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What can fundraisers learn from the Australian bushfire response?

The bushfires currently burning across large areas of Australia are horrific. My heart goes out to all of the families that have lost loved ones and/or properties, as well as all of the wildlife that have lost their habitats or lives.


Disasters like this are truly terrible, but when our backs are against the wall, they also bring out the best in humanity. This is seen in the thousands of volunteer fire fighters working to the point of exhaustion. It is seen in the huge community response to buy goods and supplies for displaced people. It is seen by the volunteers nursing wildlife back to health. It is also seen in the huge financial support shown to the NGOs and humanitarian agencies working in response.


One of the most surprising fundraising successes is the incredible viral Facebook appeal launched by actor, writer, and comedian Celeste Barber. Currently, the appeal has raised over AUD $32 million.


Why has this ‘unofficial’ social media fundraising appeal eclipsed the results of the official appeals from the agencies themselves, even with TV support over New Year’s Eve?


I have a few thoughts, based on my observations through working on non-profit social media for many years. Just like a fire requires certain elements to really get going (fuel, oxygen, and a spark), social media traction requires the following:

  1. Immediacy. The crisis is happening right now, and you are offering a tangible way to help.
  2. Ongoing 24/7 blanket media coverage of a crisis. When the media are constantly talking about something, then it’s all the public can think about too.
  3. Proximity or Relatability. Either the crisis is affecting you, someone you know, or someone you can relate to / empathise with.
  4. Strong statements and opinions. Neutrality is a noble cause, but when something needs to be denounced for contributing to the crisis, people will respond in greater numbers.

Now we know what the ingredients to success are, why did Celeste Barber’s Facebook appeal work so well?


Celeste is a well-known professional. She has her own following on social media already, and even if you don’t follow her you probably have heard of her. Tick the box for number #3.


Celeste has been using her social media platform to release videos of herself throughout her appeal talking directly to those who have donated or are thinking of donating. She is loud, passionate, and speaking her mind without the filter of an organisation’s PR concerns. Tick numbers #4 and #3.


Celeste launched her Facebook appeal on January 3, 2020. While this wasn’t when the fires started, it was at a moment when public anger was spiking and the fires had no end in sight. Tick boxes #1 and #2.


Aside from that, so many people are getting their news from their Facebook feeds now. Statistics show that people using Facebook don’t like to click away to other websites for long (Average time on page for referrals from social media are typically far lower than for other sources like organic search). Facebook user behaviour indicates, and Facebook’s own strategy is it seems, that they prefer to stay on Facebook.


Why is the Facebook appeal so effective? Well, from a user’s perspective – you’re already logged in, they know who you are, so you don’t have to fill in a long form. It’s in partnership with PayPal, and if you have a PayPal account they already have your details, so you don’t need to fill in a long form. So the number of steps you have to go through compared to a typical charity website donation is much less. This makes it fast and simple to donate, which increases conversion rates by reducing drop-offs.


Facebook’s appeals are also very effective with a subtle digital form of ‘peer-pressure’. The appeal tells you which of your friends have already donated to the appeal. You don’t want to not appear on the list, so you must donate to keep up appearances, right?

Regardless, the results from Celeste’s appeal are amazing, and when it comes down to it, it’s because of the incredible generosity of Australians and our friends around the world that have wanted to help us in our time of need.

Thank you to everyone that has donated or volunteered to help during this terrible emergency.

Author: Sean Brokenshire

If you want to collaborate with an expert in this field, contact Sean Brokenshire below to talk about your organisation's needs.

Hi, I'm Sean Brokenshire.

I have been working professionally in the fields of digital marketing and multimedia production since 2004. For the past ten years, until recently, I've worked for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) Australia playing a key role in their digital marketing and communications. Now I'm freelancing - let's do something great together!

Let's do something great together!

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