I’m a member of a Rotary Club in Sydney that was due for regular barbeque duty at the local Bunnings store last weekend. Rotarians raise thousands of dollars every year doing these barbeques at various locations, many of which would be at Bunnings stores. On Thursday of last week my club was told that we wouldn’t be doing the barbeque and that Bunnings would have its own staff doing it instead.

Now there’s nothing wrong in that, I suppose. Except that service clubs and charity groups such as mine all over Australia were presumably given the same notice, presumably on the same day.

It won’t surprise you to know that my club had planned an extensive fundraising effort for fire victims that day, but we were left out in the cold. We’d already bought our supplies, which Bunnings at least bought and used, so we were not out of pocket.

But our ability to fundraise was clearly blown out of the water.

We approached Bunnings about three years ago after the local suburban hardware store we used closed down. Up till then we ran a barbeque every single week. Bunnings seemed delighted to take us on. Then soon after they supplied us with a brand-spanking new stainless steel industrial-size barbeque upon which we could cook our hamburgers, which for many years had been very popular among local patrons.

Then a month or so after that we were told that as it was Bunnings carpark we were using, and a Bunnings barbeque, we would, if we wanted to be allowed to continue using it, have to stop selling the popular hamburger patties, which were placed in freshly baked hamburger buns, and start selling sausages on sliced bread. And we’d sell them for $2.50. And we were told the hours which we were expected to fill. Until then we’d had a four-person team on for three to four hours. Under the Bunnings scheme, we now need an eight-person team over six to seven hours. All this was because Bunnings was giving over its carparks to local charity organisations all over Australia and they wanted some uniformity in what was being set up. We didn’t like it much, but we could understand that consistency was important.

Further to Bunnings’ demands, each month we have to supply the store manager with a copy of our figures. These figures, we soon realised, are put together with the figures supplied by other groups running barbeques on other days so that in the Bunnings annual report, the company can boast that it “raised so many hundreds of thousands of dollars this year”.

We’re not happy, but we have no choice but to take this treatment. We have been particularly galled to find the number of Saturdays in which we are permitted to operate our barbeque cut back so that we are now getting fewer than 26 weeks in the year. This, of course, severely affects the money we are then able to hand out to local, national and international causes. We are not a tennis club trying to raise money for new courts for our members. We are not trying to raise money for anything that will benefit even one of our members in any way, unless you count an indirect benefit through our support of the local hospital. We’ve even seen dates taken from our club and given to a sporting club from the other side of the city (where there is at least one Bunnings outlet).

Of course Bunnings were not going to shout about their fundraising efforts last weekend. That money could have and would have been raised regardless of who was manning the barbeques. We believe that while PR might not have been the prime motivation, it must surely have been a consideration. There are five Rotary Districts in Victoria, each with many individual Rotary Clubs. The money we raised could have gone directly to them, where it would have been used to help whatever was most needed, as adjudged by local Rotarians on the ground in the middle of it all. No administration fees, no logistical costs.

It’s great that Bunnings wanted to do something for the fire victims. By letting service clubs such as Rotary, Lions, Apex et al do their volunteering, they would have been doing just that. Instead, they got in the way.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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