Donors wishing to support humanitarian relief efforts for the Ukrainian people will have no trouble finding humanitarian organizations that will accept their money. But in times of crisis, there are two major lessons that philanthropists must understand to ensure they are giving to legitimate charities that are making an impact where it is needed most.
From the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the people of Poland have been on the front lines of the humanitarian response. Polish families have opened their doors to refugees, housing over 2.5 million fleeing the violence without needing to set up refugee camps. Polish companies, which work within logistical networks reaching into and across Ukraine, leapt into action to create supply routes into areas running low on critical food and medical supplies.
At the very important, very packed Ukraine Humanitarian Coordination Conference in Warsaw on April 5 – organized by the U.S. Embassy – even the most senior officer of the United Nations for Ukrainian humanitarian relief declared that during natural disasters, wars and other calamities, the private sector of small and large businesses are almost always among the first responders: ‘They know the terrain, have supply chains already in place, and have people on the ground.’
Inspired by the groundswell of mutual aid and generosity of the Polish people, the American Chamber of Commerce in Poland (AmCham Poland), came together with a small team of US expatriate executives to launch Corporate Aid for Ukraine in March. It is a rapid-response, front-line charitable initiative for the explicit purpose of providing immediate humanitarian aid to Ukrainians, both in-country and for those who have become refugees. CAU partnered with Charities Aid Foundation America (CAF America), a US charity and international grantmaking intermediary, to create the Corporate Aid for Ukraine Fund, a donor-advised fund that provides a way to collect donations from around the world. As we now begin to focus on the important work of coordinating aid, there are two key lessons that we urge donors to keep in mind as they choose how they want to support Ukrainians in need.
First, donors should understand that resources are needed at all levels of the humanitarian response. While large NGOs and government initiatives will shoulder the lion’s share of both the immediate and long-term needs of Ukraine – and have already fundraised hundreds of millions of dollars – resources are desperately needed elsewhere. Local organizations in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, and other countries are currently carrying the humanitarian response on their shoulders, and CAU was created to deliver donations from US donors to Polish organizations working on the front line. These are organizations that can take donated funds and put them to work next week, not in months. We strongly encourage all donors looking to support humanitarian efforts to consider support for these smaller, more targeted charities that bring critically needed first response assistance of food, medicine and shelter.
Second, donors need to know that not all groups asking for donations are created equal. In times of emergency, philanthropists will be bombarded by requests for support from organizations and initiatives of all sorts. The emotionally charged atmosphere can lead to some donors giving instinctively, without doing their due diligence. Donors should be aware that fraudsters are already using this dynamic to scam well-meaning philanthropists. Before making any donation to help Ukrainian refugees, it is smart to verify that your donations will go to a reputable organization. Checking for a valid registration number or doing a quick internet search to confirm their ability to deliver what they promise can be effective first steps. Alternatively, donors can work with an experienced partner (such as CAF America) to conduct more thorough reviews or to give to charities that have been pre-vetted for full regulatory compliance.
With CAF America’s leadership in international donor-advised giving, AmCham Poland’s on-the-ground infrastructure, and support from leaders like AmCham Honorary Chairman and U.S. Ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski, we were able to jumpstart the creation of the CAU Fund in under a week, providing the funding vehicle needed to power high-return response efforts. The Fund serves as a valuable supplement to ongoing international humanitarian efforts, allowing donors to make their donations and then see their impact in only a few weeks’ time.
CAF America and AmCham Poland are proud to lead on this effort, facilitating contributions to the CAU Fund and reassuring donors that their contributions will be handled in a way that emphasizes regulatory compliance, mitigates risk and, therefore, protects donors’ reputations – and most importantly delivers targeted local impact.
John P. Lynch is the Founder of Corporate Aid for Ukraine (CAU) and currently serves as Treasurer and Board Member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Poland. Ted Hart is President and CEO of CAF America, President of CAF Canada and CEO of CAF International.