What Ukraine Needs Now: Advice for Donors and Nonprofits
The war in Ukraine threatened food systems, displaced millions, and looks to pose a long-term harm to the most vulnerable people. Millions of dollars have already been donated for aid. As the money continues to pour in, philanthropy experts on the front lines and those knowledgeable in humanitarian crises explain how to donate to the places that do the most good. And how those places can remain transparent those funds.
When it comes to giving to aid those affected by the war in Ukraine, trust who you are giving to and think of the long-term, according to experts. For recipients, be transparent about how the funds will be used.
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As the war in Ukraine threatens food systems and has displaced millions of people, donations from individuals, foundations and corporations are pouring in. Now many donors and charities have questions about how best to give for the long haul and how transparent nonprofits should be about what they are doing with contributions.
Charities working on the front lines and others with experience responding to humanitarian crises discussed those issues last week as part of an online panel hosted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the Conversation, and the Associated Press. The key, experts said, is for donors to give to nonprofits that have earned their trust and for the organizations to provide as much openness as they can about how funds will be used.
“It’s really important for charitable organizations to be clear upfront about what they intend to do,” said Art Taylor, CEO of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. “We need to be very humble about what we say we’re going to do and not simply promise things that we can’t deliver to draw funds.”
Advice for Donors
The need in Ukraine, as in most humanitarian disasters, are both immediate and long-term. But most giving for disaster aid is for immediate use, said Patricia McIlreavy, CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.
McIlreavy said research shows only 6 percent of the donations go toward reconstruction and recovery. To have an equitable recovery, she said, the public needs to be comfortable with quickly supporting organizations on the front lines. The sooner the donation, the quicker Ukrainians can get what they need.
“What everyone truly wants in a disaster is as soon as possible to have a home filled with a pantry full of food that they can cook their own meal,” she said. “That’s about giving people recovery, the hope of a future, and agency in what they wish to do, how they wish to recover, where they wish to go. And that’s what we need to try and educate ourselves, the public, the community about more and more is listening to Ukrainians on the ground and saying ‘what do you really need and how do we get it to you?’”
Sandrina da Cruz, director of disaster response at GlobalGiving, said as donors decide which organizations to support, they should give priority to local groups because that works fastest and helps inject the cash needed to ensure long-term recovery for the economy. She suggested making recurring donations in cash rather than gifts of food, toys, and other products.
“Giving cash enables those organizations to be able to make decisions in real time as to what the needs are, how they can support the people that are coming in through those doors,” da Cruz said. Ukraine would also benefit from more cash since it would stimulate the local economy, she added.
Nate Mook, CEO of World Central Kitchen, said there’s been a push recently from donors for more “radical transparency,” and with the technology that exists, there’s no reason charities can’t provide quick, accurate information about how money is being used.
Mook said his organization is delivering 300,000 to 400,000 meals a day in Ukraine. The data from those deliveries are being tracked in nearly real time. And donors can view a virtual map to see where those meals are being distributed.
“Donors really want to know where their money is going,” Mook said. “For a long time, people have donated to, kind of, a black box, and they hope that organizations will use their funds wisely. And maybe organizations will claim to use their funds wisely. And then in the end, we find out that’s not always the case.
Taylor said it’s up to organizations to prove themselves to donors.
“Trust is the key currency in our work,” he said. “We can’t do anything if people don’t trust the organizations. We certainly want to encourage people to trust because we know that if people trust, they give more.”
However, the trust should work both ways. While organizations can prove their trustworthiness with updates on relief and recovery, McIlreavy said donors should manage their expectations.
“They need to be focused on the Ukrainians and the work that they’re doing,” she said. “And if the expectation is lots of reports, lots of communication, lots of feedback, it takes a lot of money to do that. And it pulls money from the response.”
As the war in Ukraine continues, panelists said, the best course of action for donors is to find an organization they trust and let the nonprofit do what they are trained to do.
“If your house is on fire, you’d love it if all your neighbors showed up with buckets of water, but let’s be honest,” she said. “You want the fire department. And the charities who work in these conflict settings, they’re the fire department.”
Reporting for this article was underwritten by a Lilly Endowment grant to enhance public understanding of philanthropy. See more about the grant and our gift-acceptance policy