Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bush fire tragedy

Australia has been hit by what is likely to be our worst peacetime disaster, with a death toll expected to be over 200. Many more homes have been destroyed and even some towns wiped off the map.

We are used to bush fires here, they are part of the natural cycle of our forests and maybe 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.

Read more about the fires from the main newspaper in Victoria (the state where the fatal fires are burning) here, and of course you can make a donation through the Red Cross here.

With charities in Australia, there is inevitable pressure to pull 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 and the Chinese Earthquake, the charities that suffer a decline in income are those that pull back from fundraising. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

I do recommend fundraising in-house for the Bush Fire appeal, encouraging staff and volunteers to donate.

In addition, if you are a community based organisation you may want to consider coordinating your own members activities. You need to be very careful with 'ultra vires' (acting beyond your remit) but they will be giving anyway, and you may be able to make the effort more effective.

A great example of a recent ultra vires action, which I was very happy with as a Greenpeace donor, was when Greenpeace sent the Rainbow Warrior to ferry MSF doctors to Aceh after the Tsunami.

One last sad thought, as pointed out to me by a charity CEO 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.


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

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