Australian Bushfire Crisis

This blog is for anyone working within the corporate & business sector – read this blog and send it to your CSR or Sustainability Manager (if you have one), Head of HR/People, Head of Marketing/Corporate Affairs/Comms – and get it to your Leader.  A response to the Australian Bushfire Crisis needs to be significant and swift. Tokenistic and slow may result in reputational damage, so the Leader (CEO/MD) must LEAD in this instance (and be seen to be leading) by staff and the community.

Allison Marion took this photo of her son, 11-year-old Finn, as they fled the fiery shores of Mallacoota


Usually, returning to work after a Christmas & NY break, people are optimistic about the upcoming year ahead, and well rested. Not so this year. Australia is being ravaged by unprecedented bush fires…and the experts say it’s only the beginning. It’s left an indelible scar on the nation, and the scale is immense. Nearly 11m hectares burned; more than 2,000 homes destroyed, 23 lives lost and an estimate 1b animals dead. The true cost will unfold over time, and whether directly affected or not, you only need to look at the Twitter or Facebook feed to see how EVERY Australian is feeling – overwhelmed, horrified, helpless and angry. Do not underestimate the anger that Australians are feeling – this crisis has brought up a lot of pent-up anger & resentment about inequality, lack of bush fire preparedness, inaction on climate change and underpinning all of this is the highest levels of mistrust in the Government and Corporate Sectors[1]. Our PM underestimated the anger and it has damaged his reputation enormously, perhaps beyond repair.

Mural of Scott Morrison surrounded by fire

Murals like this are appearing across Australia


I’ve had a few phone calls from former clients wanting to know how to respond and in particular, how to communicate the response. So, I’ve written this blog to provide a little guidance. I hope it helps, and my door (well, email) is always open to any company that wants to schedule a 1-hour call to chat through their strategy. No charge for the next 2 weeks. This is the best way I can help and feel less useless, as I too watch this horror unfold from my little green sanctuary in the Yarra Valley (we’re safe, for the moment anyway).

Why should your CEO read this?

I’ve spent 24 years at the frontline building 50 partnerships between companies & causes investing over $40m into the community sector. I have my finger on the pulse of the non-profit sector and I’ve read more CSR reports than I care to admit (most are uninspiring). I’ve authored 7 publications based on rigorous research (I’ve been tracking consumer attitudes towards corporates & Social Good & CSR for 2 decades). My recent book, Talking the Walk® – how to tell your Social Good story to resonate with Millennials (2019) [2], features over 200 stats from research reports around the world. I’d recommend that you grab your copy now as it has all the stats that back up what I’m about to say. And I’ll be straight with you, as always, so there is no ambiguity. For the next 2 weeks use this code (TTWfree) and you won’t be charged the usual $79, it’ll be free.

The Business Response

Co-ordinated response

Let’s bring you up to speed with the business response to date. The Business Council of Australia (BCA)[3] is co-ordinating the business response and they’re in collaboration with the National Bushfire Recovery Agency[4] headed by Andrew Colvin – so they have a good idea of what is really needed. Whilst the crisis has triggered a generous response from Australians, many of the organisations at the frontline are getting distracted with unskilled volunteers and products they can’t store.  So, the first and most important thing to do is ask what is needed, listen and then deliver.

The Business Council of Australia has founded the Australian Volunteer Support Trust to assist the families of volunteer firefighters who’ve lost their lives. They aim to raise $25m. So, if you would like to donate this is a good place to start. They have also set up a Community Rebuilding initiative chaired by General Sir Peter Cosgrove, which will act as an interface with federal & state authorities & established recovery agencies. It will run for 5 years and will include employment opportunities, financial relief and reconstruction support.


Support to date

  • Coles has contributed $3m including Gift Cards to more than 6,000 rural fire brigades, is collecting donations at checkouts and providing essential supplies to Foodbank
  • Energy Australia pledged $100,000 and suspended accounts of affected business & families
  • Vodafone Foundation is matching donations up to $250,000
  • AGL donated $200,000
  • BP Australia $635,000
  • Stockland $500,000
  • BUPA $140,000
  • PWC $500,000

Most of these have pledged to match staff fundraising/donations.


