In an effort to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees to the U.S., the Biden administration launched “Uniting for Ukraine,” a “streamlined process for Ukrainian citizens who have been displaced by Russia’s aggression to apply for humanitarian parole.” Charitable organizations here in America will be instrumental in offering assistance to Ukrainians arriving in this country in the coming weeks and months – and will help provide services such as housing, food, English lessons, and employment.
The American philanthropic spirit beckons us to help in times of crisis by going above and beyond our typical giving to support causes like this one. Our current global moment in history sometimes feels like we’re moving from one crisis to another—from COVID-19 to natural disasters to social causes and now to the war in Ukraine. We are seeing appeals for donations coming at us from all angles, and we want to help. How should we navigate how and where to give?
While you have the freedom to choose when, where, and how to give, consider seeking out ways to give with maximum impact. Gifts of cash provide the flexibility that is most effective in helping those with immediate needs and is crucial during the early days or weeks of a crisis. But donors should also consider options that will continue to meet needs that arise later, gifts that will provide long-term assistance as individuals and communities recover from their losses.
Whether you are making gifts as an individual or through a foundation or business, there are causes that are especially important to you. Even if you haven’t established your giving priorities—and we at Philanthropy Roundtable recommend donors do this in writing—you have values and passions that guide your generosity. A good first step in considering where to give is to look for opportunities to make a difference in those areas of great need that matter most to you and where you have some expertise. Consider chef José Andrés who is on the ground in Poland serving food to Ukrainian refugees with the help of his team from World Central Kitchen in Washington, D.C. Your own passion and experience may be in childcare, mental health, or transportation—all of which are sorely needed in many crisis situations.
Our ability to give freely enables us to provide many different types of support during crises. At the same time, we need to think carefully about how to match our resources with the greatest needs and the most effective ways to deliver necessary services. Everything from GoFundMe campaigns to international relief organizations are open to receiving money right now to help in the war relief efforts in Ukraine. We have an overwhelming desire to help, but how do we navigate the many available choices? Which organizations are going to utilize donations in ways that will actually assist the people who most need help?
You can start with organizations you already support or those you have previously supported. You will still want to do your research, but you’ll already be familiar with their programs and can see how they are helping in the current crisis. This may mean looking at what your own religious organizations and institutions are doing, especially those who are already partnered with groups on the ground. We’ve already seen how The Jewish Federations of North America, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, and others are working with Ukrainian partners to provide relief and aid right now.
If you’re assessing new opportunities for giving, do some due diligence to ensure that not only is the organization or group you’re supporting aligned with your mission for giving, but that they communicate clearly and publicly how funding is being used. In addition to knowing your options, you should also understand the risks involved with certain investments. Given the ease of using intermediaries like GoFundMe and other online platforms, you may decide to start small in your giving to see how the funds are used before committing all your giving to one recipient.
If you are making a gift through a private foundation, remember that there is no longer an excise tax penalty for ramping up giving in one year and then returning to its typical rate of giving. No matter how much you extend the foundation’s crisis grantmaking, the annual excise tax rate remains 1.39%. And electronic transfers, which became a popular alternative to paper checks during the pandemic, can ensure that foundation grants are put to use in a shorter timeframe. You may also consider using a donor-advised fund to respond to the Ukrainian crisis. DAFs are an effective and efficient tool for such giving and – as public charities – their sponsoring organizations can respond more quickly to move money internationally.
The resources of your business are also valuable in crisis response. Levi Strauss is one example. The Levi Strauss Foundation has made cash gifts to relief organizations, while the company is matching employee donations and also sending jackets, backpacks and warm clothing to organizations working with displaced persons. While we may not all be Elon Musk with the ability to provide Starlink satellites or chef Andrés with his World Central Kitchen, you and your company can use your business expertise and resources to provide short-term and long-term relief.
The United States is the most charitable nation in the world. The current outpouring of relief for Ukraine and its people is the latest manifestation of our common desire to give to others when they are in need. As you look to support aid for refugees, medical assistance, the care of children separated from their families, or other causes that call out to you, be both wise and flexible. Give where your heart and mind tell you it will do the most good. Consider both immediate needs and those that will arise in what will surely be a long period of recovery and rebuilding. Be alert for fraudulent solicitations, but don’t allow cynicism to overwhelm your natural impulse to help. Give if you can.