Sam Burne James: The Manchester Dogs' Home tragedy takes charity back to basics

The astonishing level of public donations to the charity-run home in the aftermath of a fire shows that fundraising campaigns don't always need a gimmick, writes Third Sector's reporter

Sam Burne James
Sam Burne James

Extraordinary. I don’t use this word lightly, but the public response on JustGiving to the fire at the Manchester Dogs' Home last night has been quite literally extraordinary. And not just under the allegedly controversial newfangled definition of the word "literally", either.

The total raised for the charity running the home was £130,000 when I woke up, just nine hours after the JustGiving page was set up by the Manchester Evening News, and only 12 hours after the fire itself. By the time I got to my desk, it was £400,000. When I finished writing my story on this whirlwind of charitable support just a couple of hours ago, it was £560,000. This had risen by nearly another £100,000 by the time I had written my first draft of this piece.

By the time you finish – let alone start – reading this blog, who knows how high it will be. JustGiving says it has broken records for fundraising totals – but hasn’t yet provided any figures, presumably because they will already be out of date by the time it does.

It has proved addictive; every time I click refresh, the numbers go up again, but will again always be already out of date, because people have been donating at the rate of one a second. The jaws of the staff at Third Sector have literally been dropping at a public reaction that was spontaneous in nature and totally unpredictable in magnitude.

We come across a lot of viral or zeitgeisty fundraising campaigns – the "almost accidental" £8m raised by #nomakeupselfie and, more recently, the ice bucket challenge, to name but two, even if the concept of charity has sometimes got a little lost among the icy Facebook fun of it all – but this is simpler. It didn’t need any gimmicks, celebs or fancy and expensive marketing – all it took was an apparent need for money and people wanting to give it.

Oh, and a final thought – the fact that animal charities often get what some would see as disproportionate levels of support compared with human causes has been much debated. The immediate aftermath of this tragedy is clearly not the time to revisit it in full – in fact, in the face of such huge levels of public generosity, I’m wondering if there even is a debate to be had at all.

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