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What Celeste Barber did right and wrong with her $52 million bushfire fundraiser

Celeste Barber’s bushfire fundraiser raised a mammoth $52 million, which the comedian said would be distributed among numerous firefighting services and charities, but it looks unlikely the funds will be shared as promised.

Ms Barber’s fundraiser was initially intended for equipment and training for the NSW Royal Fire Service (RFS), but as the amount raised surged she told donors the funds would be shared with fire services in other bushfire affected states and with wildlife charities.

Now, lawyers are scrambling to see if the funds can be split with other organisations.

Managing Director of online fundraising platform Mycause, Tania Burstin, said Ms Barber’s intentions were good, but she made some serious mistakes which misled donors.

“What Celeste did wrong was that she said to her fans, followers and donors that the funds would be dispersed to other entities like wildlife charities, and it would go to other states like Victoria,” Ms Burstin told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell.

“Her commentary was incorrect and by being incorrect, unfortunately, she’s misled the public who were incredibly generous.

“The funds that were donated, they need to go to the entity to which you are donating. The beneficiary was very clearly stated on that fundraiser page, saying that it was going to Royal Fire Service New South Wales. There shouldn’t be any confusion about that.”

It is possible that the funds raised could still be distributed among charities, but Ms Burstin said it’s an unlikely situation.

“The only wriggle room I can see is either the money goes back to the PayPal giving fund, which is a public ancillary fund, and they can split the funds, or an act of state NSW parliament,” she said.

But the controversy proves the fundraising system is working as it should.

“The good news is that things are working exactly as they should. Donors should understand that when they donate to a particular charity the money does go to that charity and the charity spends that money according to its objects,” Ms Burstin said.

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Fire Fight organiser not impressed with Celeste Barber swipes

Image: Cole Bennetts / Stringer