could be similar to that of the rest of Central and Eastern Europe in developing local philanthropy and gradually building endowments. On the national level, the NGO Center in Riga is serving in an advisory capacity. Current legislation regulating the work of public organizations does not provide for the legal regulation of the work of foundations, thus making such work more difficult. This problem would be solved if the Saeima (Parliament) would, in the near future, adopt the new legislation but forth by NGOs intended to create favorable working conditions for foundations and other NGOs. The key to the development and improvement of local society is the desire to work together in cultivating ideas and the tenacity to realize them. “With hard determination and unfailing commitment, everything is possible,” said Krisjanis Valdemars, a resident of the region in the 19th century. The work already completed in Talsi and Lielvarde shows that the development of this sort of organization is up and coming and will, in the future, play a more important role in the development of local society and the overall improvement of the quality of life.

[1] Community denotes a specific area to which people feel a sense of allegiance or a territory – be it a hamlet, town or region that includes every age, ethnic and social group.

[2] Community philanthropy is the purposeful donation of one’s time, knowledge, skills, money and other resources to achieve some goal for the good of society in a specific area to which people feel a sense of allegiance or a territory – be it hamlet, town or region.

[3] “Non-Governmental Organizations in the Talsi region 2003” Part 1, Talsi: The Northern Kurzeme NGO support center

[4] Interested parties are invited to call +371-6518970, or e-mail:

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