This paper examines Russian human service Non-Profit Organisations (NPOs) to investigate the nature of civil society in a managed democracy. Specifically the focus is on emerging vertical ties between NPOs and ruling and governing elites. Drawing on qualitative data collected from health and education NPOs in three industrial regions, we find that in establishing such vertical ties the role of organisations and individuals within is changing – they have moved away from ignored outsiders towards accessing the circles of power and being tasked with managing the boundary between the state and civil society. In exploring these arrangements this paper highlights that in the post-soviet space, NPOs and the state are closely intertwined resembling co-optation. As a result the democratisation potential of human service NPOs is constrained. In discussing these insights we also draw parallels to contexts in which the state has outsourced welfare service to human service NPOs.