Promoting institutional philanthropy in Ukraine


Eugenia Mazurenko


In 2018, Zagoriy Foundation initiated the Giving Tuesday movement in Ukraine to promote charity and good deeds. One of the project’s partners – and one of the largest charitable foundations in Ukraine – is ‘Tabletochki’, an organisation focusing on helping children with cancer. Despite ‘institutional philanthropy’ appears to be a relatively new trend for Ukraine, it has snowballed in recent years, and ‘Tabletochki’ is soundproof of this fact.

In 2019 alone, ‘Tabletochki’ helped over 700 children directly. Medical equipment purchased by ‘Tabletochki’ will improve the quality of treatment for some 20,000 children annually. And then there are lasting benefits from the foundation’s advocacy, which are difficult to quantify in the number of lives saved but notable in the long run.

Yet, most Ukrainians do not donate to ‘Tabletochki’ or similar foundations. While over 60 per cent of Ukrainians help other people, either financially or by donating their time or resources, according to Zagoriy Foundation’s poll, only a fraction of the benefactors contributes to charities and foundations. By far, the single most popular way to give is by handing cash directly.

Raising awareness of the importance of institutional philanthropy and boosting the public’s trust in charitable foundations are at the core of Zagoriy Foundation’s mission – and our plans for 2021.

Institutional philanthropy over person-to-person help

Having worked on developing charity in Ukraine for six years now, Zagoriy Foundation has seen the benefits of institutional philanthropy acutely over ‘direct’ help.

No doubt, direct person-to-person help is helpful in various cases – a poor person knows best what they need, and those gravely ill probably need cash as soon as possible. Yet, in most cases, charitable foundations can provide the best value for a dollar donated.

That’s especially the case in Ukraine. While the Ukrainian public has grown to appreciate the importance of philanthropy, the culture of charitable giving still lags behind that of the Western countries, and the cases of charity fraud loom large. Foundations are important institutional actors that maximise the value of the resources donated and help guard against scams or inadequate use of money. Charitable organisations often have more effective ways to discover people who need help – and help them.

It’s not all about avoiding fraud and misappropriation, though. Charitable foundations’ key advantage is that they tackle complex, institutional problems instead of extinguishing the most immediate fires. Direct person-to-person help can be precious to specific individuals in need, but it will not solve the structural problems underpinning these concrete cases.

Advocacy is perhaps the best example here. Ukraine has strong examples of important advocacy work in the third sector. Zagoriy Foundation promotes the culture of giving and philanthropy in Ukraine and works on institution building in the charitable field. Other foundations are engaged in advocacy within their specific areas, from helping children with cancer in the case of ‘Tabletochki’ to promoting animal welfare in the ‘Open Cages‘ NGO. We need more organisations tackling structural tasks that no well-meaning person with spare cash could accomplish alone.

Finally, charitable foundations provide not only money but, often more importantly, effective help. It can range from searching for hard-to-find medications to providing important contacts to helping people with valuable advice. The benefits of institutions over specific individuals are undeniable from this perspective.

Improving foundations’ image in Ukraine

Despite the benefits of institutional philanthropy, foundations in Ukraine are often underfunded and under-resourced.

As I mentioned, over 60 per cent of Ukrainians are involved in some forms of charity (and it’s probably an undercount as the boundaries of charitable help are not often clear). Yet, Zagoriy Foundation’s national poll found that only seven per cent of those making financial donations contribute specifically to charitable foundations.

The second most popular way of donating, after direct person-to-person cash, is chipping in through donation boxes. While charities often run those, they are vulnerable to fraud or inadequate use of money.

A key reason for the problem is a lack of trust. The same poll finds that disbelief in charitable institutions is the most cited reason for refusing to donate after not having resources to give out in the first place.

Both the general public and representatives of the third sector agree that greater transparency of reporting and rules for providing help would be the key drivers in boosting trust and the spread of information about successful cases of charitable aid.

Eugenia Mazurenko is CEO of the Zagoriy Foundation.

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