The hidden benefits of the local fundraiser

Hello again, Kate Brady here, crashing John Richardson’s blog while he is on a break.

In the last weeks, my news and social media feeds have been filled with images and invitations from people who are holding fundraisers to contribute money to support the people affected by the recent (and ongoing) disasters.

There have been little kids in my neighbourhood who have baked cupcakes and biscuits and are selling them in front of their houses with fantastic handmade signs, there have been school aged sporting teams selling their toys and things they have made in the local shopping strips, local artists who have been auctioning their wares, and a fundraiser BBQ with a huge raffle at an RSL near me. My brother hosted a big lunch for a bunch of mates at my parent’s house while they’re away (whether he cleaned the house after or reverted to his 18 year old self still TBD. No matter, my mum will still be proud).

These actions are awesome. Not only do they raise money for those affected without the stress of managing donated items, which is exactly what we know is great practice after disasters, but they have additional super powers. They enhance social capital and they address the mass trauma intervention principles, both of which are really important during and after disasters, but good for us all generally.

I know. What a way to overcomplicate a feel good, simple thing with complex theoretical concepts, right?

But stay with me for a minute (or two).

First to social capital. Social capital is a term that became popular in nerd circles and beyond by American sociologist Robert Putnam in his book ‘Bowling Alone’ (read it, it’s good). Lots of researchers have then used this idea when looking at who copes well after disasters, notably American political scientist Daniel Aldrich. I’m really summarising here, but basically there are three types of social capital that a person or community can have: bonding, bridging, and linking.

Bonding social capital: Think of bonding social capital as ‘your people’ – those close, tight networks and bonds that you have that make you you. These are the people who you could call at 4am, would visit you in hospital, that you could borrow cash from etc.

Bridging social capital: These people and networks are the people you have a link with through something or someone else. Your sister in law’s sibling, the other parents in your kids soccer team, the people in your local library book club that you go to once a month.

Linking social capital: This is how you are linked to the institutions in life – your connections to the power brokers.

While it’s easy to write as three separate categories, it can get messy and there are lots of examples where there could be overlaps between the categories. Never mind, that detail isn’t important here.

What is important is that some of the emerging research into disaster recovery over the last 15-20 years is pointing to social capital being one of the most reliable predictors of how people and communities will recover after disasters. Those with good social capital, especially when they have high levels across all three categories recover much better, quicker and more effectively. People with high levels of social capital are less likely to die from disasters, more likely to have access to supports that they need, and be more satisfied with their post disaster housing situations. If you want to read more about it, read the stuff that Daniel Aldrich writes about. His 2012 book Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post Disaster Recovery is great if you’re going to commit to reading a book about it (there are some very excellent case studies from Hurricane Katrina, the Indian Ocean tsunami and Kobe earthquake), but his Conversation articles are a good crib sheet if that’s not your bag.

Second are the mass trauma intervention principles. Again, I’m paraphrasing, but in 2007, a bunch of very prominent mental health experts from around the world got together and basically said ‘look, it’s going to be tricky for us to run ethical randomised controlled trials on exactly what interventions work best after disasters, but between the lot of us we’re pretty confident we can tell you that if an intervention or service is based on these principles it’ll almost certainly help.’ (Sorry to Stevan Hobfoll et al if this is a misrepresentation of how that chat went, that’s how I read it).

The take away concepts from their work is basically if a support (whether it’s formal or informal) can promote these things, it’ll be helpful:

  • Connectedness
  • Hope
  • Self and community efficacy
  • Safety
  • Calm

If you want to read the paper that was published on this, you can find it here. (10 points to those of you who spotted that these principles are the same ones that form the foundations of psychological first aid.)

So, what do community fundraisers have to do with this?

All of it. Community fundraisers let us take positive action, which is both useful to those impacted and important for us outsiders when we’re feeling helpless.

But it’s more than that.

When you stop and buy the biscuit from the neighbor you have never met, and then you start chatting when you pass them in the street and at some time you help them bring in their bins while they’re on holidays, you are building your social capital, and there is data to show this will help you (generally in life, but also in a disaster). And when you buy a sausage and a can of fanta from the fundraising stall and you stop and have a chat to the person running the BBQ about how you’re feeling about the fires, and what’s happening, you’re both using the mass trauma intervention principles and while strengthening your social capital muscles. Forget the democracy sausage, this is the sausage of social capital and trauma intervention. And it tastes good with tomato sauce and onion[1].

So go and do your thing. Sit in groups and sew pouches for wildlife, knit teddies with friends, host morning teas and raffles and be proud of your contribution. It’s great and useful help for those affected but it’s also good for you.

[1] Too far? See previous guest post and note the sleep deprivation.

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