'Donating' to Ukraine via Etsy or Airbnb might not be the best idea

plus Mister Rogers + Scholastic book fairs
͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ 
Money
March 16, 2022 • Issue #135
Dollar Scholar
Hi y’all —

Do you know that famous quote by Fred — aka Mister — Rogers about looking for the helpers in the wake of tragedy?

It goes like this: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

Helpers have been coming out of the woodwork ever since Russia invaded Ukraine late last month. From drinking vodka to donating crypto, I don’t have to look far to find people getting creative as they flock to support Ukraine.

On vacation rental site Airbnb, for example, 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.

From a humanitarian viewpoint, I think these campaigns are such a cool idea. But as a personal finance journalist, I’m wary of taking part. I’ve simply read (and written) way too many stories about scams to turn over my credit card number without a second thought.

Is it a good idea to send money to Ukraine via Etsy and Airbnb? Is there a more effective way to help?

Brian Mittendorf, an accounting professor at Ohio State University who focuses on nonprofits, tells me it makes sense that these alternative, extremely modern ways of providing money to Ukrainians in need would be popular. 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 I 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, I get a vivid mental picture of exactly who I’m supporting. When I’m throwing 20 bucks into a multimillion-dollar pot of funds raised by, say, the Red Cross, it's harder to grasp the impact I’m 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.
A few tips for those seeking to provide charitable support for Ukraine
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.

We also know 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 my 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.

If I have friends or relatives in Ukraine or bordering countries and want to donate directly, Styron says, "by all means, go ahead." But if I don't, I should remember 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 I need to be sure to do my homework.

Mittendorf recommends searching for nonprofits that have a track record of providing support in a specific subject area that resonates with me, like preserving democratic journalism efforts. I should also verify whether my organization of choice is a registered 501(c)(3) with positive ratings.

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.
THE BOTTOM LINE
(but please don't tell me you scrolled past all of my hard work)
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.
Slava Ukraini
VIA GIPHY

RECEIPT OF THE WEEK
check out this wild celebrity purchase
Quinta Brunson
 
VIA INSTAGRAM
Quinta Brunson, the creator and star of the viral show Abbott Elementary, recently told NPR that she used part of the marketing budget to buy school supplies for teachers. Now, the brains behind Abbott Elementary are putting on free Scholastic book fairs at underfunded schools, handing out swag and dozens of free books. From one scholar to another, I give Brunson an A+.

INTERNET GOLD
five things I'm loving online right now
1 If you’re a ‘90s kid, I recommend spending some time scrolling through the unpopular Nickelodeon opinions in the comments of this Facebook post, including takes such as “ChalkZone should have been edgier,” “‘Rugrats’ was a terrible name for a show” and “the guy that shouts ‘My leg!’ is the best SpongeBob character.”
2 Dams: not just for beavers, apparently.
3 Psychologists conducted an entire study on the types of secrets that are most likely to be shared — and found that the more morally outraged a person feels by a secret, the more likely they are to spill the beans. Among the least-kept secret types are specific lies, illegal behavior and drug use. So next time you’ve got to get something off your chest, “what you really want is someone compassionate and assertive — especially if you’re looking for help — and someone who has the same sense of morality as you,” one researcher told the Wall Street Journal.
4 There have been over 594 reported UFO sightings this year already… and you can read them here.
5 We might not talk about Bruno, but we should talk about this incredible Encanto chalk art.
 

401(K)ITTY CONTRIBUTION
send me cute pictures of your pets, please
Henry
VIA KAREN BASSO
This is Henry, an aerodynamic cat who plans to support Ukraine by donating to a legit nonpawfit organization.

See you next week.
 
Julia
 
P.S. What’s your favorite way to donate to charity? Do you have a Nickelodeon hot take? Tell me a secret at julia.glum@money.com or @SuperJulia on Twitter.
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