How governments are stepping up aid to Ukraine

The humanitarian emergency in Ukraine has sparked a global outpouring of support. In times of crisis, the feeling that you are helplessly watching atrocities is partially alleviated when there are actually ways to help, at least a little.

Why is this important: This impulse is philanthropic. All philanthropies are constantly on the lookout for government funding – and in this case, the government funding is already there, to the tune of billions of dollars. This can change the calculation of where to donate.

How it works: Generally speaking, individuals help Ukraine in two different ways.

  1. Go small: Will buy Amazon Wish Lists. send parcels. Donate Bitcoin. Book Airbnb. Transfer money directly to individuals. Helping teams find refuge in Poland for Grandmother.
  2. Go big: Find an organization committed to helping millions of Ukrainians, not just a few, and donate to them. When in doubt, look up the alphabet soup: ICRC, IFRC, WFP, SHOUT, UNICEF.

go small has the advantage that it is much easier to see or imagine how your donation can help a specific person. It feels real and concrete.

go big means economies of scale and a greater likelihood of reaching groups that don’t have online connections. Often the people most in need can be the hardest to find. Big organizations like IRC also donate money directly.

The big picture: The vast majority of aid to Ukraine comes from governments, not individuals. They mobilized sums that would be impossible to obtain from the private sector.

Be smart: When individuals donate to a major international organization, they are not just supporting efforts on the ground. They also support these organizations’ efforts to raise funds from governments around the world – efforts that, in the case of Ukraine, have already raised billions of dollars and have the potential to raise billions more.

  • Ask yourself this: Would you rather spend $100,000 for the needy in Ukraine, or spend $100,000 to persuade the US government to allow another $100 million for the needy in Ukraine? With donations to places like WFP or IRC, your money is used both ways, where it can best be used.

How it works: Consider United States WFP, the US fundraising arm of the United Nations World Food Programme. About 62% of the money it raises goes to WFP, which currently has an ambitious plan providing food and cash to over 3 million people in Ukraine. There are also two other parts to his assignment:

  • The communications function aims to try “to broaden U.S. government and private sector support for solving world hunger.”
  • The political office is designed to educate “members of Congress and other officials about the issues of world hunger.”

What is happening: The US government has already given WFP more than $50 million for its efforts in Ukraine, easily eclipsing all private sector donations to WFP USA combined. In total, the US government gave $3.8 billion to WFP in 2021, more than 60 times the amount raised by WFP USA that year.

Between the lines: Sometimes it can seem like high-profile ad campaigns from places like IRC are costing money that could otherwise be spent directly on refugees. But these campaigns don’t just raise money, they generate support at the grassroots level — support that can end up being worth billions when trying to extract money from Congress.

The bottom line: If you want to maximize the amount of humanitarian aid provided to Ukraine and the rest of the world, a great way to do that is to get the U.S. government to match your donation at 60 to 1.

Editor’s note: This article was first published on April 7.

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