FUNDRAISERS IN UKRAINE | Insights from Wartime Leadership

publication date: Mar 8, 2022
author/source: Tony Myers

Slava had two hours sleep each of the last two nights. His focus in recent days has little to do with raising funds. As CEO of Tabletochki Charitable Foundation, that raises upwards of $7 million a year for kids with cancer, he is moving young patients who need bone marrow transplants, from a war-torn Kyiv to safety in Poland. Just getting the kids out of the hospital, into a car, across the city, and onto a bus that will take them to the border is a logistical nightmare. But he succeeds. Taking care of beneficiaries is his primary task these days. 

Since 2011, Tabletochki has raised funds for kids with cancer in Ukraine. It is the highest profile NGO in the country and they are using their position to launch a campaign to build Ukraine’s first cancer hospital for kids. They operate in a free space on the 12th floor of an office building with a magnificent view of the Dnieper River that meanders through the city. When I connected with them last week, Svetlana and her colleague Olga, were operating out of the basement of the office tower to avoid shelling in the city. They are gathering food and medicine for kids that have remained in hospitals. Olga and Svetlana are fundraisers for the Foundation. 

My friend Katie is a seasoned fundraiser who works with an international NGO. Her Facebook post last week hit me hard. Her stark face, saddened by the war … a look as I’d never seen it before. A face painted blue and yellow, reflecting the image of the Ukrainian flag. Katie is not Ukrainian. She is Russian and works for a Russian INGO in Moscow. Her painted anguish was heart wrenching. It is a war that pierces the heart of humanity on both sides of the border. 

Luda from western Ukraine, sends me emailed apologies that they can’t proceed with a $10 million community fundraising project because “...we are focused on aid needs now, so we will be back regarding our fundraising later.” She adds, “Our struggle continues!” In an open letter to colleagues and friends she admits, “Many are asking how you can help Ukraine now. We deeply appreciate every word and every testimony of your partnership and encourage you in the following …” and then she outlines seven actions people can take to support Ukraine – none of which involve the expenditure of money. And Luda is a fundraiser. 

This is wartime activity for fundraisers. It has little to do with money and much to do with surviving and helping others to survive. The pivot for wartime fundraisers pales in comparison to any pivoting we went through during the last two years of the pandemic. 

This “fundraising” work is neither glamorous nor fun. It is exhausting, emotionally draining, traumatic, gut-wrenching, soul-destroying and demanding more courage, tenacity and resilience than most of us have ever been required to give as part of any fundraising effort. 

These tasks are, however, an example of the highest form of philanthropy; the dedication of self to others at a time of need. They also represent a high form of stewardship, spending time and resources made possible by donor dollars, in a manner that goes way beyond the call of duty, in any normal terms of the definition. 

So, you may ask, what does this have to do with me? 

I have three thoughts: 

  • I’ve been privileged to work in some of the most difficult fundraising environments in the world – much of that time spent in former communist countries. These are countries in which civil society, and in particular charities and NGOs, consistently stand guard for democracy. They fight for the right to remain free, to keep politicians honest and to reduce corruption. They do not take democracy for granted. They do not take their freedom for granted. In the same vein, we must never take our freedom, our democracy or our way of life for granted. My work, speaking and training opportunities on six continents over the past 15 years has made me appreciate and cherish what we have at home in Canada.
  • Trust is the cornerstone of all that we do. Money does not flow in charitable nonprofit environments, unless there are trusting relationships. Too often, as fundraisers, we treat our donors as wallets. We look to them as a source of funding and try to get money out of their pockets and into the bank accounts of our charities and NGOs. We need to double our efforts to treat colleagues and donors with respect and dignity, to share our values and support the purposes and values of the communities we serve. 
  • As fundraisers, our job it to raise money. But how we do that job has an impact on our profession, on our NGO, and on our world. I believe we live in a world of abundance, with an abundance of resources. There is an abundance of kindness. An abundance of love. And every day we choose what we will deliver to the world around us. My personal mission is to recommit daily to the philosophical foundation of our work and our profession. We all need to recommit to the concept of philanthropy – the love of human kind. It is at the root of all we do.

As fundraisers and as change-makers we will change the world, one person at a time, one act of kindness at a time, one donor at a time. Yes, we’ve all heard these words before. But their relevance has never been more acute. 

For almost two weeks we have felt the pain of the invasion of Ukraine in the pit of our stomachs. Some shed tears of despair. Others vent anger at the aggressive assault on humanity and a sovereign nation. I dare say that all of us feel the sting that comes from the threat of nuclear action. 

Again, what does any of this have to do with us? From my perspective, it obviously has everything to do with us. 

We are fundraisers. It is the skill we apply every day. But first and foremost, we are the people who further the cause of philanthropy, the love of humankind. War and indifference are contrary to all that we believe in, individually and as a profession; it is contrary to all we do. 

So, join me if you would. Join me in gratitude and appreciating life treasures we have as Canadians. Join me in building trusting relationships at home and abroad. Join me in furthering the fundamental principles of philanthropy and collectively working together to, of course raise more money, but in the process let’s ensure we create a better world. A world not based on money, or power, or force, but one based on philanthropy - the love of humankind. 

Because, at the end of the day, isn’t that our job? Our responsibility? Our mission? 

Editor’s Note: Tony Myers has worked, trained and spoken on fundraising, development and philanthropy on six continents. He has worked and traveled in most former communist countries for more than a decade including Russia and Ukraine with friends and colleagues on both sides of the war. 

Tony Myers, CFRE, Ph.D., M.A., LL.B., is a passionate international fundraising consultant, strategist, author, speaker and executive coach who loves to raise money and teach others how. A lifetime of experience raising money and working with organizations in transition has shaped his expertise as a leader and change-maker. His skills and experience in strategic planning, board governance and development, major gift fundraising and NGO organizational assessment have placed him in demand as a speaker and consultant around the world.


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