Very small portion of tax refunds donated to nonprofits ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Euros.
Euros. Source: (European Central Bank)

For the first time this year, those filing their tax returns were given the option to donate part or all of their expected tax refunds. According to the latest figures, a total of €150 million is set to be refunded to taxpayers in Estonia, under 1 percent of which have been donated. Sunday's edition of ETV news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera" looked into what nonprofits will be doing with the donations.

The Eluliin hotline is frequently called by people with suicidal thoughts or about problems with depression, domestic violence or a family member's alcohol addiction. There has also been an increase in calls from people from Estonia living abroad, reported "Aktuaalne kaamera. Nädal."

"Emotional support hotline calls are taken by volunteers, meaning people who have chosen a means of helping other people," explained MTÜ Eluliin board member Eda Mölder. "They offer being a friend, they provide a listening ear, and naturally they have been trained on how to talk to someone who is considering or planning death by suicide."

While an estimated 10,000 deaths by suicide have been prevented with the help  of Eluliin counselors over 22 years, the nonprofit is nonetheless not well-known enough that it would be the recipient of hundreds or even tens of thousands of euros per year. Eluliin receives about €1,000 in donations per year.

It is with the help of donations that Eluliin's emotional support hotline is maintained; projects are drawn up for other activities, such as counseling for victims of human trafficking, regardless of whether they are from Estonia or elsewhere originally.

"Last year, we had 55 victims of human trafficking from third countries use our services," Mölder said. "This means they weren't from Estonia or the EU. This year it's already five people."

MTÜ Eluliin, which has been active since 1997, is one of 2,500 nonprofits to which those filing their tax returns can donate from their refunds right on the Tax and Customs Board (MTA) homepage.

As of Friday, more than half a million tax returns had been filed with the MTA, based on which €150 million is set to be refunded. A total of 2,300 people have donated €79,000 from their refunds.

"The biggest sum to be donated thus far is just over €900," said Sander Aasna, head of Public Services at the MTA. "If we look at the statistics, many people have donated between €5-10, and the average donation has been around €30."

A donation from one's refund does not mean that an individual must donate their entire anticipated refund; they can decide the amount for themselves on the MTA's homepage.

The proposal to be able to donate tax refunds directly was a civic initiative, one of the leading promoters of which was Alari Rammo, head of advocacy at the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations (NENO).

"We consider donating to be one part of civil society along other things we do as citizens — to contribute there where the state doesn't reach or doesn't have to reach."

Former social affairs minister Kaia Iva, who has since left politics, said that when donating, both the need for and transparency of the nonprofit in question are important to her. She donated her tax refund to MTÜ Elu Dementsusega (Life with Dementia), noting that dementia remains little known.

"As I am very familiar with the activities of this nonprofit — they were only just established in 2016, precisely out of loved ones' need for such activity — then I am also familiar with what they do on a daily basis, and how they inform society," Iva said. "They are also a good partner and trustworthy partner to the state, as it is on their initiative — albeit using public funds, but based on their competencies — that a dementia competency center has been established."

Recurring donations

The most beneficial to nonprofits in terms of long-term planning and operations are recurring donations.

The Estonian Institute of Human Rights (EIK), for example, currently has more than 100 recurring donors; three years ago, they had just ten.

"We have started to see an increase in recurring donors when a conflict of values comes up in society," noted EIK director Egert Rünne. "People have seen that they want to promote their values, and they need a means to express this, which has been our activity, as we fight for the rights of weaker parties."

With the support of donations, the EIK represents the rights of people who have been discriminated against in court. Many, for example, may recall the case of Sarah from the U.S. and Kristiina from Estonia, whom the Estonian state would not allow to build a life together in Estonia.

"In the span of two or three years, the EIK has defended more than ten people, and these issues have included age discrimination, discrimination of people with disabilities, and of course also problems arising from the absence of implementing provisions of the Registered Partnership Act," Rünne recalled.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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