An open letter to international donors and NGOs who want to genuinely help Ukraine
An open letter to international donors and NGOs who want to genuinely help Ukraine

An open letter to international donors and NGOs who want to genuinely help Ukraine

This letter originally appears on the website of the National Network of Local Philanthropy Development in Ukraine. To add your signature to this letter – as an individual or as an organization – visit this link

If not now, when?

We are Ukrainian civil society organisations (CSOs) and allies who are actively working to ensure that local civil societies have the ongoing resources and power they need to respond to short-term and long-term needs in our communities.

Many of us have already been taking a leading role in the humanitarian response, both in Ukraine and neighbouring countries. From the outset of the Russian military attack, we have been at the forefront of the response to ensure people are safe and looked after in this conflict, and that systems are in place to rebuild our communities when, hopefully, the conflict subsides. In Ukraine, almost all humanitarian aid has been provided by 150 local NGOs, church associations and 1,700 newly created volunteer-based CSOs. Many of these informal volunteer groups are now permanent active organisations operating in the region.

In spite of the fact that the international humanitarian sector has raised many millions of dollars, we have failed to see resources coming our way. In May, the UN Financial Tracking Service (FTS) showed that UN agencies received about two-thirds of humanitarian aid funding to Ukraine. International NGOs received 6% of the funding, while national Ukrainian NGOs received a scant 0.003% of the total amount. This doesn’t factor in the many millions that INGOs have been securing through direct appeals to the public. Yet we are the ones with access, local knowledge, connections, language and – most important of all – the personal commitment to saving lives and delivering help no matter what.

During the past four months of full-scale war, our members and colleagues have faced considerable challenges in order to gain access to the system of international funding that, even in the midst of a crisis and with local human resources and know-how at the ready, prioritises international organisations over local ones.

We call on donors and INGOs to rapidly consider a different approach in this war – one that builds on successes elsewhere, but that can also be used to model the behaviour we know will nurture stronger civil societies everywhere. Many of our allies in the #ShiftThePower movement have already pioneered the knowledge on how to do this in other contexts.

We don’t have to wait until the war ends — here is a simple list of the immediate things we think you can do to #ShiftThePower to local organisations, where it is most needed:

1. Cut the bureaucracy.

Despite official statements of international organisations that they seek to support local public initiatives in Ukraine, the reality is that in order to receive these funds, tens, or hundreds, or even thousands of procedures are required. We don’t have the human resources to do this, nor do we think this is a priority. Trust and accountability are basic principles for cooperation. Ukrainian NGOs cannot afford to fill out grant applications in volume, nor multiple, repetitive, lengthy due diligence procedures, by some designated International deadline. We are working in the conditions of hostilities. Small organisations need unrestricted flexible funding, provided rapidly: we can demonstrate our legitimacy in other ways, through our actions on the ground and the validation of our peers, the networks that we belong to and the communities we serve.

2. Let local civil society actors decide our priorities and how we wish to act in solidarity in this conflict.

In the midst of the war, we cannot ignore the needs of combatants. We know that aid is rarely “neutral.” Yet we are being prevented from receiving much-needed resources because of a bias towards this assumption about “neutrality.” The aid sector has documented multiple ways in which even so-called “neutral” aid has unintended consequences, and can make inter-group divisions worse and reduce self-reliance and harm local markets.

We do not want to remain “neutral.” The value of human life must come first, and supporting the needs of those on the front line can significantly reduce the amount of civilian aid needed and the number of casualties. Whilst we recognise that international organisations may want to be perceived as such, it should be up to local civil society in these circumstances to determine our own approaches and priorities.

Our approach and demand for solidarity-based funding is supported by the academic Hugo Slim, who has written that solidarity and not neutrality, should dictate the actions of the international humanitarian community working with and in Ukraine. According to Slim, this approach would be following the long-held tradition of “resistance humanitarianism” that was part of the resistance to Nazi-occupied Europe; and more recently seen in places like Myanmar and Syria.

Needs are changing rapidly and are different in different parts of the country and for different populations. We are far better at identifying what divides and connects people because of our historical and cultural knowledge and our more nuanced understanding of local alliances and support networks. Funding should remain flexible for us to deliver based on the priority needs local communities are asking for. Mis-guided assumptions about neutrality shouldn’t be a barrier to funding. Wouldn’t you want the same if you were also in a dangerous crisis?

3. Invest in ways to help local people tell our own stories and to help us explain what we are doing to help. This supports deeper understanding and helps us to secure access to resources directly.

