Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Floods and Fires

The floods across much of Eastern Australia are mostly over.  For now.  But cleaning up and rebuilding is not over, and many families are yet to get back into their homes.  Indeed, some have no home to return to.  And the outlook is not good, with very high chances of further catastrophic floods into the future.

At the same time, other countries have been hit hard. Brazil has lost at least 800 people, and many other countries are struggling to rebuild after, and prepare for more, flooding.

The response to the Australian floods by the Australian public has been overwhelming.  They have donated around $200m - $168m to the official appeal and several millions more direct to charities. Almost every retail business is running an appeal and thousands of volunteers are still helping to clear up.

Australia managed to go a long time without any really serious natural disasters - most photos that you see are in black and white, it is that long ago.  Until two years ago when the Victorian bushfires raged out of control, and this summer's floods.

The flood affected areas are larger in size and scope than the fires of two years ago, and in terms of worldwide natural disasters, the casualty numbers are in the same 'order' - 173 in the fires and 35-50 in the recent floods. There are still people listed as missing, hence the uncertainty.

The fires raised around $400m - the floods look like they will raise perhaps $250m.  Both substantial sums, but why the disparity?

I don't doubt that the number of deaths had some impact - but not all of it.

Both events were mass media events. Although retailers and other businesses have tried various ideas, it is the TV that drove most of the donations to both campaigns.

Victorian Bushfires, 2009

And herein lies the main reason the floods are unlikely to surpass the fires in donations. Fires are more exciting.  Floods, usually, seep up, slowly inundating homes and causing slow motion destruction.  Fires rage, they leap across roads, leave hardly anything behind and are primal - they are terrifying.  Floods, usually, are not.

In these floods, an extraordinary event occurred - what has been described as an 'inland tsunami' - which meant the floods moved up in the primal areas of peoples' minds to something dramatically terrifying.  The inland tsunami will have added a huge amount of income to the appeal; it was all we were talking about for a while.

Inland Tsunami, Queensland Floods 2010/2011

In both appeals, Australians have dug deep and been generous, but in the end, we can't beat emotional motivation in raising more money.  Despite the fact that these fundraising events were not run by fundraisers, the lesson for fundraisers is applicable for all money raising campaigns.

You need to understand your media (in this case TV) and use it to tap into emotion, clearly demonstrate the need and make sure it is dramatic, interesting and compelling.  Only then will you maximise people's abilities to make the change.


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