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charity, a thought, behavior or voluntary action, which aims to improve the quality of people’s lives by contributing to society. In the narrower sense, it is perceived as helping the poor and destitute and doing good to others. In this context, it is identified with aid supplied directly between individuals. The word filantropi (philanthropy), taken from English, is widely used in Turkish to express a similar concept, but actually originates from the Greek word meaning “love of humanity”. Today, philanthropy expresses the concept of “volunteering one’s time, expertise or wealth for the good of society”. This includes financial aid provided by people, foundations and companies to non-profit organizations and generally covers more organized, systematic and strategic philanthropic activities. However it may be understood, charity is a form of behavior and action typical of people and organizations that tend towards altruistic acts for the benefit of others. Older examples of charitable organizations include Islamic foundations, Christian aid groups and the Platonic Academy in Ancient Greece.

Foundations played an important role in providing public services during the Ottoman era and were founded on the principle of charity. Traditionally, their basic function was to attend to specific needs of the public. When the Republic was founded, foundations largely stopped performing these functions as public services were covered by the state. Yet, it is still widely accepted that charitable efforts generally support social causes such as education, worship and poverty reduction.

The research reports, Philanthropy in Turkey: Citizens, Foundations and the Pursuit of Social Justice and Individual Giving and Philanthropy in Turkey, published by TÜSEV in 2006 and 2016 respectively, revealed how the concept of charity is perceived in Turkey. According to research, the first thing people think of when asked about charity is helping the poor and destitute. Activities such as supporting students in their education, providing scholarships, building schools and dormitories, giving charity to the poor and building mosques are all generally considered charitable acts, and individuals focus their support on these areas. Conversely, activities in the fields of art, culture and even higher education and investments in civil society are not viewed as charity. In other words, these kinds of activities are not considered to be a response to societal needs. Equally, when people engage in forms of aid characterized as charity, they tend to choose family members, neighbors or fellow citizens, or people who share the same culture, language and religion as them.

The perception of charity as an individual and direct activity means that a relatively low proportion of people evaluate the donation of wealth to associations and foundations as charity. TÜSEV research revealed that the view of charitable activities as those carried out for personal motives, such as religious obligation, duty to society and personal satisfaction, was widespread.

The slow development of corporate charity in Turkey is an indicator of the currently widespread understanding of charity. In addition, despite the long history of giving assistance, the legal and financial framework supporting corporate philanthropy remains weak. Donations are an important source of income for associations and foundations carrying out charitable works. The tax exemption associated with this type of charity is an important stimulus for individuals and corporations as the donations can be exempted from tax assessments. In priority regions for development, the tax reduction applied to donations made to tax-exempt foundations and public-interest associations is 10% of the taxable base; in other places, it is 5%. Together with this minimal tax reduction, only 389 of 110,420 existing associations and 268 of 5,083 foundations held this status in 2017. There is no exemption for donations made to other civil society organizations (CSOs). This restrictive practice limits the ability of CSOs to procure funds from private companies. Lack of established practices and donation mechanisms are also factors which negatively affect corporate charity with regard to fundraising and donations to CSOs. See also foundation.

Abadan Unat, Nermin

Political scientist who received the Vehbi Koç Award for education in 2012.