Why Nonprofits are Losing Donations to Airbnb in Ukraine
And what we must to better
As I write this, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has displaced over 1.5 million people. Multiple cities, including ones where friends of mine live and others grew up, are either completely captured or being bombarded. Innocent lives are being lost. Others can’t get basic goods to sustain themselves.
There are dozens of nonprofits responding to the situation, working to help as many people as they can (see my short list below).
So why are people booking Airbnbs in Ukraine, even though it’s probably a TERRIBLE idea?
Why people are ignoring nonprofits
In storytelling for fundraising we talk a lot about the limits of empathy and the concept of a donor-sized problem.
It boils down to this: None of us can make an empathetic connection 1.5 million displaced people. We can’t see or even imagine all their faces. And each of us feels helpless when it comes to saving all of them.
So we look for creative ideas. We look for individuals or families we can connect to. We look for ways we can personally get the feeling—that dopamine release—of making a difference.
There are many stories, picked up by the media, of people booking Airbnbs around Ukraine and then messaging the host that they have no intention of staying there, but they can keep the money. There are stories of personal conversations with hosts, crying from gratitude for the gift. It checks all the boxes.
If you’re a concerned individual, please resist the urge when it comes to this Airbnb idea, as well-intentioned as it might be.
First, you’re giving money to one individual, hoping that they will use it in a way that you would agree with.
Second, an organization that is organized and experienced in helping in these situations is going to leverage expertise and economies of scale to help a lot more people. Sure, they may be hard to visualize, but they are reputable and (hopefully) accountable.
Lastly, as someone who has been to Kyiv (Kiev) and other cities in Ukraine multiple times, I’ll tell you that Airbnbs are businesses and businesses are often not as scrupulous in Eastern Europe as you might hope. You really don’t know to whom your money is going.
Ukraine, like most post-Soviet countries is still grappling with an economic philosophy of kleptocracy. There are millions of wonderful honest people in Ukraine. Most of them are not trying to Airbnb their meager apartments or homes right now.
A plea to nonprofit leaders
Please learn from this.
Tell better stories.
Tell stories of individuals or families. Tell us stories that we can relate to. Tell us stories that empower us to make a difference, rather than powerless against a force we can’t affect.
Create a connection between donors and the individuals being impacted by your work, regardless of your cause.
Nonprofits supporting Ukraine’s efforts and victims
Here is the short list that I send out when people ask me which organizations I recommend.*
- HIAS Refugee fund
- Razom for Ukraine
- Holocaust Survivor Support (via The Good People Fund)
- World Central Kitchen
The National Bank of Ukraine is actually accepting funds directly**
- Armed Forces Fund: https://bank.gov.ua/en/news/all/natsionalniy-bank-vidkriv-spetsrahunok-dlya-zboru-koshtiv-na-potrebi-armiyi
- Humanitarian Fund: https://bank.gov.ua/en/news/all/natsionalniy-bank-vidkriv-rahunok-dlya-gumanitarnoyi-dopomogi-ukrayintsyam-postrajdalim-vid-rosiyskoyi-agresiyi
* Please note that I cannot vouch for all of them personally, although I do have personal experience with some of them.
** This is not a nonprofit and does not offer much in the way of transparency.