More than $73 million has been raised through Facebook for bushfire relief in Australia, as social media and new online platforms pave the way for faster donations

Social media has played a major role in donations for bushfire relief. iStock
  • More than $73 million has been raised for bushfire relief through Facebook donation pages.
  • Celeste Barber’s Facebook fundraiser for Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund has generated over $50 million – the largest fundraiser on the platform globally.
  • More than 6,000 GoFundMe pages have also been created for bushfire relief, which have raised more than $23 million.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Social media has been helping people all over the world raise funds and support for victims of the Australian bushfires.

Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have been used to raise awareness of the bushfires and inform people of ways they can help.

Facebook has also been used as a way to donate funds to organisations working for bushfire relief, with the donations tool only launching in Australia last year.

Antonia Sanda, Head of Communications at Facebook Australia told Business Insider Australia in an email that more than $73 million ($US50 million) has been raised for fire relief through its platform, with donations and support coming in from more than 75 countries.

More than 19,000 fundraisers have been created on Facebook since November, supporting more than 250 non-profit organisations with relief and recovery efforts.

Comedian Celeste Barber’s Facebook fundraiser for the Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund has raised over $50 million – setting the record for the largest fundraiser on Facebook in the world.

People have also been raising funds for bushfire relief through GoFundMe pages, including celebrities Ellen DeGeneres and Aussie actor Dacre Montgomery.

Nicola Britton Regional Manager of GoFundMe Australia told Business Insider Australia in an email that since the bushfire season took force in November, more than 6,000 GoFundMe pages have been created. These have raised more than $23 million to support communities, wildlife and charities.

“Since New Year’s Eve alone, 300,000 donations have raised $17 million towards bushfire relief efforts,” Britton said.

“The world is taking action. Donations have come from all corners of the globe, over 170 countries and every continent, including Antarctica, donating little and large on GoFundMe to make a big difference. Half of donations made to bushfire funds are $20 or less, collectively raising millions.”

Four bushfire fundraisers are among the top ten biggest GoFundMe Australia pages of all time. These include pages for the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, Kangaroo Island Koalas and wildlife fund, Fire Relief Fund for First Nations Communities and the fund for volunteer firefighters Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O’Dwyer who lost their lives while on duty.

Britton highlighted how social media has made donating much faster and more efficient.

“Both social media and technology are changing the way people give, making donating quicker and more efficient,” Britton said. “Those turning to GoFundMe are able to leverage the power of both their close-knit communities, and broader networks through social media, to tap into the selfless generosity of strangers who are chipping in to back those in need.

“Our ongoing research shows time and time again that social proofing is an incredibly important trust factor when it comes to donating. So crowdfunding pages often spread initially through primary networks, who in turn share it with their own, enabling fundraisers to tap into networks of donors that would have remained difficult to reach in a world without technology.”

Britton added that GoFundMe works with Trust and Safety experts to make sure the funds raised on the site go to the right people.

“They engage with campaign organisers, as well as the final beneficiaries and charitable organisations, working closely with all stakeholders to verify all parties and ensure funds reach the right place,” she said.

“In cases where a campaign organiser is raising money on behalf of someone else, GoFundMe works to ensure the money goes directly into the beneficiary’s bank account.”

But social media fundraising “raises the least amount”

Social media, however, isn’t always the best way to go about getting donations.

Dr Bronwen Dalton is the Head of the Department of Management and director of the Masters of Not-For-Profit and Community Program at the University of Technology Sydney. She told Business Insider Australia that while social media is a really important part of fundraising and campaigning for charities, “physically it often raises the least amount”.

“The most effective way of fundraising is having a child in a uniform knock on your door,” she said, giving the example of a scout for The Salvation Army. “The conversion rate on that is like 80%… because you won’t get rid of them and also they’re a kid, so you pay them.”

Dalton explained that the conversion rate is the number of times asked to the decision to donate.

She further explained the differences between the types of giving. With face to face giving, you are observed and judged, whereas with online giving, it can be anonymous. While people might share a lot and click, they donate “only a minuscule proportion”.

When it comes to the charities, Dalton said online fundraisers are cheap for them but many donations pages hardly raise funds.

“Going online is cheap but the amount of those funds pages that don’t have anything is really high,” she said.

In order for these fundraisers to stand out, Dalton noted that it has to be “an amazing campaign” where you usually have to pay influencers or have a big brand name. And if you go viral, even better.

What contributed to Celeste Barber’s fundraiser becoming so big, according to Dalton, is the cause and how people feel very passionate about it.

But Dalton said the bushfire fundraisers are an exception when it comes to giving through social media.

“What Celeste Barber and so forth have done is fairly creative and they’ve hit at a unique and desperate and unified point among Australians that are much more motivated,” Dalton said. “So this is more of the exception than the rule with social media but it has been effective.”

While there has been a lot of money committed to these online campaigns, Dalton questioned how much people follow through with their donation payments.

“I don’t know if the money’s pledged or paid. I’d like to see the money paid because there’s a big drop off between pledging and paying, because there’s no price to pay. There’s no social shame. No one knows.”

Beware the intemediaries

Dalton explained there while there are myriad ways of raising money, the worst form of fundraising is via mail.

But she said face to face fundraising improves chances slightly. “That’s why charities hire those chuggers,” Dalton said, highlighting those people you try and avoid who stand on the street asking you for money for a charity. Dalton explained that it means “charity mugger” and warned against using them.

“They are for-profit companies that hire backpackers, that try and get money out of you and get your credit card. They take $40 out a month [and] after two years, one of those dollars will go to the charity. The for-profits take all of the money for years. It’s terrible.

“Always give directly to a charity, never to these intermediaries.”

Read more: Celeste Barber’s bushfire fundraiser on Facebook is officially the largest in the platform’s history, raising over $40 million

Read more: From Instagram comedian to a $45 million bushfire fundraiser: Here’s what you need to know about Celeste Barber