Photo of children wearing P2 masks, holding up a "Thank you CFA" sign that they made to thank the firefighters during the Australian Bushfire Crisis 2019/2020

Erin Lehman managed to keep her kids busy by drawing a thank you sign for the CFA


  • EY has donated $100,000
  • KPMG are looking at ways to utilise their skills of their partners and people to support the rebuild
  • Light n Easy has donated $450k
  • Deloitte has raised over $200k through staff
  • Facebook has donated $250k and have agreed to match up to $1m in donations made via the GlobalGiving platform
  • LendLease has pledged $500k in matching staff donations
  • The AFL has pledged $2.5m plus a one-off State of Origin match next month & collect donations during the 2020 season.
  • McDonald’s has donated $500k to the Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief & Recovery fund and are matching employee donations. They’ve set up in-restaurant donations to enable customers to donate and have provided 20,000 free meals in impacted areas and distributed thousands of bottles of water to firefighters.

McDonalds Fire & Rescue

Celeste Barber Facebook Fundraiser Australian Bushfire Crisis

An inspiring response has come from individuals.

  • The Hemsworths, Sir Elton John & Kylie Jenner donated $1m
  • Pink, Nicole Kidman/Keith Urban, Justin Hemmes & the Minogue sisters have each pledged $500k
  • Rock band Metallica pledged $750k
  • Others are using their influence and reach to raise money – the legend that is Comedian Celeste Barber has a Facebook fundraiser which to date has raised a staggering $50m. She’s also called out the billionaires who donated to the Notre Dame fire to step up
  • Mining billionaire Twiggy Forrest has donated $70m to bushfire relief with $50m earmarked for preventative efforts & research
  • The Paul Ramsay Foundation has contributed $30m
  • Crown/The Packers donated $5m
  • Leonardo DiCaprio $3.4m
  • Nick Cave & Warren Ellis have donated $500k
  • Bette Midler donated $500k
  • Shane Warne put his baggy green cap up for auction. It sold for $1,007,500, with the auction being won by the Commonwealth Bank (CBA). They plan on taking the cap on a national tour to raise additional funds, before donating it to the Don Bradman Museum.

If you are a small business, I’d recommend donating to Celeste’s campaign or donating directly to the rural fire brigades that she supports. Here’s where that money will go.

At the beginning of the crisis in November 2019, John & Pauline Gandel donated $1m and the Pratt Foundation has tipped in $1m.

CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, who donated $7m to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey and $10m to victims of earthquake in China, said on Twitter in December that he’ll donate to bush fire relief but with no mention of how much. On 10 January Apple declared they were ‘accepting’ donations from customers but so far there’s been no mention of Apple’s contribution. This is a PR stuff up, you do not go public with a pledge to donate and then 2 weeks later become a portal for donations.

The Coffee Club and Bunnings ran 1-day fundraisers in November. The Coffee Club giving 50c for every coffee sold and Bunnings ran sausage sizzles at stores. In hindsight, these look incredibly tokenistic. So, whatever your response consider how it will look 3 months down the track as the Crisis endures.

Small companies are stepping up

Peter Sheppard footwear gave $50 for every pair of shoes sold last weekend.


The Petbarn Foundation have pledged $1.2 to animal welfare organisations and are donating food and supplies to wildlife rescue & emergency sites for vets volunteering.

I acknowledge that there are many companies who have contributed but have done so quietly.

The retail sector

45 local and international retailers banded together last week to donate all profits from sales on 9 January to the Australian Red Cross.  Called the “ALL IN” initiative it includes Afterpay, the Iconic, Stussy, Lacoste, eBay, Temple & Webster, Wrangler, Ugg, General Pants and numerous others.

JB Hi-Fi has donated $150k and will match donations made by staff, Just Group has donated $250k. Myer donated $470k combining corporate cash & customer donations, Rebel Sport and Supercheap Auto have donated $250k. Outdoor retailer Kathmandu is donating $20k of products to the Red Cross and is matching customer donations. Country Road has donated $100k and the UK’s Marks & Spencer donated 100% of profits on 10 January to several charities including NSWRFS and Red Cross. Jeff Bezoz, CEO of Amazon, has pledged $1m on behalf of the on-line retailer and Mecca, the Aussie beauty retailer, has donated $100k to the Australian Red Cross. David Jones donated $100k, L’Oreal $100k, The Bodyshop $25k, The Accent Group $100k.

What you CAN do

Donate money and tell people how much.  Giving firm Benojo have produced an excellent guide on all the credible organisations that you can donate to

√   Support staff to fundraise for a credible appeal and match the donations

√  Give paid leave to any staff who are volunteer firefighters, are directly affected by the fires or have family that are directly affected

√  Support any staff that are directly affected – ask what they want/need and provide it

√  Ask your staff what they want to do and if they want to raise money, match it. If they want to volunteer, liaise with the Business Council of Australia (as many of the relief agencies don’t have capacity to train or co-ordinate volunteers)

√  Look after all staff wellbeing – even those not directly affected may be traumatised and require counselling, compassion and possibly some leave. Read the blog by Wild Women on Top

