Ukraine, which marks six months of full-scale conflict with Russia on Wednesday, has worried in the past a prolonged war could erode the West’s resolve to help the country resist Moscow’s aggression.
While western governments have committed to continued support for Ukraine in the war — evident by Canada’s sanctions announcement on Tuesday and billions of dollars earmarked by the U.S. — individual financial donations to relief efforts in the country have dropped off over time despite an ongoing need for help, some charities say. One of those charities is the Canada-Ukraine Foundation (CUF).
“In the days, weeks and months that followed the invasion on Feb. 24, CUF saw an overwhelming outpouring of support across Canada, for which we are sincerely grateful,” said Orest Sklierenko, president and CEO of CUF, in an email.
“At this time, the war shows no signs of slowing down, and the need for humanitarian aid is immense, thus CUF’s critical mission of delivering humanitarian assistance is as important as ever.”
Why have donations in support of Ukraine dropped?
When the war broke out in February, donations to Ukraine relief efforts through CanadaHelps, a charity that helps connect charities and donors online, were immense.
Of the 133 charities on its site collecting funds for Ukraine, $24.7 million has been raised to date, said Shannon Craig, chief marketing officer and head of donor marketing with CanadaHelps, in an email.
The majority of those funds came in the first weeks of the war. Between Feb. 19 and March 31, roughly $18.3 million was raised for charities on CanadaHelps. The average daily amount received in that timeframe was $457,154.
Since then, the “drop in donations is extreme,” Craig said. In July, $349,534 was donated to Ukraine campaigns through CanadaHelps. The average daily amount received that month was $11,275.
Canadians are still donating daily, but the decrease in donation activity is similar to that of other humanitarian crises in the past, Craig added.
“Crisis fundraising often follows the trends of the news cycle. As updates or major milestones come to the surface, so does an increase in giving,” Craig said.
“However, the volume of those opportunities and the ongoing need in Ukraine is unavoidably disproportionate. As we continue down the road of advocacy for those in Ukraine, we continue to encourage all Canadians to stay involved in the solution.”
Many factors influence fundraising activity over time, said Cindy Chan, an assistant professor of marketing with the University of Toronto Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management.
For example, donation levels can be strong at the onset of a crisis due to the shakeup of normalcy, she said, adding that over time, some people can become desensitized to the news.
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“(When) we become used to a crisis, we become less sensitive to a change in that crisis, whereas in the beginning, we … were very sensitive to the change,” she said.
“It doesn’t elicit that strong feeling of crisis and sympathy that we felt six months ago.”
Canadian charities seeing similar trends
At the CUF, which established the Ukrainian Humanitarian Appeal alongside the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) on Jan. 27, it’s seeing a “trickle of donations coming in and larger cheques arrive once in a while, but it definitely is not at the level we saw in February and March,” Sklierenko said.
In the early days, CUF was averaging “several hundred thousands” in donations daily. It has garnered about $43 million in donations to date, $22 million of which has been spent or committed in the last 180 days, Sklierenko added. CUF is announcing a $1 million pledge for the war’s six-month anniversary and hopes to see a return to more robust support.
Meanwhile, at Save the Children Canada, $1.9 million was raised through its Ukraine appeal between Feb. 25 and April 15. The campaign is now closed but, when it opened, Canadians were quick to donate. However, it eventually did see a drop in web traffic and donations over time, a spokesperson said.
The organization did raise enough to respond to the crisis for the coming months, the spokesperson said, adding it has since directed Canadians to a broader campaign that collects funds to help children impacted by different crises across the globe.
At the Canadian Red Cross, $191 million has been raised to date through its Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Appeal, which received a matching contribution from the federal government of $30 million. A spokesperson didn’t address current donation activity but said the Red Cross will be there to support Ukraine as long as it’s needed.
Donation levels for UNICEF Canada’s Ukraine aid campaign are “stable,” a spokesperson said. UNICEF Canada has raised more than $12 million since Jan. 25 to help support children in Ukraine.
Anniversaries such as the six-month mark in the Ukraine war can re-motivate donors to give, but charities constantly need to work on their messaging to keep activity stable, Chan said.
“Now there is a challenge from these charities to shift the messaging and positioning and address people’s thinking of how long and how often they should be giving for this particular cause,” she said.
“That’s a challenge – it’s kind of repositioning the need in the mind of the donor.”
Donation drop doesn't mean support isn't there
To see some donations drop is concerning, said Ihor Michalchyshyn, CEO and executive director at the UCC. But that doesn’t mean support for Ukraine has dwindled in Canada.
Canadians, he said, have been generous in helping Ukrainian refugees settle in the country, be it from helping them find a place to live or assisting them with integration. The federal government has committed billions in financial and military aid to Ukraine. Organizations are also implementing programming overseas with funds raised to help Ukrainians impacted by the war, he added.
“Part of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s thinking is that we in the West, as individuals and as governments, will tire of this and that we’ll get distracted and that we’ll walk away or lessen the support,” he said.
“While it’s no longer the first or second news story, I think that in our hearts and minds we need to continue to stand with Ukraine very closely and ensure that that kind of malaise or disinterest doesn’t take hold, and I haven’t seen that yet.”
Going forward, individuals and their governments need to think about Ukraine with a long-term mindset given it’s not clear when the war will end, Michalchyshyn added.
“To Canadians, we say thank you for the hundreds of millions of dollars of generosity they’ve given and the personal generosity to welcome Ukrainians here in Canada. All of that is needed and useful, but we need to remember that the war goes on every day,” he said.
“Our best efforts here are just able to sort of help those who’ve been able to flee, and so we need to remember that until the war ends, there’s going to be more people fleeing and our generosity will be required.”