Responding to Ukraine: Philanthropy during a crisis

28 March 2022

This article is written by Juliet Agnew, Head of Philanthropy at Barclays Private Bank.

With the fast-moving situation in Ukraine bringing devastation for its residents and forcing an estimated three million people to flee their homes1, the scale of their suffering is unimaginable to many of us. From both a funding and a human perspective, it raises the question of how best to support those in desperate need.

The main difference between ad hoc responsive charitable giving, and philanthropy, is that the latter also aims to eliminate social and environmental problems. As such, the work of philanthropy is more complex. Understanding these factors and their root causes takes time, as does identifying partners who can work with you to solve them over years or even decades.

However, in a crisis such as we are seeing with Ukraine, funding is needed immediately. We are compelled to – and indeed should – collectively act now to protect the vulnerable in an environment in which there is an overwhelming amount of emotion and information.

So, what does good giving during a crisis look like? How do we balance thoughtful donations with the need for urgency? Here are a few practical considerations on what to do and how to think about philanthropy during a crisis.

Immediate needs: prioritise effective giving

In the midst of crisis, charities that already have experience with, and connection to, affected communities are best-equipped to provide support. These organisations understand the needs of such communities and have existing infrastructure that allows them to mobilise action quickly. Flexibility and proximity are key. When seeking to provide immediate help, it is important to ensure that you work with reputable, vetted organisations that have a dedicated response effort in Ukraine. We encourage the prioritisation of local organisations, and those that have strong links to the ground and culturally appropriate solutions.

Although it is often tempting to look for ways to donate items such as clothing, these items are often not what is needed most. Even when they are, it can take weeks, or even months, to transfer and distribute these donations. When time is of the essence, financial donations can arrive within minutes, which enables charities to adapt quickly to changing needs on the ground. Sending money – particularly with the benefit of Gift Aid (in the UK) and any matching schemes available – is the most efficient and effective way to distribute aid.

Remember also that different populations have different needs. Children impacted by disaster or on the move are particularly vulnerable and in need of safeguarding. Tragically, Black, Asian, Minority and Ethnic communities have reported racism and violence as they have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. So seek out organisations that are working with the most vulnerable and affected populations directly.

Medium term: recognise that needs will shift

As the picture evolves, people require different types of support. We encourage philanthropists to stay engaged and seek to understand the multifaceted ways that communities may be affected, not just in the short term but as the crisis develops and even after the worst appears over. Let’s not forget the sobering example of Afghanistan, where today, six months after the dramatic fall of the government to the Taliban, more than 24 million people (over half of whom are children) are facing a humanitarian crisis and acute malnourishment2.

In the case of Ukraine, as refugees travel and begin to settle overseas, their challenges will change. They are likely to be traumatised, in a country that they do not know, and without family around them. There may be language challenges, issues with discrimination, safeguarding of children, as well as difficulties adjusting to new schools and new cultures, finding work, and generally integrating. These issues may well be exacerbated by the rising cost of living in the UK and the economic ripple effects of the war and its associated impacts on food and energy security.

It can be overwhelming working out how to respond in isolation. Try to align yourself with a community of experienced donors and local organisations working directly with beneficiaries on the issues that you are keen to support. By coming together, you are better able to anticipate needs (and gaps in support), and can benefit from sharing resources and intelligence. Collaborating in this way is also more likely to be rewarding and engaging, providing support for you personally as you continue on this journey.

Longer term: learning lessons

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive our hate; only love can do that” Martin Luther King.

One of the most important roles that philanthropy can play in society is to shine a light on lessons learned and how we might reduce the likelihood of a similar tragedy happening again. Beyond the immediate human tragedy, wars also threaten democracy and the strength of civil society and are always linked to broader issues. Strategic philanthropists recognise this and will seek to build the institutions that contribute towards peace, freedom, human rights and equality.

Philanthropy can contribute to this space by funding the building and collation of evidence, and convening organisations and individuals to share insights across sectors. It can communicate these findings to appropriate audiences in a manner that helps hold people and organisations to account whilst also offering more constructive alternatives for the future. Philanthropists can use their voice, as well as their time and money to advocate for change and to demonstrate practical agency.

Staying well informed is key

It’s clear that there will be immediate, as well as medium and long-term ways for philanthropists to support those affected by this crisis. With the situation in Ukraine constantly evolving, staying informed will be vital.

Try to stay close to the local organisations who speak directly with affected communities and continue to talk to other donors and experienced advisers. Think carefully about the sources of your information. By regularly reassessing the political and the humanitarian landscape, you are best placed to partner with the organisations that are doing the most good.

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