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Global Philanthropy

Philanthropy’s Critical Role in the Crisis in Ukraine

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Ukraine. Since the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022, more than 2 million people, mostly children, women, and the elderly, have fled Ukraine, making this the fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II. Millions more are either internally displaced or living in increasingly dire circumstances with medicines, hygienic supplies, and even food beginning to run out.

The war in Ukraine, as with other conflicts around the globe, has triggered a cascade of crises around which philanthropy can play a critical role. We are amazed by the outpouring of support and humanitarian assistance from ordinary citizens, neighboring countries, and the international community. Targeted funds and other support opportunities are being established to help supply food, shelter, transportation, healthcare, communication support, and security for those who choose to remain or who cannot travel, as well as for refugees. Funding is equally needed for issues with long-term horizons, such as advocacy and the protection and support of democracy, independent journalism, free speech, and civil society.

The world is coming together in support of Ukraine and the ideals of freedom and democracy – in this we find immense hope.

In our efforts to contribute, TPI has launched an online resource hub – Philanthropic Resources for the Ukraine Crisis – to help funders find information, organizations, and other resources that we recommend.

The eyes of the world are, rightly so, on the horrific war in Ukraine, and armed conflict continues to threaten democracy and lives elsewhere – Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Syria, Congo, and beyond. Every day, people and funders are asking thoughtful questions about how to respond:

How can we help? What type of support is most needed and which organizations are most effective and trustworthy in delivery? Should we support local Ukrainian organizations, groups in neighboring countries, and/or larger humanitarian groups? How can US donors support organizations outside of the United States that may not be a registered US 501(c)3? What if the local Ukrainian banking system is overtaken – how can we still get support to local organizations? Are there certain populations that need more support than others? How do we balance responding to immediate, urgent needs with longer-term needs?

These are all vitally important questions, and with complex humanitarian crises like the war in Ukraine, the situation and needs are multifaceted and rapidly changing. Donors of all sizes are asking how to gather the data they need most to make effective, responsive decisions and deploy resources quickly. As you consider how to use your resources to support the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine (and beyond), keep these important points in mind:

  1. Source your information wisely, from experts in the field and on the ground. Check out the information on TPI’s resource page and please reach out with your questions. We will be updating the information as the situation unfolds. You can also look to funders who have decades of experience on the ground in Ukraine, like Open Society Foundations and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
  2. Take a humanistic, holistic approach to humanitarian aid. Basic survival resources are key, but the people caught in conflict need other services, too, particularly the most vulnerable, marginalized, and at-risk internally displaced people and refugees. Consider support to resettle refugees who will need help finding employment, housing, healthcare, education for their children, trauma support, and connection to a sense of community and belonging. The millions of internally displaced people need immediate and longer-term support as well, such as temporary accommodations, legal support, and mental health support.
  3. Recognize that in a crisis, context is complex, and flexibility and proximity are key. The situation is and will change frequently based on the invasion and international politics and policies. A conflict-sensitive approach needs to be agile and responsive. One approach is to find trusted intermediary resources that have been supporting organizations in Ukraine and the region for years – they are likely to be able to find innovative ways to provide support to the communities that need it the most. Ukraine also has a vibrant community foundation network, Initiative Center to Support Social Action (ISAR) Ednannia, that can help distribute funds where most needed. Berks County Community Foundation has established the Fund for Ednannia to aggregate individual donations to be distributed to ISAR Ednannia for its Emergency Fund. Community foundations are often a great resource in times of crisis because they know how and where to deploy resources locally. In the current context in Ukraine, community foundations are vulnerable, and we will be seeking the advice of our regional partner organizations in Europe on how best to get resources to those who can receive it inside Ukraine. TPI’s resource page will be updated accordingly.
  4. Recognize different needs of different populations. Crisis-impacted and refugee populations are not universal in their cultures or their needs, or even within one group. Again, children impacted by disaster or on the move are particularly vulnerable and in need of focused attention.Tragically, communities of color – including Black Africans, Indian nationals, Pakistani nationals, and people of Middle Eastern descent – have reported racist treatment and violence as they have sought to flee Ukraine.
  5. Remember that every crisis is interlinked with broader issues. The war in Ukraine threatens democracy and the strength of civil society. Much teeters, as well, on a free press being able to operate and deliver prompt, factual information to decision makers, including citizens.Support to protect independent journalism and media in surrounding countries as well as Ukraine is vital.
  6. Balance immediate and longer-term responses. Donors who think strategically – even if quickly – about crisis response are often more likely to fill a funding gap by focusing on targeted issues, local grantees, vulnerable populations, or innovative longer-term solutions. Educate yourself on the longer-term issues faced by crisis survivors, whether refugees or those who remain in the area of conflict. Extend your network around your particular mission, again using established, expert sources for information and partnership opportunities. Immediate and responsive support is indispensable right now – millions of lives, democracy, and civil society depend upon this. It is equally important to be committed for the long haul – consider that the average time refugees may spend in exile is 17 years, and that the fight for democracy never ends.
  7. Fund local and grassroots organizations, if possible. Less than 2% of funds to NGOs go to national and local organizations, while the vast majority goes to larger, international NGOs and multi- and bilateral organizations. Organizations and movements that arise from within affected communities offer powerful partnerships for change. Their leaders not only have identified challenges but can establish workable and culturally appropriate solutions.
  8. Be mindful of other funders. Listening to and coordinating with other funders or donors can help facilitate collective learning and maximize impact. While every dollar is certainly needed, it’s also crucial to take a moment to try to effectively complement the efforts of other donors, organizations, and governments. Council on Foundations and the U.S. State Department Office of Global Partnerships co-hosted a webinar on March 3 – Philanthropy’s Response to the Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis – to share information and coordinate efforts with private philanthropy. We applaud this effort from the government to share information so that the public and private responses are leveraged and complementary.
  9. Go beyond the dollars. Each of us have influence and power beyond our checkbooks. Regardless of your financial status, you have agency. Write a letter to your Congressperson, author an opinion piece, coordinate with your place of worship to sponsor a refugee family (regardless of their country of origin). Volunteer in some other capacity. We all have some way we can help – even having important conversations about democracy, agency, and activism over the family dinner table. 

And as always, whatever your area of focus, it’s helpful to remember six powerful practices used by thoughtful funders. These ideas are not new, but as they are wielded with greater sophistication, they are yielding more powerful results.

We stand with you and offer support as we navigate these challenging times. In the words of Desmond Tutu: “Hope is being able to see that there is Light, despite the darkness”.

Click here to learn more about TPI’s Center for Global Philanthropy and our work supporting funders of all kinds who wish to effectively give around the world. The Center supports individuals, families, foundations, and companies to have an impact through their giving. We help funders and companies do more and better giving worldwide.