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Bona fide ways to help bushfire victims

Australia is experiencing a bushfire crisis of unmatched scale and precedent. Across the country, catastrophic fires have destroyed millions of hectares of land, devastating families, communities, property and wildlife.

With apocalyptic images of the fires beaming across the world, support for the firefighting and rebuilding efforts has been swift. Donations have been flooding into charitable organisations, but there is still an enormous need.

If you have the capacity to respond, money is what charities need most right now.  As well as delivering emergency relief in the short term, charities need funding for long-term support services to help people, communities and the natural environment recover in the years to come.

To help you consider what assistance you can provide, here are some pointers to think about and a list of Deductible Gift Recipients (DGR) Item 1 charities prepared by the Australian Philanthropic Services (APS) Grantmaking team.

(If you have a private ancillary fund (PAF) or a public ancillary fund (PuAF/giving fund) make sure that you donate only to a DGR Item 1 charity).

Money, not goods

Many charities have been overwhelmed with generous donations of items like clothing, but do not have the capacity to sort and distribute them. The best way to help now is to donate financially.

Donate to bona fide charities

Do some due diligence to make sure your money is going where you expect it to go. The list below is a good place to start, or you could check the charity’s status on the ACNC website.

Consider a long-term approach to your giving. Could you set-up a recurring donation, or support an organisation focused on recovery, rather than immediate disaster relief?

Give your time later

The Centre for Volunteering has developed some information for people interested in registering to volunteer their time to support the bushfire recovery, once the immediate bushfire threat has passed, and when affected communities ask for it. Remember that many volunteering positions require you to take some training first.

Nationwide

These national charities are providing frontline emergency assistance right now, and long-term recovery support, across multiple states and territories:

  • Australian Red Cross Society (ABN 50 169 561 394) is accepting donations through its Disaster Relief Fund, which helps those affected by bushfires, heat, floods, cyclones and other national emergencies. As of 6 January, ARC is providing direct emergency assistance to bushfire victims.
  • The Salvation Army (NSW) Social Work (ABN 46 891 896 885) is conducting an emergency and disaster appeal which provides material support, such as meals, clothing and accommodation support, to evacuees and frontline responders around the country.
  • Food Bank Australia (ABN 58 073 579 254) is the only Australian organisation that provides direct food relief in the wake of natural disasters. Donations to their bushfire appeal go towards providing essential supplies to support emergency workers and affected communities during recovery works.
  • Givit (ABN 21 137 408 201) is collecting donations for the purchase of new household items as well as coordinating public donations of goods-in-kind (including clothing, furniture, whitegoods) across Australia.
  • The Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (ABN 27 091 810 589) is focusing on long-term recovery support via their perpetual Disaster Resilience and Recovery Fund, which supports national disaster preparedness and recovery by enabling local leaders to access funds for emerging needs that they have identified as most important for their community.
  • Save the Children (ABN 99 008 610 035) has launched a bushfire appeal to establish child-friendly spaces in communities affected by bushfires, including Wagga Wagga and Bairnsdale, where qualified early childhood specialists support children while their families receive referrals to other services.
  • Good360 (ABN 93 161 292 664) is a matchmaker connecting the needs of communities with businesses’ brand new goods. Donations to their bushfire appeal go towards coordinating the delivery of the right goods to the right people at the right time over the many months and years of recovery of this unprecedented disaster.

New South Wales and the ACT

  • St Vincent de Paul National Society of Australia (ABN 50 748 098 845) is raising funds through its bushfire appeal, in conjunction with Channel Nine, to support victims of the fires around NSW.
  • The NSW Rural Fire Service and Brigades (ABN 88 311 702 546) operates a Donations Fund providing support for bushfire relief and local brigades.
    Australian comedian Celeste Barber’s Facebook donation page has raised a phenomenal $45 million (and climbing) for the NSW Rural Fire Service. If you have a PAF or PuAF/giving fund, please give directly to the Rural Fire Service, as donations on Celeste Barber’s page are being collected via a DGR Item 2 fund.

Victoria

  • Victorian Bushfire Appeal. To make an eligible donation in support of the Victorian government-backed bushfire appeal, being conducted in partnership with the Bendigo Bank Community Enterprise Foundation, PAFs and PuAFs/giving funds can do so via the Salvation Army (ABN 18 730 899 453) which is also a partner in the appeal. If you have a PAF of PuAF/giving fund, you cannot give to the bushfire appeal directly as Community Enterprise Foundation is a DGR Item 2 charity.
  • The Country Fire Authority (ABN 29 419 704 198) operates a Donation Fund that allows you to specify the local brigade in Victoria that you would like to support.
  • Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund (ABN 66 660 282 945) is a volunteer-run organisation which is collecting donations to support to Gippsland residents who have lost their homes or had their property damaged by a bushfire, flood or storm event.

