THE LEADER of a prominent drought charity has welcomed a decision by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) to investigate his organisation and how it distributes its funds and resources, saying it is an opportunity to highlight the work they are doing.
The ACNC announced last week it would look into the operations of Rural Aid / Buy a Bale and Aussie Helpers following complaints.
Charles Alder, the founder of Rural Aid and Buy a Bale, said the ACNC probe held no fears.
“We welcome the chance to explain what we are doing and the challenges we face in terms of managing the scale of our operations and meeting the expectations of both the donors and the farmers we are helping.”
The ACNC works comes as some drought impacted farmers have been expressing their disappointment with the distribution methodology used by drought charities, saying resources have not been meeting demand as well as they could.
One western Queensland livestock producer, who Fairfax Agricultural Media has chosen not to name, said his experience with Buy A Bale had been disappointing.
The producer said in his dealings with the charity it had been unable to deliver on he was led to believe it could do when he signed up and that an offer from Buy A Bale for financial assistance to buy feed would only have equated to enough cover for ten days at most.
“In the end I have decided to deregister from the list, it is disappointing as all it is doing is creating false hope,” the farmer said.
However, Mr Alder said the charity was trying to use the $20 million it has in funds to best provide relief for farmers and generate maximum bang for bucks.
“There are a lot of farmers, over 4200, on our books and they are over a large geographic area, so it can be difficult to manage people’s expectations.”
The ACNC has contacted Rural Aid and Aussie Helpers to seek assurances that the influx of goods and funds being donated gets to those in need, following concerns raised in the media.
ACNC commissioner, Gary Johns said the regulator was seeking to ensure charities, managing massive sums of money, are transparent and accountable.
Screenshots seen by Fairfax Agricultural Media show some organisations have raised close to $50 million.
“Australians have been incredibly generous and donated huge amounts of money and goods to help those affected by the drought,” Commissioner Johns said.
Commissioner Johns confirmed both organisations were working with the ACNC.
“Our enquiries are still ongoing however both charities have fully cooperated.”
One of the major criticism from those seeking aid has been the seemingly arbitrary manner in which fodder is distributed.
The Queensland farmer said logistical issues were not being organised well.
“It does not seem to be managed well and the lengthy timeframes before people registered are getting assistance are not helping.
“By the time farmers come to approach a charity for help they probably needed help yesterday, so having to wait months before getting any assistance means it is missing the mark.”
He also said the system of hay deliveries had gaping holes.
“If you’re not in an area where there is a hay run then do you have to miss out?” he questioned.
“I know there are difficulties in organising it all, but it does not seem to be co-ordinated that well and I think that if people knew how things worked they would probably not sign up for help.”
“There’s no problem with trying to help but be transparent about what you are doing and what you can provide.”
Mr Alder said the distribution of fodder was a balancing act.
“The vast majority of farmers we work with understand the difficulties of getting assistance to a large amount of people across a wide area.
“Unfortunately there are some with unrealistic expectations.”
Mr Alder said farmers could not expect to maintain livestock on Buy A Bale donations alone.
“The people we are working with are buying in feed for other places, the charity does not have enough to support farmers outright, this is not about allowing people to maintain herd numbers it is about letting them have the time to make educated decisions about what they do next.”