co-authored with Andrii Parkhomenko (University of South California)
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has galvanized the free world. Governments across the globe have imposed sanctions on Russia and providing billions of dollars in aid to Ukrainians. Private companies and individuals have banded together to support Ukraine’s humanitarian needs. By some estimates, Ukraine has received almost $900 million in private donations.
But the humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine is only worsening as the conflict drags on. As we enter the fourth month of the war, it’s important to take stock and plan for a long-term, resilient and effective approach to sustained aid. Together with fellow leading Ukrainian economists, we’ve compiled suggestions on how to maximize the impact of individual donations and be sure you’re giving wisely.
Plan for the long haul
The need remains acute for donations to improve the well-being of those who are suffering and help those who defend them. The initial flood of aid has gradually declined, as individuals worldwide feel war fatigue. But it’s important to remember that Russia’s attacks don’t pause when we switch off the news. Ukrainian cities are shelled continuously, while war crimes are committed by Russians daily.
There are many ways to ensure that the donations we make have a long-term impact. Spread the word to friends and colleagues. Set up recurring contributions to the causes you support, so organizations can plan ahead. Use fewer natural gas and oil products, to help reduce the worldwide demand for Russian energy. Check your elected officials’ track records and, if they seem more concerned with their own electoral success than with helping Ukrainians, call or write to express your views. Do something to take an active anti-aggression stance each day, however small: this is a marathon, not a sprint.
To maximize impact, donate smart
To make every dollar count, we must allocate donations as efficiently as possible. It’s tempting to donate to large organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross—this is a mistake. First, large organizations are less efficient. They have bureaucratic procurement processes and may lack understanding of urgent on-the-ground needs, unlike smaller local agencies that are nimbler. Second, contrary to the popular belief that large international organizations are more “trustworthy,” they are not immune to controversy. In Ukraine, the International Committee of the Red Cross is perceived with deep skepticism because of its questionable promise to open an office in the Russian city of Rostov, where Russia is taking deported Ukrainians.
Does this mean we should be disheartened? Absolutely not. Ukraine has many reputable organizations that are more efficient than international NGOs. For example, Ukrainian nonprofits such as Come Back Alive and the fund started by the Kyiv School of Economics have well-established logistics to send aid where it’s most needed inside Ukraine. Come Back Alive offers transparent accounting down to the level of individual items on their website and has even managed to deliver aid into the blockaded Mariupol, something that most other organizations have not been able to achieve.
Treat the cause, not the effect
Finally, we need to think hard about where we want to direct our help: to end the war or to treat its consequences. Most people supporting Ukraine are deeply anti-war. It can be tempting to translate that sentiment into a preference for offering purely humanitarian help. But this logic is flawed. While humanitarian aid is crucial, donations to military causes help solve the root cause of civilian suffering. Every Russian missile shot down by an anti-missile weapon means dozens fewer civilians needing humanitarian care, or worse—being beyond the reach of any care.
Of course, private citizens have limited ability to crowdfund Ukraine’s military. Purchasing lethal weapons is in the purview of governments. However, when Russia invaded, the National Bank of Ukraine opened a direct account for donations to the Ukrainian military. And for those hoping to take advantage of the tax-deductible status of nonprofit organizations, there is ample opportunity to help supply more protective equipment. A large portion of the Ukrainian Army is made up of the Territorial Defense Forces, who are all volunteers and often lack proper equipment and protection. With the help of donors, Come Back Alive and the Kyiv School of Economics procure not only humanitarian aid, but also necessary items for both the regular army and the Territorial Defense Forces: helmets, body armor, drones and optics. This kind of help can make a meaningful difference now—before there are millions more injured and displaced people who will need our donations for years to come.
Anastassia Fedyk is an assistant professor of finance at the University of California – Berkeley Haas School of Business. Andrii Parkhomenko is an assistant professor in the Department of Finance and Business Economics at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. Andrii is Ukrainian and Anastassia is Ukrainian-American. Both are members of Economists for Ukraine, a group working to end Russia’s invasion and rebuild Ukraine.
Note: the authors are not affiliated with any of the organizations mentioned in the article and do not derive any personal interest from their activities.