Queensland

  • The Rural Fire Brigades Associate of QLD (ABN 37 417 474 709) operates a Public Fund which supports rural fire brigades and volunteers.
  • Lifeline Queensland operated by UnitingCare Community (ABN 28 728 322 186) is running a disaster appeal supporting provision of psychological first aid to communities impacted by disaster.

South Australia

Our ravaged environment

If you would like to support injured and affected wildlife and landscapes:

More than money

#buyfromthebush

For those who use Facebook, consider supporting affected communities by subscribing to this platform which showcases small business gems across rural and regional Australia. You can buy produce or gifts that help support small livelihoods in communities facing fire and drought.

Accommodation initiatives

  • Find a Bed has been developed to offer beds or homes to evacuees. In East Gippsland, any offers of emergency accommodation can be made by emailing the local council.
  • Airbnb has established the Open Homes initiative, where hosts can offer free accommodation to affected people as well as rescue workers.?

Give Blood

Australian Red Cross Blood Service is calling on Australians to consider donating blood in response to the ongoing bushfire crisis.

 

Antonia Ruffell is CEO of Australian Philanthropic Services (APS), a not-for-profit organisation that sets up and administers private ancillary funds, offers a public ancillary fund, the APS Foundation, in which people can establish a named giving fund, and provides grantmaking advice. Chris Cuffe is the pro bono Founder and Chairman of APS.

 

7 Comments
Laura Cunningham
January 20, 2020

I echo Dianne's suggestion of BLAZEAID. I have volunteered for three camps with them and can attest that fixing farmers' fences to contain the animals that have survived a bushfire is critical - both for animal safety and the farmer's wellbeing. Fencing is a labour intensive exercise, needed immediately after the fires are extinguished and traumatised farmers are seldom in a position to respond, either financially (a single roll of wire can cost more than $250) or emotionally. BlazeAid can buy wire and other supplies if they receive enough in donations, so please consider this charity. Perhaps it can be added to your list above? By the way, I'm a 66 year old widowed grandmother who learned to fence - so anyone can!

Zac
January 16, 2020

The ACNC website gives limited information about how charities use the donations they receive - how much goes towards administration and wages etc. Do you know of any websites that conduct due diligence on these charities?

Warren Bird
January 16, 2020

Zac, first you have to realise that administration and wages to staff of charities are perfectly legitimate expenses and anyone who expects a donation to go 100% to the end beneficiary is being unrealistic. They're also taking a great risk - if a charity doesn't employ staff who, say, travel to check that the activities that are being supported are actually being done properly and effectively, then there's a risk that the money is being wasted or worse.

The ACNC has a very good discussion of this issue here:

https://www.acnc.gov.au/for-public/understanding-charities/charities-and-administration-costs

The way to find out if a charity you're thinking of donating to has ''excessive'' admin costs is to ask them. Look at their website, look at their annual reports, ring them up. All the ones I've been involved with - and I've been on Boards, had them as clients, and of course now through the Uniting Church - will talk pretty straight about where your money goes. But if they're cagey or can't talk to you about it, then go somewhere else.

There are loads of places that attempt to compare costs (eg Choice) that you can access by using Google. But when you look at those figures, keep the ACNC's discussion in mind.

Rachael Rofe
January 17, 2020

ACNC is always a good starting point but you're quite right, Zac - you can see if the charity is up to date with its reporting obligations, and view the financial report but it doesn't give you a complete picture. And under which line item do particular expenses sit? Your question highlights an issue we have in Australia where there is no agreed definition of precisely what 'administration costs' includes.

No definition of 'administration' makes it very difficult to compare and benchmark organisations as part of a donor’s due diligence. Further, it feeds into an unhelpful and unfortunately pervasive premise that charities with higher administration costs are wasteful or deviating funds from the community. ‘Administration expenses’ is not always a dirty term. It can be the case that funding ‘administration’ unlocks an organisation’s capacity to deliver more of what it is doing really well which is a win for the community.

Australian Philanthropic Services helps donors with their due diligence and look at a range of factors – including admin expenses within the context of the organisation's work – to help identify charities achieving a real impact with their dollars (disclaimer: I work there). Some of the articles on APS' website might be helpful in your toolkit when doing DD. I especially like the one written by Fiona Higgins: “I’m not interested in funding administration”.

Warren Bird
January 20, 2020

Thanks for the mention of Fiona's article, which I think summarises the issues well. It took some digging to find it, so to make it easier for others, here's the link:
https://australianphilanthropicservices.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Im-not-interested-in-funding-administration_-a-challenge-to-grantmakers-Generosity-Magazine.pdf

David Wilson
January 16, 2020

Thank you Antonia for providing this very useful summary. Really helpful.

Dianne Ivett
January 16, 2020

I would also add Blaze Aid to your list.
As the daughter of a grazier I am acutely aware of the importance of fencing on country properties - without them the graziers cannot restock their herds and flocks of animals or stop what has survived from wandering. This assistance is essential to the country folk who need it, replacing fences is very expensive and time consuming and can set a property back by several years of lost income.
Please visit blazeaid.com.au to donate or volunteer services to assist.

 

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