The response of the Church, and Christians in general, to the war in Ukraine has been an outpouring of support in prayer and a desire to help practically. At Stewardship we have seen £1.8m in financial support for charities working in the area and know of many churches taking up special offerings to be able to contribute. One example was a conversation we had with a Christian ministry whose support for work in Ukraine had rocketed from under £20,000 in a year to over £50,000 in 4 weeks. This is only a small element of the river of generosity that is flowing.
As the war heads towards its third month, it is clear this crisis is not going to be over quickly. Whatever happens on the battlefield and negotiating rooms, there will be a massive need to support Ukrainians for a long while to come. This means that a long-term view is needed to manage the ‘river of generosity’ so that it does not get poured into ‘leaky buckets’.
To mix metaphors; firstly, there are plenty of sharks out there and secondly, not all forms of aid are actually helpful on the ground.
The aim of this article is to help churches and Christian charities focus on being wise about how they apply the funds (or goods) given.
Some points to consider:
- How well do you know who you are giving to?
- Do you know where they are? (It makes a lot of difference which part of the Ukraine they are, whether its in the west of the country, in or near the battle-zone or even in the East which is controlled by separatist or Russian forces.)
- Do you know their circumstances and what the real need is currently? (It may not be money to buy things.)
- What size of organisation and what infrastructure does it have? (Some projects are best done by smaller local groups and some by larger better resourced ones.)
- Are there safeguarding issues in the way things operate? (War zones and refugee groups are chaotic places, but we must also be aware that they are potentially places where those who should be helping and protecting are not always what we think they are!)
- Is money handled well? (Or does money ‘leak’ because there aren’t enough people to administer it well? Or is part of what is needed extra people to make sure it is?)
- Are there others doing the same thing in the same place? (If so, is it better to support them than to start something new?)
- Is there mutual agreement on what the money will be used for? (Sometimes givers think it will be used one way and the receivers use it in a completely differently way, sometimes seeing it as ‘personal support’. Expect to ask for the planned use – maybe in the form of a simple budget.)
- What feedback are you expecting to receive on the use of the gifts? (This will depend on the use of the funds. But feedback is expected by UK regulators, as well as accountability; albeit remembering that in crisis times this may be thought secondary – see our paper: A guide to churches giving overseas)
- How are you sure the money is actually getting to the far end? This is particularly the case if various steps are being used to get the money to the end user. (NB: it is often wiser to give smaller amounts more frequently than a large chunk into what may be uncertain and fast changing circumstances.)
- Remember that there are sanctions in place. It is possible, especially if funds are being given to areas of Russian or separatist control, that you will have to consider this issue.
- Is there the documentation that is needed for UK regulation? (e.g. HMRC have specific requirements when charities give overseas – we would strongly recommend having some form of written grant agreement for this sort of overseas giving or grant making.)
- Where unusual risks are being taken because the crisis demands it, have the trustees weighed those risks and assessed (and documented) the alternatives and choices made? (NB: sometimes risks need to be taken. An organisation that does nothing involving risk normally does nothing useful at all!)
- When appealing for money, remember that the terms of the appeal become the terms on which the money is held (‘the restricted fund’). It is normally wise to make this ‘wide’ to allow for changes on what is required (see our paper on Financial appeals)
As the Charity Commission put it: ‘If your charity receives a sudden, significant, increase in funding to help respond to the crisis in Ukraine, it is important that, as trustees, you carefully consider the practical implications for your charity. This is all the more important if you are a smaller charity and the proportionate increase in your funding is very large.’
The Charity Commission have useful guidance for charities in this area which we recommend.
Related to this, Stewardship has published a blog on what to consider when UK charities receive funds from abroad, or large gifts from previously unknown donors.
Remember that it is possible that a different way of working may be required given the types of need and the amounts being given. Also, the changing situation and challenges in some cases mean it may be better (and faster) to give to established charities who have developed strategies for working in their different areas.
Stewardship have been busy vetting and assessing ministries and charities working in and around the Ukraine and with Ukrainian refugees as part of our Rapid Response work on this crisis. Have a look here.
The church is called ‘the light of the world’ and at this time of darkness and crisis we are called to share what we have with those in need. Let us do so with radical generosity but also with wisdom.