INGOs and international agencies have been appropriating our knowledge and telling the listening and giving public what they think we need. To INGOs we say, “Stop trying to speak on our behalf and stop controlling narratives in ways that advance your own institutional interests!”

The technology and methodologies exist that can enable local people to share our experiences and needs. Listening to local people will help you to understand the horrors of the war crisis and the varied and changing needs. This results in greater solidarity and accountability and can influence where and how individual donors or institutional donors and the wider public choose to support us. That’s true accountability, where local people profile our own experiences and have the power to speak openly and report safely.

We therefore ask the international community to invest in strengthening these collective common systems so that we can easily and efficiently tell our own stories and communicate in our own language with a sympathetic public. We also ask you to listen to and amplify our voices and our experiences and our activities, in our name. This will actively build solidarity and understanding of the role of local actors in relief, recovery and rehabilitation work. This will also support us to secure more direct and sustainable resources.

4. Stop trying to build our “capacity.”

We understand that a significant amount of funding that multiple INGOs have secured is being used to “build capacity.” This is nonsense. As stated earlier, we are rooted in our communities and have the historical, cultural, linguistic and contextual knowledge and understanding of local realities to respond effectively. Many of us have organised and led civic action and community development long before the war. We think it is INGOs that often need to build their own organisational capacity and knowledge about our context, our networks and what a locally rooted civil society looks like long term. Maybe you can translate some of our resources into English to better understand our knowledge and existing approaches.

Building our capacity to learn about your bureaucracy and tick your boxes, in the midst of a conflict is disrespectful, a waste of time and resources and has a direct and negative impact on our ability to respond to the urgent needs in our communities.

The skills of community organising, which we have long developed, are something that the international community could use more of. When the conflict subsides, and we have caught up on sleep and processed our trauma, we’re happy to talk to you about what we have learned.

Enough talking, it’s time to act! If not now, then when?

There have been many commitments and conferences about the “participation revolution”, decolonisation, accountability to local people, #ShiftThePower, localisation, the Grand Bargain and equitable partnerships among others. There has been enough talk! The gap between narrative and action is wide. Now we need to see action.

Now is not the time to excuse inaction by blaming “the aid architecture”, “the system”, “managers” or “donors.” Each person working in INGOs or donor organisations, can contribute towards this change, whether it involves relaxing some of the rigid systems, sharing risks more equitably, advocating for alternative kinds of accountability metrics, or experimenting with new approaches and new (local) partners. And yes, this means challenging your own power and exercising humility.

We have an opportunity here to leave what’s old and doesn’t work behind in ways that can improve our situation in Ukraine immediately and can have lasting impacts around the world too.

The immediate response and the long-term post-conflict response will require a strong, well-resourced and resilient local civil society. We need to be supported to be civic actors in our own right, not simply projectised mimics of INGOs or “service providers.” We are grateful to the international community that has shown solidarity and supports Ukraine by supporting this diverse, locally rooted, active and committed network of actors in Ukraine and neighbouring countries and we encourage the rest to come on board too.

By taking some of these immediate steps, your support will go a lot further to helping people affected by the war in Ukraine and many of us working on social justice throughout the world.

Sign the letter here.

List of Signatories

Current as of 21 September 2022 – this list is updated periodically as more signatures are received.


