Giving responsibly to Ukraine

Sending your stuff or making an AirBnB booking isn’t the best way to make your support count, and what charities can learn from giving to Ukraine.

We see it time and time again; disaster strikes (or in this case, a brutal invasion), and people want to act.  They feel powerless and are desperate to help.

They see a viral social media post about a local collection for ‘essential supplies’ with a van leaving soon, or an innovative idea to put money directly in the hands of Ukrainian people by renting out AirBnB rooms or homes for a week, and act (humanity restored! ).

But it makes little difference and may even make the situation worse! Here’s why.

Lorry loads of STUFF isn’t wanted or needed!

The Polish Government have asked for no more gifts in kind (stuff).  Why? Because stuff is a huge distraction from the real humanitarian effort.  It takes a huge amount of money and logistical effort to get tonnes of stuff from the UK to the western borders of Ukraine (remember we no longer have free movement of goods from the UK to the EU), not to mention the effort involved in unloading and distributing it.

There are now stories circulating of vans carrying supplies being turned away at Dover.

When working to support victims of Grenfell Tower, the British Red Cross had to sort through more than 170 tonnes of donated items (stuff), most of which was sent to Red Cross shops as it was surplus to requirements.

By the time the stuff gets to where people are, the need has changed and it then becomes a logistical nightmare of where to store it.  Humanitarian logistics expert Dale Herzog refers to the outpouring of stuff as “the disaster within the disaster”.

About those AirBnB bookings!

Viral posts are circulating suggesting we make a booking via AirBnB for a room or house in Ukraine.  Again, this feels like we’re making a difference, because we think that money is going directly to the people.

It’s not, your money is likely going to ONE person, if not an agency or corporation.

AirBnB is notorious for scammers, and as Simon Calder (Travel Editor) reminded us, you have no idea who the recipient is.

Even if the money does get to a Ukrainian in Ukraine, and they can somehow get to a working cash machine to withdraw it, what do you think they’re going to do with the money whilst holed-up in a bunker with shops running out of supplies?

But my biggest problem with this response is this …

The money stops there!

With a donation to a registered humanitarian aid agency your donation provides a ripple effect.

It provides aid to MANY people who desperately need it, WHEN and WHERE they need it.

Furthermore, supplies are typically bought locally, adding to the local economy.

So how best to help?

To individuals wanting to help, my advice is to stop and think about where your money can make the biggest difference.

I’d suggest the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), whose charities and local partners are already operating in Ukraine and western border countries.  They are experts in distributing aid safely and can scale up operations and respond to need as it changes.

What can charities learn about the public’s outpouring of support for Ukraine?

I have watched posts from people booking AirBnB and there’s a theme.

The owner invariably responds immediately with a direct, personalised and heart-felt thank you, telling the donor what a difference it will make to their family, which is then shared on social media.

See this example of above, of the problem, solution and impact side by side in one brilliant socially sharable image.

To charities big and small, working in local communities all over the world, please learn from this:

You must connect people to your cause by showing your work in action through stories, images and data about the difference you are making.

Tell stories of lives changed, share screenshots of emojis and thanks given, and give data on the difference this is making if you have it.

Make it public, personal, snappy, and socially sharable, and do it regularly.

The world needs help from charities more than ever, show them why!

Emma Insley


Emma has first-hand experience of the thrills and terrors of charity leadership. Dedicated to the non-profit sector for almost three decades, Emma has both depth and breadth of experience as a CEO, Consultant, Trustee and Chair, Fundraiser and Grants Assessor.

Thank you to Tim Tarby-Donald for helping to keep this article current.


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