What charities can learn from Celeste Barber's global Facebook appeal 2 months ago

As of March 2020, not a single cent of the $51 million (approx.) raised by Celeste Barber’s Facebook campaign back in January has been spent on those affected by the bushfires that ravaged Australia.

Now, this is certainly in no way a criticism of the popular social media star. It was heart-warming to watch the world rally together to help those gripped by the bushfire crisis led by a woman using her popular platform to create positive change.

But here we are almost two months later and those intended beneficiaries haven’t felt any of the relief that was intended for them through the campaign.

According to The Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund, which was the beneficiary of the donations, the issue is, “under the existing trust that governs the use of the fund, money can only be used to purchase and maintain firefighting equipment and facilities, provide training and resources and cover administrative expenses”.

While there’s no denying those lifesaving resources are completely worthy of the donations received, Ms Barber is currently in the middle of discussions to try and re-allocate those funds to those directly impacted by the fires.

Those who approximately 1.3 million Australians thought they were providing immediate relief.

There are lessons to be learnt here.

While we wholeheartedly understand that Ms Barber is fighting for a resolution, and we are unaware of the protocol within the mentioned charity so unequivocally cannot comment on their internal processes, but here’s how a charity can avoid a similar situation arising in future. 

Reach out

Ideally, internal processes already exist for those fundraising on your behalf through peer-to-peer campaigns or social media fundraisers. Always reach out to those supporting you to discuss their fundraising strategy and provide relevant information to pass onto their supporters. This should always include key messages and should also state how raised funds will be spent and have been used in the past. 

Facebook cannot share donor data

It’s believed that over 1.3 million donors supported The Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund through Facebook. And the popular social media platform is unable to share those donor details with the charity due to privacy regulations. This leaves the charity unable to contact those who have previously supported to build relationships that lead to future support. They can’t even send a personalised ‘thank you’ for their much-needed donation. While Facebook is an excellent tool for reaching people, consider how you can encourage those donors to give directly rather than through a third-party platform.  

Keep messaging current and consistent

If a charity is at the forefront of a major crisis or appeal, there will be an undoubted increase in website traffic which you must be prepared for. Keep your website messaging current and make sure it’s always clear how someone can donate directly.

The NSW Rural Fire Service provides a lifesaving service and is a very worthy recipient of donations raised through this and any other campaign. The issue is the public perception of where the money would be spent, and how quickly, has simply not matched the reality.

As a charity, it’s important to remain on the pulse and always be prepared for a viral campaign. If all the donors in the country visited your website with the intention of giving to you, are your systems set up to cope with demand?

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