The survey and report, commissioned by the fundraising body Fundraising Institute Australia and conducted by More Strategic, found that while Australians have proven their incredible generosity once again, they may have unrealistic expectations of how quickly the money will be spent.
Of the 1,000 people aged 18 and over surveyed, a total of 52.7 per cent said they had donated to a bushfire appeal, with the typical individual chipping in $50.
While Aussies have once again speedily responded to a natural disaster, helping charities and causes raise close to half a billion dollars in donations so far, the survey uncovered that an overwhelming 88 per cent of donors expect their donations to be utilised within the next few months.
More Strategic explained that expectations may be unrealistic and warned that they present a “massive challenge” to organisations who are not used to dispersing such huge amounts.
“While there is a pressing urgency to meet the immediate needs of those most severely impacted by the fires, there is a trade-off between acting quickly, acting fairly and maximising impact. Accept that longer-term solutions may have a greater impact,” the consultancy to the charities sector explained.
Furthermore, 29 per cent of the survey’s participants said they believe every dollar should go to the purpose it was donated to, while 36 per cent said they trust the charity they supported to do their best to minimise administration costs.
Pace of relief criticised
Last week, NSW Minister Andrew Constance, local member for severely bushfire-hit Bega, criticised charities and the government on the pace of relief efforts, urging them to move more quickly.
“The money is needed right now, not sitting in a Red Cross bank accounting earning interest,” Mr Constance told media.
He called on the “managing directors” of the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and St Vincent De Paul to visit affected areas, while also praising the work of volunteers who, Mr Constance said, have done an “exceptional” job.
“They’re not the issue or the problem here, it’s what their bosses are doing,” he added.
Responding to Mr Constance, the charities issued statements explaining how much has been donated and what percentage of that has been distributed to the communities.
The Salvation Army noted that it is now in the fourth month of its response to the national bushfire disaster and has distributed $8.4 million (80 per cent) of the $11 million that has been received in funds.
The Red Cross said that while it has raised $115 million, $30 million will be spent on emergency grants for people whose homes were destroyed; $5 million is earmarked for 24/7 support, including evacuations, relief centres, deploying of emergency teams, training and wellbeing; while $18 million will go towards a three-year bushfire recovery program.
St Vincent De Paul followed and disclosed that it has raised $12.5 million and distributed more than $2.4 million nationally, with a further $250,000 already processed for distribution in the coming days. The charity assured that “every dollar raised for the Vinnies Bushfire Appeal will be used to support the people impacted by the fires”.
Recognising that a number of charities could be struggling with the sudden influx of donations and funds, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission urged them to seek guidance.
“Through past experience, we know about the pitfalls that can occur for charities that have rapid growth. To help, we will be providing more specific guidance to assist charities that are responding to the current disaster,” said the head of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, Gary Johns.
He cautioned that if “your charity has raised large sums of money, its financial reporting obligations could change”.
“This means you should take action now to get advice and to ensure your charity will have all the information that will be required,” he said.
“We appreciate the challenges that charities and the affected communities face. Rebuilding communities is a long-term project, and charities will need to plan for this at the same time as providing services now and meeting all of their obligations.”
Earlier this month, Mr Johns said the regulator will use its investigative powers in the coming months and years to ensure the money is well spent.