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Helping Ukraine: How philanthropists and foundations can take action

March 14, 2022

Ukraine - School after Shelling_Eastern_Ukraine_GettyImages_Jakub LaichterThe humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine is both heart wrenching and complex. While it’s similar to a natural disaster in many respects, it also poses distinct challenges that require both immediate and long-term support.

Philanthropists, especially those with private foundations, can help in agile and flexible ways that others cannot. Not only can they respond rapidly when a crisis occurs, they can also take a longer view to understand the full scope of the problem(s), pinpoint where they can make the greatest impact, and determine how to allocate their resources most effectively to boost established relief efforts and/or launch new ones.

Here are some considerations for supporting Ukraine now and in the difficult years ahead.

Providing immediate help

As the situation in Ukraine is fluid and the crisis will likely escalate in both scale and urgency, we cannot yet know the exact extent of the support required. The following are broad categories of humanitarian aid most often provided to populations in urgent need:

  • Health and medical support
  • Shelter, water, food, sanitation, hygiene, and other essentials
  • Clothing and non-food items
  • Time-critical support for both internally displaced and refugee populations
  • Protection for people in conflict zones
  • Special services for elderly, disabled, ill, impoverished, and other vulnerable populations
  • Services to fill gaps in education and income

Donating cash is the most effective way for donors and private foundations to provide support, because they afford humanitarian organizations maximum flexibility to direct funds to the areas of greatest need. Donating items such as clothing and medical supplies requires shipping, receipt, and management of goods and materials and may hinder response efforts.

Private foundations may also provide funding through a unique capability permitted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in times of emergency: Rather than following the usual procedure of making grants to charities, they can make them directly to individuals and families in need without obtaining prior IRS approval.

Screening charities

Lists of organizations that support Ukraine relief efforts are easy to find online. Before supporting a charity—for any cause—it’s important to ask the following:

  • Is the organization well established and reputable? What is its history in the affected region?
  • Does it have a clear mission?
  • Does it meet a vital need in the current crisis?
  • How sound is its stated approach?
  • Are its values aligned with my own?
  • Are its services and programs unique?
  • Who sits on its board?
  • Does it achieve substantial results? What does it report about them?

In addition, it’s helpful to check the organization’s rating from one or several “watchdog” sites. These resources apply a uniform set of standards to analyze and grade the financial and programmatic quality of nonprofits. Some of the more well-known sites include GuideStar, GiveWell, Charity Navigator, Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, and the American Institute of Philanthropy.

Delivering long-term support: The ‘disaster life cycle’

Crisis and disaster response happens in several stages. By distributing funds and support across the disaster life cycle, philanthropists can help achieve greater impact with their resources and reduce the likelihood of recurrence while also aligning their response with their values and giving priorities.

Based on the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s four stages of the disaster life cycle, the requirements of each response phase can be described as follows:

  • Response and relief: The reactive time during or immediately following an emergency, often with a focus on saving lives, preventing further damage, and providing basic human services. This stage typically draw the most attention from the media and the most funding.
  • Reconstruction and recovery: The strategic period after damage has been assessed, including longer-term efforts to restore a community or country to pre-disaster state. This work typically begins after the event no longer dominates the news cycle and is often more expensive than relief. It also is often overlooked and underfunded by public charities, private philanthropists, and insurance companies.
  • Preparedness: Another strategic phase, involving detailed plans that will help people and areas respond effectively to disasters or crises. Activities may include planning exercises, training and educating volunteers, identifying evacuation routes and partners, stocking food, water and other basic necessities.
  • Mitigation: More strategic work designed to cure factors leading or contributing to emergencies and limit the impact of similar events in the future. This stage requires hazard risk analysis and the investment of time and resources to build resilience and reduce risk. Activities may include strengthening existing infrastructure and developing redundant processes.

Devising a crisis response

In determining how best to respond to a disaster or crisis, here are five considerations:

  • Understand your motivation. What about the crisis speaks to you? Is there a stage in the disaster life cycle that would benefit greatly from your personal network or professional strengths? There are numerous ways to connect your philanthropic mission to the needs that arise in emergency situations.
  • Do your research. This includes staying abreast of current affairs as well as looking to past disasters and similar situations for guidance and lessons learned that can help you construct a high-impact response.
  • Be aware of scams. Many new nonprofits are formed in response to disasters, and while some are legitimate, unfortunately, others are not. Evaluate new organizations carefully before making a commitment.
  • Consider equity. Disasters and crises have the potential to magnify inequities. There may be marginalized, vulnerable, or underresourced populations that will be impacted by the crisis more acutely and may have difficulty accessing essential services.
  • Partner with other funders. Exchange insights and best practices with other philanthropists. In the process, you may find collaborators with similar or complementary goals, which, in turn, will allow you to develop a more innovative or comprehensive response.

In sum, during this critical time for Ukraine – and when addressing any other disaster –   philanthropists and foundations will likely find it most effective to meet both immediate and long-term needs when providing support.

The following are vetted organizations to explore for offering assistance to Ukraine:

(Photo credit: Getty Images/Jakub Laichter)

Headshot_Gillian_Howell_Foundation_Source_PhilanTopicGillian Howell is head of client advisory solutions for Foundation Source, which provides comprehensive support services for private foundations. The firm works in partnership with financial and legal advisors as well as directly with individuals and families. A different version of this article appeared in Barron’s Online.

Find more articles in Philanthropy News Digest about  philanthropy’s response to the war in Ukraine.

Find more updates and resources on Candids special issue page on the philanthropic response to the war in Ukraine.

 

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