The New South Wales Supreme Court has ruled that the millions of dollars donated through a Facebook fundraiser launched by Australian comedian Celeste Barber can only be used for causes related to the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS).

The court last month ruled that as the funds had been distributed to the NSW RFS and Brigades Donation Fund, which Ms Barber had nominated as the beneficiary of the fundraiser - raising $51.3 million – the money must be distributed in line with that charity's trust deed.

That deed only allows money to be spent on buying and maintaining fire equipment, firefighter training or administrative costs.

NSW Supreme Court Justice Michael Slattery ruled that some of the money could also be used to support families of fallen firefighters, and for trauma counselling.

Donors made their donations to the PayPal Giving Fund, which treated the nomination of the NSW RFS and Brigades Donation Fund as a recommendation as to the beneficiary.

ACNC Commissioner the Hon Dr Gary Johns said that the case showed the importance of people checking that any charity or appeal they donate to was set up to carry out the specific activities they wanted to support.

"The main lesson is that the vehicle for donations - the charity - is critical," he said.

"This is a reminder to donors, and to the public, that you have to have a look at the trust document of a charity before you give to a charity before you donate or pledge to an online appeal. And those fundraising on behalf of a charity need to be clear about where those funds are going and for what purposes they can be used."

Search the ACNC Charity Register to find registered charities. Information found on the register includes a charity’s purpose and governing documents (e.g. trust deed or constitution).

* This article was updated on 11 June 2020 at 2:00pm.

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