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DOBROTA, means "kindness" in Ukrainian

In fact, the word dobrota also means goodness and charity. There is a charity fund in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, bearing the name of Dobrota. It was founded by Mr Yakov Rohalin who has been named The Best Fundraiser of the Year 2002 in the World. Mr Rohalin received his award at the World Fundraising Conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on October 16 2002.

The conference that was attended by more than 800 delegates from 68 countries of the world was duly impressed by the Dobrota Charity Funds achievement the Fund had collected one million seven hundred thousand hryvnyas (about 315,000 dollars) from over a thousand donors within four years of its existence.

Such an attainment is a particularly significant accomplishment for Ukraine, the country in which the trust of the population in all kinds of political and social institutions is very low. According to the Oleksandr Razumkov Economic and Political Studies Centres survey held in mid-2002, 30 percent of the people of Ukraine had a complete trust in the Church; 26 percent in the army; about 10 percent in president and government; 6 percent in public organizations.

According to the United States Agency of International Development, the average Ukrainian does not see any need in the existence of public organizations or charity funds and knows next to nothing about them. Similarly to other post-Soviet nations, Ukraine is a country whose people in their vast majority have been cheated either by the state or by the phony trusts which duped so many people into entrusting them with their savings by promising high interest rates, and then swindling the gullible people out of their money. No wonder, psychologists say, people trust only their closest relatives and friends.

Another problem of Ukrainian society is its citizens almost complete lack of confidence in their ability to change anything for the better either locally or on the scale of the whole country. That is why to raise money in a country stricken by poverty and total distrust is an enormously difficult task and only those persons who are absolutely determined and loftily motivated, and who entertain high hopes for the future, can achieve palpable results.

Launching a charity fund

Launching a charity fund in Ukraine is probably like having Capone for the last name and Alfonse for the first name in America you are likely to run into problems even before youve started anything, says Yakov Rohalin, 47, a tall, stately and energetic man. His favourite attire is black jeans, black shirt and black jacket; he does not like wearing ties either. When he talks to you, he keeps the eye contact all the time, and peppers his conversation with witticisms and quotations. His writings that deal with fundraising are more than descriptions of fundraising techniques and problems to be encountered and ways of solving them they give food for thought and make one ponder the profound issues of human society.

Before he got himself involved in fundraising, Yakov Rohalin, a PhD in medicine, was a surgeon who performed up to 60 operations a month and gave consultations to more than five thousand patients a year. At the same time he ran his own business a company that sold children food. He was respected, appreciated and financially well established. There seemed to be little else one would wish from life. However Yakov Rohalin was not satisfied.

In his opinion, one is born with the ability for compassion and empathy, rather than acquires them, and during ones lifetime, these feelings can be developed and honed, particularly at the time when one lives through a difficult period of ones life. There were major reasons that converted Rohalin to charity work his medical occupation and his sons illness. At one point in my life, I thought to myself, I wrote a dissertation and was awarded a degree for it without using any dishonest means like pulling the strings, and I successfully ran a business in the face of so many adversities if I could do these things, why couldnt I run a charity organization? says Rohalin reminiscing about his getting engaged in charity work.

At the very start, he resorted to the trust people had in him as a medical doctor and his ability to persuade them to help get Dobrota off the ground. He used a very simple technique he would approach a businessman and say, Look, I know everyones short of money but before you say no to the donation to my fund, lets go to the orphanage (or to a boarding school, or to a kindergarten, or to a hospital), and youll see what the kids get for lunch. The car is waiting outside. Itll take us a half hour, no more. In most cases, the trip was not necessary. But soon enough, this approach stopped working and Rohalin had to invent something new and he got down to studying the techniques of fundraising.

Learning to trust

Yakov Rohalin likes to quote the famous phrase of Immanuel Kant who says in one of his works that two things never stop amazing him the starry sky above our heads and the moral law inside us. He proceeded from the premise that kindness and empathy were the feelings that most human beings possessed in some measure.

He had to watch his step very carefully because given the level of distrust in Ukrainian society he may have been suspected in wishing to gain some personal profit. He had to convince people that not a single kopek raised by Dobrota would go anywhere but charity. It meant that the work of the fund must be made absolutely transparent. Exhaustive reports were and are regularly published, with the information who received which help. Dobrota publishes bi-monthly press releases and information bulletins. In addition to it, leaflets are regularly put on the billboards in the post offices, movie theaters, libraries, hotels and other public places that is in places which are likely to be visited by the greatest number of people. On an open-door day anybody can come to the fund and ask any questions dealing with the work of the fund. The donors get full reports informing them about what has been done with their money; they have the right to choose the beneficiary and advertise their purposes in giving donations.

Shortly after its foundation, Dobrota became an organization well known in the city of Donetsk whose population is over one million people. Attracting public attention has a downside to it as well Dobrota became a target of constant checks by the law enforcement bodies, state security, tax inspectors and local authorities. Nothing suspicious was discovered, and Dobrota made a clever move the fund addressed those who investigated its activities with a request to donate money for charity. The full transparency in the work of Dobrota allowed the fund to seek and find new possibilities in raising money without being hindered.

Dobrota has always insisted on the donations being absolutely voluntary in order to avoid being accused of using the practices of some power structures which set up funds to promote their own cause and make private businesses freely donate money under threat of creating problems for the owners of these businesses. Dobrota has proved that money for charity can be raised in Ukraine in a completely civilized manner, and now such unlikely businesses as barbers shops, beauty salons, post offices, libraries and registry offices have begun to make their donations. The people of Donetsk have come to a sudden realization that even a few hryvnyas they donate instead of spending them on slot machines can be of help to those in need.

Hot soup, clothes, food and spare parts

Dobrota provides charity help on a regular basis for 50 hospitals and medical centers, maternity wards, 35 kindergartens, orphanages, boarding schools and shelters; 13 support-for-handicapped organizations, AIDS-victims-support organizations and 20 correctional and penitentiary facilities. Dobrota runs tow soup kitchens which are open every day from morning till dusk without breaks; about one hundred and fifty down-and-out people are treated to hot soup, white bread, biscuits and tea with sugar.

All of these things are done by only 7 people who are on the staff of Dobrota and twenty to thirty volunteers. In fact, only about 30 percent of all the charity donations come in the form of money. The range of things provided by Dobrota for hospitals, schools and the destitute is very wide indeed: clothes, food, medicines, spare parts to mend leaking taps, to repair a classroom and to get an old car on the road again, plus so much more.

Yakov Rohalin holds meetings with the Dobrota staff members and volunteers daily, setting tasks, exchanging information and getting advice how to get things done better. These meetings are better described as brain storms which produce ideas of how to raise donations. It is but seldom that the very first request for a donation is granted one and the same person or organization or a private company has to be addressed several times before they are finally talked into giving a donation.

Unfortunately, there is a number of dishonest petitioners and intercessors who turn up at the offices of potential donors and ask for help speaking on somebody elses behalf whereas in fact it is they themselves who benefit from the help or donations provided.

One of the ideas that Yakov Rohalin is planning to implement is to obtain the right for charity organizations to set up some commercial structures which would earn money to be channeled into charity. So far, the local authorities do not seem to be enthusiastic to accept Rohalins new proposals, but given his determination and drive there is little doubt that he will get what he wants in the end. And the number of beneficiaries of charity will increase.

By Oleh Polyakov

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