Charities Aid Foundation has created this report to show the range of responses of governments to support, or hinder, civil society and philanthropy. We categorise three types of relationship with civil society and analyse policies pursued, with global examples and lessons that can be applied by all governments. These lessons and examples are useful both within and between crises, building a foundation to avoid previous mistakes. From these lessons, we have drawn up a tiered list of practical recommendations that policy makers can implement, accounting for the range of resources available to different countries.

Relationships between government and civil society

Civil society as an occasional partner

These states are beginning to understand the value of civil society, providing some fiscal support and mobilising initiatives for volunteers. However, they still fail to strategically leverage philanthropy and make giving central to their response.

Civil society as an afterthought

Governments fail to provide tailored support for civil society, retrofitting wider economic measures to civil society organisations or providing no support. Civil society is not viewed strategically and assumed that it can 'stop now and resume later'.

Civil society as an obstacle/competitor

Civil society is seen as a barrier to wider political goals. Many states have used COVID-19 to increase regulation, close down civic space or create funds which divert funds away from civil society.

Policy responses and lessons 

  • Government support for unlocking giving

    Policymakers are taking a narrow view of philanthropy and giving, which fails to see the sector as a whole beyond silos of certain causes and engage with mass and informal giving.

    Some governments have created tax incentives to improve giving, but there are few examples of flagship campaigns which leverage giving across governments, business and civil society.

  • Government support for civil society and working in partnership

    Most financial support, if present, comes from retrofitting wider economic measures to civil society, which fails to understand the different funding, legal and operating models the sector works in.

    In states with less resources, it is even more important to understand the need to collaborate with civil society to see how they can stay afloat. Cross-sectoral partnerships and collaboration platforms can help boost fundraising and coordinate government and civil society efforts during crises.

  • The operating environment for civil society and civic space

    Whilst all states have been challenged to balance trade-offs between public health and civil liberties, some are using the crisis as an opportunity to target CSOs and close civic space. Some information surveillance laws are broad and ill-defined and many COVID-19 emergency laws do not have clear end dates or accountability.

    Some governments have created COVID-19 funds which are diverting funds away from civil society when it is needed the most, funnelling it through opaque bureaucracy. Others have not provided sufficient legal definitions for civil society to receive support and created new regulation which prevents access to funding. However, when given the appropriate space, civil society has frequently supported and constructively worked with government to improve their response.

  • The role of infrastructure in achieving policy change

    Infrastructure is broadly underestimated and not understood. It plays a huge range of essential roles from amplifying and unifying the voice of civil society, providing essential resources, research and connections to ensure it can survive this crisis. Despite this, infrastructure is chronically underfunded, particularly in the global south.


Engage with civil society and philanthropy as strategic partners

    Tier 1

    Engage early with civil society and consult on policy design. Engage with infrastructure to reach out to the sector, facilitate dialogue and collect information.

    Tier 2

    Create multi-stakeholder and cross sector forums which help to develop a strategic view of how to work with civil society. Create new partnerships and platforms to supplement and improve state efforts.

    Support civil society and unlock giving

      Tier 1

      Develop and document a shared view of the role and boundaries of the state and civil society. Work with funders to coordinate appeals, campaigns and funds. Conduct awareness campaigns on tax incentives and make them accessible.

      Tier 2

      Provide targeted and tailored sector support, which accounts for the many forms of civil society organisations. Make use of a wider range of financial and tax incentives to simulate giving.

      A protected and enhanced operating environment

        Tier 1

        Ensure crisis intervention are proportional and protect the right for civic space to speak on important issues, do not create regulation which hinder civil society activities and allow flexibility to reduce administrative burden during crises.

        Tier 2

        Adjust regulatory and administrative systems to take account of different needs across the sector and provide legal definitions for all to receive support. Exchange best practice on tax regimes and reduce registration limitations to incentivise giving,

        Recognise and support civil society infrastructure

          Tier 1

          Recognise and understand the role of infrastructure in growing giving and civic engagement, crucial to supporting and strengthening civil society to serve their communities.

          Tier 2

          Invest in infrastructure organisations where they are lacking or under-resourced, whilst ensuring its independence from government by allowing them to use fee service models and speak freely on the full range of cause areas.

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