The floodwaters have subsided and philanthropic support has peaked in the wake of the Queensland floods of 2011. Rochelle Nolan speaks with charities and other industry leaders on matters fundraising, lessons learned and the impact on the nonprofit sector.

The floodwaters have subsided and philanthropic support has peaked in the wake of the Queensland floods of 2011. Rochelle Nolan speaks with charities and other industry leaders on matters fundraising, lessons learned and the impact on the nonprofit sector.

As December drew to a close and gave way to 2011, Australia held its breath as Queensland was hit by flooding which would only worsen throughout January. There have been 35 flood related deaths since November 2010.

The Premier’s Disaster Relief Appeal (managed by the Australian Red Cross) had raised $229,446,046 as of March 1. Other nonprofits, such as The Salvation Army and Lifeline Community Care Queensland, also launched their own appeals.

Elissa Jenkins
State Manager, Communications and Fundraising
Lifeline Community Care Queensland (LCCQ)

There are three people in my team – myself, Anna-Maria Masci and Jenna Bain (both fundraising and communication officers). When the floods hit Brisbane, Jenna had to evacuate her home. She and her two flatmates came over to my house – along with their dog and two cats.

The following day, we weren’t allowed to go to work in the city. Anna had no internet access at her house, so she came over to work from my place as well. We launched Lifeline’s flood appeal from my kitchen table with five adults, three cats and two dogs in the house! All this while Anna postponed our biggest fundraiser – the Bookfest – from the living room, and Jenna dealt with the trauma from having to evacuate her home.

Appeal newbies learn on the job

It took between 24 – 48 hours to get an appeal up. LCCQ hadn’t really actively fundraised before, but because of the size and nature of the disaster, we wanted to do something. We had purchased GoFundraise tools in 2010, and the company was very helpful in supporting us to get an appeal up and running as quickly as possible.

ABC QLD is our workplace giving partner, and suggested to the national network that it mention the Lifeline appeal alongside the Premier’s Disaster Relief Appeal online, on radio and television. Their support was fantastic.

GetUp! get onboard

Support from politically motivated nonprofit, GetUp! was instrumental in the success of our appeal. Lifeline Australia had a pre-existing relationship with GetUp! based on mental health advocacy work we’d done together. After a phone conversation at the national level, GetUp! offered to email its huge database of supporters to promote the Lifeline flood appeal. This raised $200,000 in 24 hours.

Not a time for embarrassment

As an organisation, we’re very ‘green’ in the fundraising space; we have a culture of being a bit embarrassed about asking for donations. As such, LCCQ had never been proactive or confident in asking our tiny donor list to donate. Lifeline Australia could have decided to run the appeal nationally, but instead chose to let a local Lifeline outfit receive and distribute the funding, which is invaluable for regional Lifelines.

The experience showed us that we should be proud of giving people the opportunity to give.

Donor behaviour across demographics

The Uniting Church asked us if we could run its flood appeal, which began ten days later. It received $136,000 online, and $580,000 offline.

Uniting Church has an older demographic and although donors were given the opportunity to give online, the vast majority chose offline channels. This resulted in a huge administrative workload for us! We’d go home for the weekend and return on Monday to 40 phone messages from people wanting to donate!

Corporate support forthcoming

Corporate support was crucial to the Lifeline appeal. We received $100,000 from Virgin Mobile, and have also received $60,000 in corporate donations through working with Pilotlight, which connects corporates and philanthropic groups with community organisations. Prime Super donated $20,000 and we are still facilitating more grants and corporate donations.

We’re a bit hesitant when it comes to converting the people who donated to Lifeline’s appeal to regular supporters, because a lot of them are based outside of Queensland. We haven’t yet analysed our data for location, but we do plan to get in touch with anyone in Queensland who donated to the appeal and try to get them onboard as regular supporters.

Results (Feb23)
Number of online donors:3,199
Total funds raised online:$391,200
Average donation:$123
Largest donation online:$6,735 (also had quite a few donations of $5,000 and $2,000)
Largest GoFundraise fundraiser:Rylstone (NSW town) – $11,680. Followed by Emerald Grain Marketers – $11,470
Number of offline donors (mail, phone, philanthropic funds and corporate donations excluding Virgin Mobile):65
Total offline funds raised:$83,017
Total funds raised:$474,219.20

Phil Wilson
Territorial Corporate and Major Gifts Director
Salvation Army, Eastern Territory

The Salvation Army had an unprecedented response to its flood appeal from both individuals and corporates. As of February 21, the total funds raised stood at $20 million, though the final result will not be known until the end of the financial year.

