Slovak foundations say they have mixed feelings about domestic philanthropy. Martin Renčo, spokesman of one of the country's most successful foundations, Nadácie Deťom Slovensko, said the public still mistrusted the Slovak foundation sector to a degree. "There is no tradition here of giving money towards public causes," he said.
Data on philanthropy, however, do not support such pessimism. A March 2001 annual survey commissioned by USAID Slovakia showed that 44% of Slovaks claimed that they or some member of their families donated money or a non-financial gift of around 400-500 crowns ($8-10) at least once a year. This result is lower than the 70% of Americans who claim to be involved in philanthropic activities, although part of the US figure includes church-related volunteerism.
Other NGO professionals said Slovak charity habits varied widely according to the cause for which money was canvassed. "The public tends to support charity types of foundations, while those working on programmes to enhance democracy can find donors only abroad," explained Boris Strečanský of the ETP/Ekopolis Foundation, which promotes environmental projects throughout Slovakia.
The USAID polls confirmed Strečanský's view. While NGOs working in social welfare, health and education were found useful by eight out of ten Slovaks, only half of poll respondents thought the same of NGOs advancing culture, the arts or human rights. Less than 40% found NGOs promoting democracy to be of any use.
Some foundations are putting their hopes in a new regulation affecting tax levies from 2002, when every taxpayer will be able to donate 1% of his or her tax payments to a foundation or an NGO of choice, as long as the recipient promotes some public good. Foundation experts think this could bring 100-150 million Slovak crowns ($2-3 million) in fresh funds into the sector, a windfall given that direct donations from taxpayers have been falling since 1997 by an average of 7% annually.
Participation in volunteer work has also come down, by a third since 1995, the USAID poll results said. Only 13% of Slovaks say they do some volunteer work at least once a year; 85% do none.
For Pavol Demeš of the German Marshal Fund, this trend is worrying. "Slovak foundations have done a great job in assisting social change since 1989. Perhaps one thing to be improved is to have more members of the public participating in NGO activities," he said.