Media Reports of Scammers Hamper Legitimate Small Groups
In the midst of the most exhausting fortnight we’ve had in a very long time we’ve had several messages which have accused us of being scammers. Whilst we have no issue with a polite email asking us for more details about BTS, these start out with accusations, not a request for information. With some, the provision of requested information- which has obviously not been read- has led to repeated further messages, maintaining the attitude that we’re not legit. Reasons include they’ve never heard of us, our website was only created in 2019 (it’s our new one) and we can’t spell (they don’t understand the double meaning in our name- emergency services SEE what others don’t)
Media Reports High Number of Fundraising Scams
This wave is no doubt a result of “news” that there are many scam fundraising appeals doing the rounds.(In 6 years we’ve never experienced this level of what I’ll politely refer to as rudeness and harassment) Unfortunately that “news” does not come with an education on what to check for in terms of legitimacy –leading to public presumptions that only the larger, well known (and often rich) charities are legitimate.
How Do We Compete With the Celeste Campaign?
So here’s our story, including the effects of such harassment. We found ourselves a few weeks ago- at the peak of Celeste Barber’s $50 000 000 campaign for one service in one State, and at our peak with first responders contacting us for mental health support– with the grand total of $250 in public donations through our legitimate fundraising portal. Public attention and generosity became tunnel visioned – as though this one appeal was the ONLY genuine bushfire appeal.
Besides the dollars being streamlined into one spot only, the media attention was focused only on firefighters- and whilst the acknowledgement they were receiving was absolutely deserved, there was no news about any other emergency services involved in the fire response. Police, paramedics, SES, VRA etc seemed not to exist to the media, and therefore not to the public.
We knew the reality of necessary teamwork between emergency services all too well, so (without taking any due credit away from firefighters) we started posting acknowledgements to ALL emergency services on our facebook page.
Thanks To All First Responders – The Campaign
As part of this campaign, Ross designed the emergency services ribbon. This seemed a perfect way to acknowledge via a symbol, that all emergency services work as a team in response to large scale events. After he uploaded the 2 designs and people started sharing it – and using it as their profile pic, he was bombarded with requests for stickers and badges to be made- mostly from first responders who loved acknowledging the team spirit. People wanted to display their support for emergency services and teamwork in the physical world, not just online.
The Choice To Share
At that point he had every right to sell stickers and badges of his own design and keep the money for himself- as MANY designers legitimately do. The profile pic so widely shared was watermarked © Rossco – NOT Behind The Seen. The benefit to the first responder community was already evident with the ribbon design shared widely on social media- he had already achieved his aim – he had created a movement of support, a symbol of teamwork among emergency services and an awareness campaign to educate the public.
The Effects of Unfounded Criticism and Accusations
Ross decided that the sticker and badge sales money could make an impact in the real world- and decided the money would go towards funding more free Stress Packs to be sent on request to first responders. Now imagine for a moment that you have PTSD, yet you still put yourself out there on a daily basis to support and educate those with mental health challenges – with zero remuneration. Then you ADD a potential income stream to that cause- which creates a massive workload for yourself and your partner – one that has no personal benefit – in fact is potentially damaging as it’s exhausting.
In the midst of that high stress time you start to receive several rude, critical, harassing messages accusing you of being scammers. These people don’t just send one message, they send a torrent of disbelieving and insulting diatribe. And they’re not just online trolls whose identity is hidden, some of these messages have come from first responders and every day members of the public who have been convinced by media reports that any small group asking for donations must be scams- because they have “never heard about us”.
Upsetting for anyone but for someone with PTSD these kinds of messages are a TRIGGER. Anyone who knows anything about PTSD understands that the consequences are painful – for both the sufferer and their family members. Fortunately Ross is aware of his triggers and as a couple we have agreements in place to manage symptoms as a team. We also have a wonderful mental health support network. Support doesn’t remove the hurt of unjust accusations but it does put these accusations into a broader, less personal perspective.
Caring For Self vs Caring For Others
I keep telling Ross he’s created a monster. In so many ways it’s a nice monster. I am so incredibly proud of his creativity, his generosity, his strength and his never-ending willingness to put himself out there in the public eye so that others might learn from his story. But there are times this nice monster becomes damaging to both his mental health, and to mine. When both of us are reduced to tears, wondering why on earth we do this to ourselves, it’s time for us to take a step back and reflect on our own wellbeing. And in moments between messages asking for support, and sending stress packs and stickers we’ve been doing just that.
Our beautiful 3 kids and their partners have gathered round us and helped during every spare minute they’ve had. Twenty amazing volunteers turned up last Friday to make up stress meters, cut stickers, address envelopes etc but most importantly reminded us what community spirit is. And significantly, a comment on the weekend: “you saved a life”. Over the last 6 years we’ve heard that comment many times. And there it is. The reason we do what we do. But we have to practice what we preach – self care has to be a priority.
We’ll be calling on our new team of community volunteers again. We’ll continue to send out free stress less conversation packs to those who request it. We’ll try not to let the doubters, the trolls, the uneducated and opinionated get to us. Yesterday we heard from someone else who regularly runs fundraisers that he too was being criticised and harassed. He too was pushed to his personal limits at the time, and left to wonder why he bothered as not only is there is no personal gain to his efforts, he now he has to add dealing with harassment to his daily commitment- and he, like us, then wonders why he bothers.
The real risk here is that the smaller groups fold. Yet they are invaluable – it is the grass roots/front line groups that form any community’s foundations of support.
You Can Help
So what can YOU do? Please don’t just share “news” that there are “scammers” out there. Spread the news that there are MANY underfunded smaller groups and organisations doing amazing things! Checking on legitimacy is really not that hard – ASK and actually READ information sent to you. And keep in mind that many smaller groups are auspiced by larger charities because they have not had the time/resources/networks to set up their own charity- but they are accountable and legitimate in every way. Any non-profit listed on the GiveNow donations portal had undergone stringent checks – have a look, search for the smaller groups who are doing great work with very few dollars and very little recognition. (okay I have to give a plug – here’s our link in case you have a couple of dollars to spare: https://www.givenow.com.au/behindtheseen)
Oh and if anyone knows Celeste Barber – could you tell her we actually live in her local community. No we’re not “seen” by the general public- but that doesn’t mean we’re not making a difference in our Aussie first responder community. Perhaps she might give us and some of the other smaller groups out there a little shout out. (Her shout is obviously worth a lot!)
And finally, from Ross and I to all the other smaller groups out there working hard to make a difference in their community – THANK YOU.
Ronnie (legitimate name Veronique)