Our disaster appeals are very reactive in a sense – we only respond with a disaster appeal when the public wants to give, and just take donations as they come.

Woolworths point of sale campaign a success

The biggest number of donations came through the Woolworths point of sale campaign, where people could add a donation to their purchase. This system was already established as we had used it to fundraise in 2009/10. When members of the public started calling us asking how they could donate we gave them a range of options including Woolworths. The company matched the public donations dollar for dollar with a total of $16.8 million being presented to The Salvation Army.

The donors we can identify as being new acquisitions will be appropriately thanked, nurtured and encouraged to become regular supporters. We are developing a range of new marketing materials to assist with this process

Feed, recover, pastoral care

The role of The Salvation Army in any emergency situation is to feed those affected, volunteers and the emergency service personnel. When evacuation centres have been established, we organise three meals a day. We then move into recovery mode, assisting people with their practical needs, followed by the pastoral care phase which means supporting people in any way, anywhere. This is where our rural flying chaplain in his helicopter plays a vital role.

To fundraise or not to fundraise?

For charities unrelated to the themes or locations of disasters, it can be a nerve wracking time wondering whether or not to continue with a planned appeal or campaign – and if so, whether or not it will be affected. A number of commentators provide their perspective below.

Sean Triner
Co-founder and Director
Pareto Fundraising

Things like flooding, tsunamis, earthquakes and bushfires are always going to happen with some regularity. Chances are that one of your campaigns will coincide with a disaster at some stage, depending on its scale and geographic impact. The only thing we know for a fact is this: if you postpone or cancel an appeal because of a disaster, you’ll make less money.

No one can say whether by proceeding, you made less money than you would have otherwise, but you will have made more than nothing – which is all you’ll get if you cancel. The other thing to consider is if you postpone, you’ll have fewer donors, as recency is a big indicator of likelihood to give again.

If you stop fundraising, you’ll be worse off

I’ve seen plenty of campaigns work just fine despite occurring at a similar time to a disaster. We’ll never know if they could have done better had the disaster not occurred, but there’s no trend to suggest they did worse. If you stop fundraising, you will most certainly be worse off.

Charities need to think about how they would respond in this situation. They need to have the discussion well before-hand, so in the event an appeal does coincide with a disaster, they’ll know what they’re doing.

Margie Read Flavell
Business Development Manager
OURTEL Solutions

Some charities postponed appeals until March, mostly out of respect, I think. One Christian organisation called their regular givers in flood and cyclone affected areas just to see if they were okay, and to let them know prayers were being said for them, which is a wonderful thing to do – it builds relationships with your supporters.

Something like the tragedy of the floods has a huge ripple effect – even filtering through to service suppliers. Some charities put off appeals they had planned for that period, or decided not to go ahead with things like raffles. Others were thrust into a position where the work they do is directly related to the disaster, which can be a big opportunity for them to heighten their profile and showcase the tangible work they do.

Leo Orland
Account Director
RobeJohn and Associates

I’ve not seen anyone postpone appeals, but I do know of some charities who have excluded postcodes affected by disaster from their appeal mailouts. One charity actually wrote to the people living in affected postcodes, not to ask for a donation, but to show their support for donors during a difficult time. It’s a good idea to do that; it builds relationships with your supporters.

It doesn’t make sense to postpone an appeal. There’s no such thing as donor fatigue; it exists only in people’s imaginations. Acknowledge that the flooding happened – don’t ignore it – but it is very much business as usual for nonprofits not involved. The work of charities continues as normal, even when disasters occur. Because the work relies on fundraising revenue, it means fundraising must continue, too. If the need continues to exist and you have a good relationship with your donors, they will continue to give.

Martyn Hartley
Business Development Director
WAYS Fundraising

The floods had a significant impact on WAYS face-to-face fundraising programs in that, after discussions with our clients, we took the decision to temporarily withdraw our fundraisers from Queensland altogether. We basically moved whole campaigns out of one state. Losing a significant area of the country undoubtedly impacted on the ability to fundraise.

The majority of fundraisers took up our offer to fly them to NSW where they could continue fundraising. But there was still an impact on capacity. We managed to build most campaigns back to their previous level when they moved down to NSW and we also grew capacity in other states and territories to counteract the loss of capacity.

In terms of fundraisers in states other than Queensland, there was no significant impact – teams were still getting the same sorts of conversion rates and sign up numbers as before. We did hear stories of some people saying ‘No, I’ve just donated to the floods’, but no more than any other kind of objection you hear in F2F.