√  Initiate and encourage conversations about staff mental health, so they know it’s safe to talk about it, develop a plan with your HR team

√  Identify what you’re good at – whether it be infrastructure, building houses, transport, logistics and so on and offer that – for example Airbnb using its platform to offer a roof for volunteers from o/s and people who are displaced

√  Place environmental footprint and climate change at the top of your agenda as the conversation will turn to this once the immediate crisis is over

√  Provide specific & clear information in easy to digest formats (infographics etc)

√  Show your human face and make a stand

√  Get involved in the discussion around climate change and other social issues – whilst the Government thinks corporates should ‘stick to their knitting’ consumers don’t, they expect and want corporates to apply their intelligence and resources to solving societal problems[5]

√  Keep employees up to date with corporate efforts and staff volunteering hours/fundraising – they’re your best communication channel to the rest of the world

√  Use your reach – whether organic through retail stores or online presence as well as donating advertising and social space to relief agencies to amplify their fundraising

√  Provide resources – if you have resources that might be useful – apps, communication, rebuilding materials, car parks, trucks etc – liaise with the Business Council of Australia which is co-ordinating the effort

√  Support local businesses by buying products – Turia Pitt has set up ‘Spend with Them’ to help rebuild towns & businesses affected by the bushfire and you can support businesses in East Gippsland with

√  Think differently, do things you’ve not done before

√  Download Cavill + Co’s e-book Talking the Walk® 2 – How to tell your social good story to resonate with Millennials which features the new model for communication – which I’ve made free until for the next 2 weeks ( and put in the code ‘TTWfree’

What you SHOULD NOT do

X   Pledge an unspecified amount and then don’t follow through (as Apple has done)

X   Link your ‘donation’ to a product without any narrative. I am a huge supporter of Cause Related Marketing as a great way to generate income for great causes.  However, it’s fraught with danger in times of crisis when people’s emotions are at an all-time high

This is not an opportunity to sell more products or services or for opportunistic marketing.  I struggled initially to identify why I was offended by the Optus campaign donating $1,000 for every goal scored during the Premier league but then got the warm n fuzzies from Peter Sheppard footwear donating $50 for every shoe sold on the weekend.  It was the lack of narrative, lack of humanity, it just feels crass.

So, if you want to donate through your business – donate.  If you want customers to donate invite them to.  If you are going to link donation to a product do it very carefully and sensitively.

X   Abandon or redirect your current philanthropy, CSR or sponsorship contributions. In a crisis you don’t abandon your partner or those that rely upon you, and those organisations that are not receiving donations right now will undoubtedly suffer in the coming months as consumer donations are exhausted

X   Set up a separate or new fund – this is not the time for duplicating effort or trying to ‘own’ the space

X   Spend half a million dollars on tv ads telling everyone what you’re doing, this is not the time to boost your reputation. Only use your current channels to inform customers about how you are helping and use any advertising or marketing budget to raise funds or share important information. If there’s something else you can contribute find out what is needed and then galvanise your workforce to make it happen. Animal hospitals and wildlife centres need medicine and volunteers. During the rebuild people will need building materials, furniture, white goods

X   Underestimate how angry consumers are. At the moment this anger is directed towards our PM but, in time, I am in no doubt that fingers will turn towards the corporate sector for using natural resources for profit and not taking responsibility for the resulting damage

X   Declare vague promises or complex detailed plans that no-one understands – use clear, plain English

If there was ever a time for Corporates to step up, be a shining beacon to all Australians, it’s NOW. My research shows that whilst consumers do not trust government OR corporates to do what is right by society, they at least believe that business HAS THE RESOURCES and intellect to make social change. If that’s not an invitation to step up, I don’t know what is.

If you would like to chat through your Action or Communication strategy regarding the Bushfire response, email me directly on There’s no charge for the next 2 weeks.

And stay safe,


Matt Roberts, a photographer for the ABC, took these photos of his sister’s property, which was lost in the fires

Matt Roberts, a photographer for the ABC, took these photos of his sister’s property, which was lost in the fires


Kangaroo Island, before & after the 2020 bushfires

Kangaroo Island, before & after

Additional Resources

  • How to help animals during the crisis

  • Bushfire photos before & after

  • National Bushfire Recovery Agency





[5] Talking the Walk® 2

About Hailey

As Fearless Leader of Cavill + Co, Hailey has advised blue-chip companies and brands on CSR & Social Good for over 20 years. She’s built over 50 cause partnerships for clients including Disney Australia, Vodafone Foundation, Mondelez Australia and SEEK. She also teaches non-profits how to partner with corporates through online training program,®


Leave a Reply