Features – A volunteer’s insight into the Good Friday Appeal’s phone rooms

Year after year the Good Friday Appeal has been breaking records in donations it receives and this year was no exception.

Since 1931, Victorians and interstate supporters have been dipping into their piggy banks, chequebooks and wallets to donate money to The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation’s Good Friday Appeal. Last year’s total reached a record-breaking $16,846,396.09 and this year, being the first time over $17 million, for a grand total of $17,109.063.22. Collectively, around $300 million has been raised over the 84 years since the fundraiser began.

The appeal was brainstormed and brought forth by a group of The Herald and Weekly Times Pty Ltd (HWT) journalists and sportsmen, from the now defunct publication The Sporting Globe. The appeal became an annual event in 1942 and the community has never looked back in its support for the hospital, its staff, the children and their families. The Appeal is currently supported by Channel 7 Melbourne, HWT and the Herald Sun, Telstra, NAB bank and radio stations 3AW 693 and Magic 1278, amongst other organisations.

There are many ways that you can donate your money (and your time) to the cause: thousands of businesses have money tins for you to chuck your small change into and there are tin collectors on highways mainly around the Easter weekend period of time; by holding your own fundraising event or attending an event organised by someone else; by donating over the phone, post via a cheque or money order, in person at any NAB branch, direct debit via internet banking or in recent years the organisation has made donating easier by allowing you to donate online through the Good Friday Appeal website. There are also many restaurants and cafes that donate money from sales of certain foods and drinks.

There are also many auctions with the proceeds going towards the appeal, such as the house auctions, which are currently done through Villawood and Henley with the entire proceeds of one house sale per year going towards the Good Friday Appeal.

However, If you’re not in the market for a new house there’s also an online auction through the Good Friday Appeal website. This years haul of auction items included a personally signed guitar by UK heartthrob Ed Sheeran, signed AFL paraphernalia and a brand new car.

All donations over $2 are tax deductible and the money raised goes towards the purchase of medical equipment, research and scholarships for the Royal Children’s Hospital. The money also goes towards supporting the staff of the hospital in leadership and education roles.

Since 1870, The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, which caters to the needs of sick, injured and traumatised children and adolescence treats patients from all over Victoria, interstate and from other countries as well. The hospital has grown from 6 inpatient beds in its opening year to a major overhaul in 2011. The makeover included surrounding the hospital with parkland which can be seen from almost all of the patients rooms; providing more natural light; focusing on making the hospital more family-centred in terms of accommodation and facilities for the parents; opening up more beds and operating theatres; new interactive and modern indoor and outdoor areas for the children; and making the hospital more environmentally friendly.

I volunteered in the appeal phone rooms for 6 years from 2008-2013. I have fortunately never had to use the services of the hospital nor have I personally known anyone to be treated there, but felt that this was a great organisation to get involved with. Doctors and nurses and other hospital staff work around the clock to help these children and teens have a better life and should get the recognition they deserve.

My dad has been donating to the cause for years and sometimes I’d chip in to his donation as well. As I got older I felt that I could provide more assistance than just giving money. It is extremely difficult to get in as a volunteer in the phone rooms so I am very privileged to have been able to be given the opportunity to assist. The waiting list to volunteer is always very long so if you’re keen to volunteer it may take a couple of years until you can get in. So if you’re keen, sign up as soon as possible.

In 2014 I decided not to participate and have unfortunately not been able to get back in. I have always partaken in the evening shift as I always wanted to be in the room when the total was read out at the midnight finish. The panel and volunteers are usually told the total before it is broadcast live to the television audience. 2009’s appeal was definitely the most emotional and awe-inspiring year as the total surpassed the previous years despite the donations raised earlier that year for the Black Saturday bushfire victims.

Play School's Noni Hazelhurst helping out at the 2008 Appeal
Play School’s Noni Hazelhurst helping out at the 2008 Appeal

Being in the phone rooms has always been pretty hectic with the metropolitan and country phone rooms being in the same room as the telecast panel and the live performers; this can cause difficulty in hearing the donors on the phone when they are providing you with their details. The only time I had difficulty hearing the person on the other side of the line was when the musicians were giving their performances, so the best advice I can give you if you’re volunteering that has worked with me throughout the years is to say do you mind waiting until the singers have finished their song. The donor was always happy to wait. Any errors in the details written down could possibly result in a lost donation. Good thing we have other volunteers calling back donors to go over their details with them.The volunteers are very well looked after as we are provided with a free meal and can take a toilet break whenever we want.There are other volunteer positions available during the telecast, such as money counting.

Since I have volunteered with the organisation the telecast has moved to the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre so maybe the sound issue has been resolved. I also understand that a potential move to computers rather than notepads to take down donations may have/will take place which will make taking down donations a quicker process resulting in more donations.

Showing Pete Rowsthorn how it's done at 2009's Appeal
Showing Pete Rowsthorn how it’s done at 2009’s Appeal

My experience as a volunteer for the charity event has been mostly positive, however with the event being celebrity-orientated with Channel Seven stars, musicians and iconic Australian figures there was one little issue that only happened a minute number of times. Parents would allow their children to call up and ask to speak to a celebrity but then the child wouldn’t donate money; whether they got to speak to the celebrity or not. The parents should encourage their children to donate even if it’s just a couple of dollars. If they’re not keen on donating, there’s a Kids Day Out held during the day held at the same venue as the telecast.

Despite the next appeal not being until next year Easter, you can get in early and start fundraising now! You do not have to donate on the Friday; donations are welcome all year around.

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