Right now, money from Celeste Barber's massive fundraiser can only be spent on firefighting equipment. Here's why.

Celeste Barber. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for TOM FORD: AUTUMN/WINTER 2020 RUNWAY SHOW )
  • The millions of dollars raised by comedian Celeste Barber’s Facebook bushfire appeal reportedly hasn’t been spent yet.
  • The funds were designed to go to The Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donation Fund, and Barber since expressed how she wanted it also used for South Australian and Victorian firefighter organisations and widows of those lost battling the blazes.
  • The RFS explained that money given to the Donations Trust is specfically for “equipment, training and resources” for fire brigades.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Australian comedian Celeste Barber’s Facebook fundraiser has raised more than $51 million for bushfire relief, but none of it has yet been spent, the Daily Telegraph reported.

It is Facebook’s largest ever fundraiser, designed for The Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donation Fund (Donations Trust).

But as the donations kept flooding in, Barber said the funds should be used to support South Australian and Victorian firefighting organisations, the Red Cross and for the widows of firefighters who died battling the flames, the Telegraph reported.

The issue is that funds given to the Donations Trust are meant for a specific purpose: to provide equipment and support to members of the brigade.

The rules of the RFS donations site mean that the money donated to the trust has to go to firefighting equipment, and not to be given to families or other charities.

Where the money donated to The Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donation Fund goes

In a statement released in January, the NSW RFS said the Donation Trust “has a specific purpose” – to provide firies with equipment and resources,

“To support volunteer brigades with equipment, training and resources relating to their emergency service role,” the NSW RFS said. “Funds must and will be used for this purpose.” 

The organisation added that given the scale of the donations, it wanted to ensure its members had a say in how the funds are being spent. So both the NSW RFS and Donations Trust are focusing on four main areas: creating a fund for volunteer brigades, supporting the welfare and mental health of members, ensuring the volunteers are equipped to protect the community and improving service delivery through activities like training and education and emergency response.

In the statement, the RFS also acknowledged it is still working out the details of the donations it has received.

“We are still working through the details of some donations, including large online campaigns,” the RFS said at the time. “Some of these involve complex issues and everyone is working hard to ensure the money goes where it was intended.

“Once these issues are worked through, we’ll have a better idea of how much money is available and what kinds of initiatives can be carried out.”

According to the Daily Telegraph, Barber met with the RFS to find out if there is a way to split up the money.

The NSW RFS told Business Insider Australia in an email it was thankful for the support it has received through donations and is working to resolve the allocation of funds from the Celeste Barber campaign.

“We’re incredibly grateful of Celeste’s efforts, rallying people around the world to donate,” a NSW RFS Spokesperson said. “The funds raised are record breaking – and of a scale the NSW RFS has never dealt with before. This has created some considerable challenges, especially as we’ve been dealing with the fire emergency across the state.

“We take the issue of public donations very seriously – and know everyone wants to see the funds distributed quickly and to the right places.”

The spokesperson added that the distribution of funds “is an extremely complex issue”.

“This is because the funds have been provided, in whole, to the NSW RFS. However, the NSW RFS Donations Trust is legally not allowed to provide donated funds to other charities – these funds are limited to firefighting equipment, resources and training for volunteer brigades.

“We’ve been working with Celeste’s team, as well as the companies which conducted the fundraising and collection of donations online, to work out how the funds can be distributed but at this stage the options are very limited.”

We’ll just have to see whether the money will be able to go to other people who need it too.

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