I was able to make my donation with confidence because I am a nonprofit scholar who has studied giving in disasters and other crises.
Most I’ve studied how charities help local communities after events like hurricanes and earthquakes, rather than war zones. But I am also a human being, with Ukrainian friends and colleagues. Empathy and a personal connection to a cause are often what motivates donors to act.
You can choose wisely which causes are likely to do the most good in the midst of this humanitarian crisis by give head as well as your heart. Here are the five guidelines I follow in my own giving decisions:
5 guidelines for donors
1) Send money to organizations, not strangers
Crowdfunding and social media fundraising campaigns have become so common that when I recently searched GoFundMe, it turned up 1,008 separate calls for help for individuals, families or Ukraine-related causes.
Most were posted by individuals, and I have no doubt that some will turn out to be wrong.
2) Vet groups you don’t know about before donating to them
A useful shortcut is to search for organizations that have been endorsed by others. I tried a simple keyword search “Ukrainian charities”, and that was enough to find a few promising lists posted by media.
A good place to start your investigation of US-based registered charities is the Internal Revenue Service. It also ensures that you are give to the right group, rather than another organization with a deceptively similar name. Many scammers abuse the name recognition of established nonprofits, hoping you won’t notice the difference.
3) Donate to charities with a proven track record in Ukraine
Some examples include Razom for Ukraine, which carries out various cultural and democratization initiatives. Another is UNICEF, a United Nations agency that protects children around the world and is well placed not only to provide immediate relief, but also to pressure Russia to allow unrestricted humanitarian access. Because these groups have already established local relationships, trust and infrastructure, they are likely better able to operate in these dire circumstances than the charities that are springing up now or those still mobilizing on the other side of the world.
4) Shipping money, not goods
Do not pack your spare clothes or other supplies and ship them to Eastern Europe please. Ukraine’s fragile supply lines must remain open for medicine and food. And while there is a time and a place to limit a gift to a specific purpose, a humanitarian crisis is not the right time. Trust the people a charity has on the ground to know which needs are the highest priority.
5) Give gifts that reflect your values
Giving is deep psychological act. Effective – and satisfied – donors act on values important to them.
Buck the Aerial Myth
Many indications of what makes charities good or bad to support can be misleading.
A common piece of advice that I recommend you ignore is that donors should always support charities that spend the least amount of money on their overhead – things like rent and administrative costs.
Even major charity rating and review sites, such as Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, continue to rely in part on the obsolete assumption that nonprofits with low overhead are automatically more efficient and let donor money spread further.
Not only can reasonable overhead help non-profit organizations build their capacitybut a lot studies have shown that pinching pennies to satisfy flawed donor assumptions can weaken nonprofits, especially in the long run.
Some charity rating websites provide valuable information. Charity Navigator has a helpful “tips” page that alerts donors to nonprofit misconduct. But to research American charities supporting the Ukraine crisis, I recommend Candid, formerly known as Guidestar. It assesses charities based on broader performance measures, such as transparency, good governance practices and results.
A better signal of efficiency than low overhead will be a responsive organization with real humans ready to answer your questions. He must also have a track record of working well with others and communicating clearly about how he spends donor money.
Groups worthy of support are also likely to emphasize their results in their annual reports and other documents. Especially if you intend to make a large donation, you may find that the charity Forms 990 – documents required by the IRS – contain a lot of useful information.
Make a choice
I hope you will also consider giving and, like me, will stick with your support. the the need will continue long after Ukraine is no longer in the headlines.[Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.]