  1. Благодійна організація ,,Міжнародний благодійний фонд ,,ВІРА З УКРАЇНИ,,
  2. БФ “ФОРМАТ20” ГО ВО
  3. Громадська орнанізація “ГОСТИНЕЦЬ”
  4. Громадська орнанізація “Енектус БСПУ”
  6. Фундація імені князів-благодійників Острозьких
  7. Asociatia Femeilor Profesioniste
  8. Bedfordshire and Luton Community Foundation
  9. Blessed Echoes Children Alliance
  10. Boyarka Community Foundation
  11. Bucharest Community Foundation
  12. Bureau d’Appui aux Programmes d’Education et de développement (BAPED)
  14. Charitable organization “Bari Community Foundation”
  15. Charitable organization “Berezani Community Foundation”
  16. Charitable organization “Kherson City Community Foundation “Protection”
  17. Charitable Organization “Mriyu Zhyty”
  18. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  19. Community Foundation “Ridnya”
  20. Cumbria Community Foundation
  21. Federacja Funduszy Lokalnych w Polsce
  22. Federation of Community Foundations in Poland
  23. Fondazione comunità salernitana
  24. Foundation “Community Donation Fund Sliven”
  25. Foundation for Community Development
  26. Foundation Scotland
  27. Fundacja “Fundusz Lokalny Ziemi Płockiej – Młodzi Razem”
  28. Fundacja Dajemy Dzieciom Siłę/Empowering Children Foundation
  30. Fundatia Comunitara Timisoara
  31. Galati Community Foundation
  32. Galvanizing Africa Consult Ltd
  33. Global Fund for Children
  34. Global Fund for Community Foundations
  35. Global Mentoring Initiative
  36. Grassroots Development Initiatives Foundation-Kenya
  37. Gujarat Devi Pujak Seva Mandal
  38. Healthy City Community Foundation
  39. Heidehof Stiftung GmbH
  40. Het Actiefonds
  41. Human Rights Funders Network (HRFN)
  42. HunHelp
  43. Ikhala Trust
  44. Indonesian Society for Disaster Management
  45. Information Charitable foundation “Friends’ Hands”
  46. Initiative Pananetugri pour le Bien-être de la Femme (IPBF)
  47. International Charity foundation “Vector of hope”
  48. Lincolnshire community foundation
  49. Lincolnshire community foundation
  50. Lokalna Fundacja Filantropijna Projekt
  51. London Community Foundation
  52. MitOst e.V.
  53. NGO “AIESEC in Ukraine” | ВМГО “АЙСЕК в Україні”
  54. NGO Pokrovsk League of Business and Professional Women
  56. Nguzo Africa Community Foundation
  57. Northamptonshire Community Foundation
  58. Ourloop
  59. Pachhat Varg Vikas Mandal
  61. PREDIKT Indonesia
  62. Public organization “Ob’yednannya Toloka”
  63. Public organization “Ruka myloserdya”
  65. Romanian Federation for Community Foundations
  66. Roots and Wings Foundation
  67. RSM Consultores, SA de CV
  68. South Sinai Foundation
  69. South Yorkshire Community Foundation
  70. STAR Ghana Foundation
  71. Stara Zagora Community Foundation
  73. Tara Fagarasului Community Foundation
  74. The Kharkiv Charitable Community Foundation «TOLOKA»
  75. The RINGO Project
  76. The Snow Mountain Community Fund
  77. Timisoara Community Foundation
  78. TrustRoots Network
  79. TrustRoots Network
  80. Twerwaneho Listeners Club
  81. Two Ridings Community Foundation
  82. UK Community Foundations
  84. Ukrainian Media League
  85. UkrKidsHub
  86. Voznesrnsk community foundation
  87. West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI)
  88. Young Feminist Europe
  89. Zaklada Zamah
  90. Zywiec Development Foundation
  91. Feminist Workshop
  92. GlobalGiving
  93. Elite Crew


