Ukrainian social and charitable projects have made giant leaps over the past decade. Since 2014, Ukrainians have built a robust system of volunteer networks and charitable organizations that help the army, relieve poverty, and provide medical help.
Still, most charitable giving in Ukraine goes to ‘firefighting’ – solving the most urgent problems of the day, from helping the troops to providing medical assistance amid the pandemic.
While incredibly important, humanitarian causes are often one-time solutions, temporary patches that do not solve the underlying problem. To achieve the greatest cumulative effect, Ukrainian NGOs and charities need to invest in the long-term perspective.
That’s what Zagoriy Foundation is working on in Ukraine. We launched and supported over 60 projects, having spent over 56 million UAH on charitable projects in Ukraine. Our mission is to develop a culture of giving in Ukraine – both to invest in the long-term perspective and to teach others how to do it.
Advancing philanthropy for long-term causes
Ukrainians agree – charity is crucial. According to a 2019 poll, nine in ten Ukrainians think charitable giving is important, and 60 per cent perceive it as vital.
A rapid shift came in 2014, the year Ukraine was attacked by Russia, millions of people were displaced, and thousands died in military conflict. Facing an existential crisis, Ukrainians had to create new structures to help those in need quickly. The development of charity since 2014 has been remarkable.
Half a dozen years later, Ukrainians mostly contribute to humanitarian causes that provide direct help. Assistance to people with serious illnesses is by far the most widespread field of charity practices (50 per cent), followed by help for the army (18 per cent). 13 per cent of benefactors help their church or religious organization, and slightly more people donate to socially vulnerable groups. Out of the categories of people Ukrainians view as most deserving help, orphans and people with serious illnesses are on the top of the list.
At the same time, only two per cent of Ukrainians point their charitable contribution towards educational infrastructure. Ecology and environmental causes enjoy support by only four per cent of respondents. All of these fields are critical to long-term development of the country, but they lack both resources and attention from potential donors.
As the stage of making charitable giving important to most Ukrainians is behind us, one of crucial challenges for the NGO sector is advancing philanthropy beyond dire humanitarian issues and towards long-term development causes.
Part of the solution here is institution building. According to a poll of experts and leaders in the charity field, Ukraine has a weak level of institutional charity. Over 60 per cent of Ukrainians are benefactors in some way, and probably still more people engage in charity more indirectly, helping others in various non-financial ways. Yet, out of those making monetary donations, less than 10 per cent fund charitable organizations directly.
A crucial task here is to promote popular confidence in institutions. A major reason for Ukrainians’ refusing to donate is the lack of trust. To change the situation, we could use more success stories of charitable organizations. Perhaps more importantly, we need to grow a culture where donors and philanthropic organizations are viewed as an inherent part of the society, one with deep historical roots and high relevance for the society.
Sustainability over one-time solutions
Humanitarian initiatives are incredibly important. They help ameliorate dire problems and close gaps not covered by the government or other institutions. Yet, one-time solutions are not enough. That’s why we at Zagoriy Foundation are working to promote the culture of giving.
Capacity building is an important vector here. NGOs and initiatives are often under-staffed and under-resourced, and the pandemic has not made the situation any better.
We want to help Ukrainian charities spread the word about themselves. Dozens or even hundreds of small organizations do tremendous work, but many lack the time and experience to tell the world.
For example, in late 2020, our team held three offline workshops devoted to this topic – we shared our expertise on how small initiatives can use the media and digital tools to spread information. Over 200 nonprofit specialists took part in these workshops.
This March, Zagoriy Foundation is running a grant contest aimed at developing communications for social projects. We will support initiatives helping solve the problem of trust in charitable institutions and communicating social projects to broad audiences. For example, we will award grants for creative communications or fundraising activities helping spread the world about charity or for conducting research into developing the culture of giving.
For society to advance, we need a culture of philanthropy – and strong institutions that would support it.
Eugenia Mazurenko is Executive Director of the Zagoriy Foundation