Daniel Ferrell-Schweppenstedde

Former Policy and Public Affairs Manager

Charities Aid Foundation


What more can funders do to help in Ukraine?

1 April 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 shocked the world. In just the first few months, the UN estimated that 10 million civilians fled from their homes, including 3.5 million who went abroad.

In the face of immense human suffering, the response of civil society has been tremendous. The Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal from the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) raised more than £200m in its first two weeks. This makes it the second biggest since the DEC’s first major appeal in 1996.

Beyond the initial outpouring of generosity, many are now asking what more can be done. Here are some considerations for donors wanting to do more:

Providing humanitarian aid is urgently needed but also complicated

Large humanitarian aid organisations are most likely to be able to operate at scale and provide longer-term support. But even the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is in an increasingly difficult position to work in embattled areas, considering the duty of care towards their staff.

But relief organisations strive to continue to provide aid, reaching deep into communities in the face of immediate danger, and have decades’ worth of experience in operating in conflict situations. Supporting organisations with experience and expertise is recommended in unstable and rapidly changing situations.


Funders can look for where they can add value on the local level

Donors can support local communities by identifying local leaders and organisations embedded in communities, including faith-based charities. There may be gaps in the large scale response, and organisations can be found who understand the specific context of war and displacement in Ukraine.

There are also many organisations in neighbouring countries which have ties to communities across the border. Funding them to support others could present a safe route for resources to help newly-arrived refugees.

Map the gaps and think about infrastructure

Understanding the needs and resources on the ground will serve to improve the coordination and, most importantly, the impact of the humanitarian response we have seen. Local civil society needs to have the measures and the tools in place to be able to absorb funding for both the immediate and the longer term. But the war has dismantled many of the resources that civil society relies on. Infrastructure will need to be rebuilt to ensure funding reaches communities safely and is used effectively.

Philanthropic organisations and other larger donors can be nimble, assess gaps in the essential response from large funding, and think strategically about how to support efforts over years to come. There is at least a decade’s worth of rebuilding to be done that will need huge philanthropic investment.

Don’t forget about the rest of the world

Although the news is focused on Ukraine, there are unfortunately many ongoing humanitarian situations around the world needing support. DEC’s Afghanistan Crisis appeal is still raising money to help malnourished women and children against the backdrop a difficult winter and political instability. Conflict continues in Yemen and Ethiopia and food insecurity and drought hang over the Horn of Africa.


Apply the lessons of the pandemic

One of the few positives to come from the pandemic was funders' ability to give in a flexible, fast and trust-based way.

For some institutional funders, their charitable mission might come with restrictions that prevent them from giving towards aid efforts. But pooling funding could be a solution here. Donor Advised Funds (DAFs) can be a flexible tool, as they can fund various causes. For instance, CAF America have recently launched Corporate Aid for Ukraine, a charitable fund spearheaded by the American Chamber of Commerce in Poland in cooperation with several other leading business organisations.

Giving larger funds will increase efficiency and could be useful when giving to organisations in neighbouring countries that can either operate across borders or grant onwards to smaller, frontline groups. Giving over time of smaller, targeted funds to a set of organisations could be one a way to deal with risks when giving directly to those operating on the ground.

Transferring funds into Ukraine is difficult but possible

Some organisations are still present in Ukraine, and some are set up with structures outside of the country. Giving should be quick and compliant. Working with intermediaries and partner organisations in neighbouring countries can be a way of transferring resources into Ukraine.

There are also other countries that need support to help cope with the surge of refugees who have arrived. CAF’s network partner BCause in Bulgaria has partnered with the Association of Ukrainian Organisations in Bulgaria to deliver aid directly to people in the west of the country. It is also supporting refugees through employee payroll giving. CAF America also lists charity partners in the Ukraine, as well as neighbouring countries, that they have been working with, and the Zagoriy Foundation, is also coordinating non-profit organisations in Ukraine.

Tackling the impact of the hidden war

Information is proving to be a key battleground in this crisis. Donors can help to challenge misinformation and seek out independent, objective and trustworthy information. They can also help fund dedicated fact-checking organisations – in particular in neighbouring countries where the media may be fragile and citizens need reliable information.

Build emergency response into your strategy

Having some contingency in your funding strategy can help to account for ‘the next crisis’. This includes setting up a giving method that can be used quickly. An example of this could be a business  with an established trust and complementary payroll giving scheme that can be used instantly when an emergency occurs, allowing them to response at speed.

History has taught us that crises can have long tails. It is acceptable and, in some cases, prudent for potential funders to take some time and look at the longer term. Donors can use the momentum of today to build funds for a later date, potentially earmarked for particular projects such as health or education. No one doubts that the need to rebuild will remain long after the war is over. As long as the funding reaches those most in need at different stages of this crisis, it will be worthwhile.

Some useful resources:

Thank you to partners at Philea for useful insights which have contributed to this article.

Philanthropy for Ukraine showcases what funders can do, and NGOs for Ukraine (ngoforukraine.eu) is a matching portal where local and international organisations can make a pitch for funding.

Candid also have useful insights into the philanthropy response and considerations for donors, and HRFN has highlighted human rights gaps in funding.