  1. Алена Данилова, Ukraine
  2. Аліна, Ukrainian refugee
  3. Аліна, Ukrainian refugee
  4. Анна Потриваєва, Ukraine
  5. Вадим Вареник, Ukraine
  6. Голоборода Олена, Ukrainian refugee
  7. Елена Олейник, Ukraine
  8. Заряна Пека, Ukraine
  9. Заряна Пека, Volunteer, Ukraine
  10. Інна, Ukrainian refugee
  11. Ірина, Ukrainian refugee
  12. Ковальова Наталія, Ukrainian refugee
  13. Колесниченко Ольга, Ukraine
  14. Куницька Тетяна, Ukraine
  15. Марина Бондарева, Ukraine
  16. Михаил Василькив, Ukrainian refugee
  17. Наталія Бойко, Ukraine
  18. Оlesia, The mother of 2 children, Ukraine
  19. Оlesia, Ukraine, a mother of 2 children
  20. Татьяна, Ukraine, a mother
  21. Тетяна Пасічник, Ukraine
  22. Тетяна, Ukrainian refugee
  23. Тетяна, Ukrainian refugee
  24. Юлия Сычева, Ukraine
  25. Юлия Сычева, Ukrainian refugee, a mother
  26. Юлія, Ukrainian refugee
  27. Юлія, Ukrainian refugee
  28. Юлія, Ukrainian refugee, a mother
  29. Яна, Ukrainian refugee
  30. Alex Ross, New Zealand
  31. Alexandru Dan Neagu, Romania
  32. André Clarke, United Kingdom
  33. Anna Litvinenko, Ukrainian refugee
  34. Anna, Ukrainian refugee
  35. Anna, Ukrainian refugee
  36. Ansis Bērziņš, Latvia
  37. Antonina, Ukrainian refugee
  38. Anya Ievtushenko, Netherlands
  39. Axel Halling, Germany
  40. Bahnat Olha, Ukraine
  41. Barbara Nöst, Zambia
  42. Béatrice Mauconduit, Denmark
  43. Beznosiuk Anastasiia, Ukraine
  44. Beznosiuk Anastasiia, Ukrainian refugee
  45. Bobe Monica, Romania
  46. Charles Howerton,United States
  47. Christine Persaud, Canada
  48. Cristiana Metea, Romania
  49. Dana RH Doan, USA
  50. Diana Uwinema, Rawanda
  51. DMYTRO Sushchevski, Israel
  52. Ekaterina Posunkina, Ukraine
  53. Ese Emerhi, Nigeria
  54. Eshban Kwesiga, Uganda
  55. Fran Girling, UK
  56. Galina Maksimović, Serbia
  57. Gareth Mace, UK
  58. Gladys Miriti, Kenya
  59. Hafsah Muheed, Sri Lanka
  60. Hanna Shepeleva, Ukrainian refugee
  61. Hanna, Ukrainian refugee
  62. Heidi Oyugi, Kenya
  63. Hugo Slim, UK
  64. Ievgen Vovk, Ukraine
  65. Irina, Ukrainian refugee
  66. Isabella Jean, United States
  67. Iwona Olkowicz, Poland
  68. Jannelle Wilkins, Costa Rica
  69. Jenne de Beer, Netherlands
  70. Jenny Hodgson, South Africa
  71. Jon Edwards, UK
  72. Jonathan Glennie, UK
  73. Juliette Nathalie BAKYONO, Burkina Faso
  74. Justyna, Poland
  75. Kate Kifa, Ukraine
  76. Kateryna, Ukrainian refugee, a mother
  77. Kelly Shawn Joseph, United States
  78. Kraplych Ruslan, Ukrainian refugee
  79. Ksenia Buglewicz, Poland
  80. Lian Yi Yong, Australia
  81. Liliia Gal, Ukrainian refugee
  82. London Community Foundation
  83. Mariana Sandoval, Mexico
  84. Mariia Lagun, Ukraine
  85. Marina, Ukrainian refugee
  86. Morhun Vladyslava, Ukraine
  87. Ms S A Wright, UK
  88. Mykola Bahinskyi, United States
  89. Natalia Kotyla, Poland
  90. Nataliia, Ukrainian refugee
  91. Nataliia, Ukrainian refugee
  92. Nelly Mincheva, Bulgaria
  93. Nick Deychakiwsky, USA
  94. Nicola Braggins, France
  95. Nino Ugrekhelidze, Georgia
  96. Nora Lester Murad, USA
  97. Oana Petrescu, Romania
  98. Oleksandra Klochko, Ukraine
  99. Petro Lymar, Ukraine
  100. Pryhornieva Mariia, Ukraine
  101. Rafał Serafin, Poland
  102. Renata Hlushchenko, Ukraine
  103. Renata Hlushchenko, Ukrainian refugee
  104. Renji George Joseph, Bulgaria
  105. Romanian Federation for Community Foundations
  106. Sevdalina Rukanova, Nethelands
  107. Simon Middleton, United Kingdom
  108. Simona srebrov, Romania
  109. Simone Esterlita Moodley, South Africa
  110. Svitlana, Manager
  111. Tarisai, Zimbabwe
  112. Tetiana Demchuk, Ukrainian refugee
  113. Uliana Morokhovska, Ukraine
  114. Vasyl, Delivery manager
  115. Victoriia, Ukrainian refugee
  116. Viktória Horváth, Hungary
  117. Viktoriia NABOKOVA, Ukrainian refugee
  118. Vitaliia, Ukrainian refugee, a mother of 2 children
  119. Vitaliy Vysochin, Ukraine
  120. Vlada Kravtsova, United Kingdom
  121. Vova, Ukrainian refugee
  122. Wendy Richardson, Belgium
  123. West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI)
  124. Yelizaveta Yanovich, USA
  125. YELIZAVETA, Ukrainian refugee
  126. Yelyzaveta Vovchenko, France
  127. Yuliia Yefanova, Ukrainian refugee
  128. Zhuk Oksana, Romania
  129. Zinchenko Tetiana, Ukraine
  130. Oleksandra Klochko, Ukraine
  131. Oleksandr Ternovyi, Germany
  132. Поліна Погановська, Ukraine
  133. Colleen du Toit, South Africa
  134. Marie Courraud, France
  135. Carmen Tse, Canada
  136. Alexandra Humphreys, Portugal
  137. Aizat Shakieva, Kyrgyzstan
  138. Neil Dillon, United States