Supply drive for Ukrainian refugees at Stony Brook University's Student...

Supply drive for Ukrainian refugees at Stony Brook University's Student Activities Center Wednesday. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

Europe’s largest land war since World War II is a humanitarian disaster, with the UN-affiliated International Organization for Migration estimating in a report this week that 12 million people in Ukraine are in need and 4 million people are expected to flee to neighboring countries.

They need water, sanitation, food and shelter, health and psychosocial support, according to the report.

Here are some questions and answers about donating.

Should I give money or supplies?

Consider giving money, rather than supplies.

Money "provides choice, often will go further, and there is a certain logistical glut created when supplies and items are donated," said Patricia McIlreavy, president of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

While displaced people will need items like toiletries, diapers and warm clothes, it doesn't necessarily make sense to ship those things from the United States. Often, McIlreavy said, they can be bought more cheaply locally and in the quantities required. The people you’re giving to may also feel more comfortable using products that are familiar to them.

What if I can’t donate much?

A lot of people giving a little can produce powerful outcomes, experts said.

"If everybody gives $5, it will make a really meaningful difference," said Kevin Scally, chief relationship officer for Charity Navigator, a watchdog that rates the effectiveness of U.S.-based charities.

You can also pool your money with other donors by using funds like CDP’s Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Recovery Fund or Global Giving’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund. These work like mutual funds for humanitarian assistance in Ukraine and countries where refugees are fleeing, serving a spectrum of needs. By pooling money from thousands of donors, they amass giving power far beyond what most individuals can match: Global Giving’s fund has a $15 million goal. The nonprofits running the funds select and vet charities on the ground in Ukraine and surrounding countries, easing the due diligence burden for donors.

Where should I donate?

Look for organizations with a track record, rather than individuals or unproven local groups. This is good practice for giving in general, but it’s even more important when the recipient organizations are operating in or near a conflict zone, McIlreavy said.

"When there’s a war, the responders themselves are targets," she said. Their work may be complicated by government sanctions and de-risking by banks and financial institutions terminating or restricting business relationships in the conflict zone. All of these reasons make it important to "choose a nonprofit who actually knows how to work in these conditions," she said.

Some, but not all U.S.-based organizations operating in Ukraine or surrounding countries are registered as tax-exempt organizations under section 501(c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code. These organizations must file annual information returns with the IRS that you can review before donating, and your donation will be tax deductible.

Guidestar and charitiesnys.com have tools for searching financial information. IRS registry doesn’t guarantee that an organization is effective or that it aligns with your goals as a donor, though. Charity Navigator has compiled a list of highly rated charities involved in relief, recovery and peace-building efforts in and around Ukraine, searchable by the category of aid an organization provides, like medical supplies or emergency housing.

What about scams?

"New Yorkers are eager to do their part to help the Ukrainian people, but scammers often take advantage of crises to exploit our generosity and compassion," New York State Attorney General Letitia James warned in a March 3 news release. Her office advises donors to contact any organization that sends an email solicitation before giving, and to be careful when giving through social media or other fundraising sites, which may host groups that haven’t been vetted. It also advises donors to ask how their gift will be used, and to avoid giving cash.

McIlreavy said donors should practice basic Internet wariness: double-check links and look for the .org domain name suffix traditionally used by nonprofit organizations. Be very wary of any website that misspells an organization’s name.

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