Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bush Fire Tragedy

Australia has experienced what is likely to be our worst peacetime disaster, with a death toll expected to be over 200 as a result of the fires that ravaged parts of the state of Victoria.

With many homes being destroyed and some towns razed to the ground, it has been a devastating week for all Australians, especially those in the towns and communities directly affected by the fires.

We are used to bush fires here, they are part of the natural cycle of our forests and many species need fire to propagate. But we are not used to people dying. Although small in scale compared to many foreign disasters it is very difficult to put a relative comparison to any human tragedy.

Already Australians have generously donated $28 million dollars due largely to the heart wrenching stories reported by the media.

With charities in Australia, there is inevitable pressure to reduce their fundraising activity, whether out of some respectful drive or a feeling that their own campaigns will suffer.

Please don't.

Your cause is still important - and people still care about your beneficiaries. Our experience is that in times like this, as with the Christmas Tsunami a few years ago and the Chinese Earthquake last year, the charities that suffer the biggest decline in income are those that pull back from fundraising.

It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Click here to read an article that I co-authored with Martin Paul, our Senior Consultant about 'Tsunami suicide'.

I do recommend fundraising in-house from your own staff and volunteers to support the bushfire appeal. In addition, if you are a community based organisation you may want to consider coordinating your own members’ activities to support the bushfire appeal. You need to be very careful when you act beyond your remit (ultra vires), but they will be giving anyway, and you may be able to make the effort more effective.

For instance, a great example of a recent action like this, which I was very happy with as a Greenpeace donor, was when Greenpeace sent the Rainbow Warrior to ferry Médecins Sans Frontières doctors to Aceh after the Tsunami.

One last sad thought, as pointed out to me by a charity CEO I met with yesterday, was that they were stopping the appeal mailings that were due to be sent to people in towns and villages that no longer exist.

Sean Triner

Read more about the fires from the main newspaper in Victoria here, and of course you can make a donation through the Red Cross here.

Our man in North America, Jonathon Grapsas is from Melbourne, not far from the fires, and his take on the tragedy can be seen

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