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Published: Mar 10, 2022 7 min read
Smart Phone With AirBnB On Screen In Front Of Uraine Flag
Money; Shutterstock

From drinking vodka to donating crypto, people around the world have been getting creative as they flock to financially support Ukraine in its ongoing war with Russia.

Now, two new ways of sending money overseas are going viral.

On vacation rental site Airbnb, users are booking short stays in Ukraine with no intention of actually going. Because Airbnb has waived its fees in Ukraine, this amounts to a direct cash infusion for the Ukrainian Airbnb hosts.

A similar trend is happening with the online marketplace Etsy, where customers are purchasing digital files from Ukraine-based sellers en masse. With purely virtual products like artwork, there are no items to send out — but Ukrainians still get paid.

Both campaigns have proven successful. The Ukraine Airbnb trend raised $1.9 million in a 48-hour period last week, according to a tweet from CEO Brian Chesky. Screenshots of messages from grateful Ukrainians are all over the internet. Weaver Olena Shevtsova told CNN that the notifications she gets for Etsy orders throughout the day bring her comfort.

"I never thought so many people who don't know me would like to help me and my family," she said.

While using services like Airbnb and Etsy to give money to Ukrainians may be innovative, experts recommend you think twice before taking part. Donating money to traditional charities could be more effective.

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Why are people sending money to Ukraine via Etsy and Airbnb?

It makes sense that these alternative, extremely modern ways of providing money to Ukrainians in need would be popular, according to Brian Mittendorf, an accounting professor at Ohio State University who focuses on nonprofits.

Not only is the barrier to entry low — even someone overwhelmed by or skeptical of the huge number of Ukraine-focused fundraisers probably knows how to book an Airbnb — but it's also highly personal.

When you buy a $20 yellow-and-blue JPEG of a heart from Maria and Anastasia, two moms who say on their Etsy page they've been forced to flee their vintage Christmas store in Ukraine, you get a vivid mental picture of exactly who you're supporting. When you're throwing 20 bucks into a multimillion-dollar pot of funds raised by, say, the Red Cross, it's harder to grasp the impact you're having on an individual's life.

"People have this desire to cut out the intermediary — the middle man — and go directly support those in need," Mittendorf says.

These alternative methods are nice in concept, but some experts say they don't pack the same punch as a donation to an established charity.

Katherina Rosqueta, the founding executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania, says Ukrainians need food, water, fuel, emergency medical services and safe passage to shelter — all of which are being provided by vetted groups with the networks and know-how to distribute them.

"When stores have been closed for weeks, communication infrastructure damaged, and a city is being bombed, it is unclear whether those affected can even access the cash from these [Airbnb and Etsy] transactions, let alone use it to address these urgent needs," Rosqueta adds.

That's on top of the risk of getting scammed. Fraudsters thrive on disaster, and it's especially easy to set up fake profiles online. But even when the profile is legit, there's a danger your money simply won't reach the right person.

Laurie Styron, the executive director of CharityWatch, points out that, often, someone with a highly publicized story ends up getting flooded with more donations than they could ever reasonably use while thousands of others in similarly dire situations go without.

"People who are injured or elderly, who have mental health issues, or who are not tech-savvy would be left behind if most of us donated directly to victims' bank accounts rather than to efficient charities working in the region that are more equipped to provide help equitably to everyone who needs it," Styron says.

When reached for comment, representatives for Airbnb and Etsy both directed Money to webpages about their Ukraine relief efforts, including Etsy canceling $4 million in balances owed and Airbnb funding temporary housing for 100,000 refugees.

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How to use your money to help Ukraine

If you have friends or relatives in Ukraine or bordering countries and want to donate directly, Styron says, "by all means, go ahead." Send money through a reliable crowdfunding site or ask your bank about the most secure way to initiate a transfer to your loved ones.

If you don't, know that many established charities have the expertise to assess where the need is greatest and the means to route funds to where they'll be most useful.

Of course, not all charities, even the ones with household names, are worth donating to. Horror stories abound about organizations that don't deliver on their promises or fail to make a difference long-term, so be sure to do your homework.

Mittendorf recommends searching for nonprofits that have a track record of providing support in a specific subject area that resonates with you. You may want to seek out on-the-ground groups that are dedicated to aiding refugees, preserving democratic journalism efforts, or providing medical relief to the injured. Charity Navigator recommends International Medical Corps and Global Giving, among others.

This approach can make donors "much more confident the money went to support the cause in the way they wanted to support the cause," he says.

Do your due diligence, as well, looking into whether your organization of choice is a registered 501(c)(3) with positive ratings.

Donating money through Etsy, Airbnb or other websites can certainly benefit individual Ukrainians, but there are other ways — and other people — to help.

"If what you care about is saving lives and alleviating the suffering of the millions of Ukrainians affected by this crisis, even a small cash donation to any of these organizations will go much, much farther," Rosqueta says.

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