When we started Forward Action in June 2015, there was no five-year plan. In fact, we didn’t even know we wanted to be an agency.
What we did know was that there were progressive organisations using digital mobilisation to achieve incredible things.
Through our work on the Labour 2015 digital campaign, we had experienced the power of a programme that puts supporters at the heart of a mission and gives them valuable, meaningful ways to have impact.
We witnessed first hand that this model could fund entire campaigns and turn tens of thousands of people out to volunteer. And we saw how testing everything, iterating rapidly, and making each decision based on measurable goals could drive great innovation and deliver previously unthinkable results.
We were convinced of the huge potential this model had for the charity sector, and we wanted to help realise it. But we weren’t sure how. So, true to what we knew, Joe and I started testing, learning, and iterating.
Five years and many optimisations later, we’re a team of 15 developers, strategists and creatives. We’ve helped our clients mobilise hundreds of thousands of supporters, raise millions of pounds, and create advocacy campaigns that have led to laws – and lives – being changed forever.
Of course, it’s our brilliant partner organisations that make all this work possible. So to say thank you and celebrate Forward Action’s fifth birthday, I’ve asked the “FAmily” (sorry – they made me say it) to share some of the projects they’ve been most proud to work on. Enjoy!
Alex Lloyd Hunter, Co-Executive Director
Lockdown fundraising with Refuge: a 6,325% increase in donations
“I remember telling our team how much our fundraising work had brought in during lockdown – it was a huge moment” – Meg Lawrence, Digital Strategist
We overhauled Refuge’s digital fundraising to maximise donations during lockdown – with phenomenal success. Our Facebook ads alone generated a 1,000% return on ad spend in the initial two weeks (half of March’s total fundraising income), and our emails brought in 15 times the benchmark average.
As a result, Refuge raised 6,325% more than the same period last year. At a time when demand for their services has skyrocketed, this money has helped Refuge keep women and children safe from domestic abuse.
500,000 new supporters for ONE
“When we found out 1.8 million people took our quiz in the first 48 hours of it launching, that felt very special. Moments like that are why I enjoy my job so much” – Michael Thomas, Co-Lead Developer
The 9 Countries Quiz we made with the ONE Campaign combined a creative idea, smooth UX, a compelling link to the campaign, and a “challenge yourself” hook that made it almost impossible not to play, sign and share.
ONE only had to put a small budget behind initial Facebook ads to promote it – and within 48 hours, 1.8 million had taken the quiz, almost entirely through organic sharing. At the last count, the quiz had been taken by 2.6 million people, 500,000 of whom signed up to ONE’s campaigning email list through it.
Taking online action offline, with Dignity in Dying
“Getting people to sign a petition is one thing. But meeting with their MP? That’s a big ask. I’m so proud of all the innovative ideas, strategy and passion that went into this project – it’s mobilisation at its best.” – Anne Clark, Digital Strategy Manager
We worked with Dignity in Dying to build a huge supporter base online – then translated it into offline action, getting supporters to meet and change the minds of MPs who were on the fence about assisted dying.
We developed a campaign narrative around a ‘month of action’, with webinars led by existing campaigners who could motivate supporters en masse to take a high bar action. Supporters organised meetings with over 20 MPs in that month alone, and, as a direct result, 10 more MPs now support a review into assisted dying – getting the campaign even closer to a parliamentary majority.
Quadrupling Greenpeace’s email fundraising returns
“Greenpeace is one of our most long-standing partners and we’ve achieved so much together in these five years. They’re brilliant trailblazers in digital mobilisation and I’m excited to see what we do together next.” – Chloe Green, Head of Creative
We started working with Greenpeace UK when Forward Action was just six weeks old, and five years later we’re still going strong. Every project’s success is special, but when you’ve been collaborating for years, the wins are even more memorable. We still remember when we found out Greenpeace UK’s digital fundraising totals had outstripped direct mail for the first time ever – that was a brilliant moment.
By overhauling copy, send strategy and donation technology, together we more than quadrupled the income raised through fundraising emails with previous donors. Donation rates soared by 400% when we redesigned their petition and sign-up pages, and we’ve recruited thousands of new supporters through informative engagement tools – like this plastics calculator.
Reprieve’s world-class mobilisation programme
“The link between the actions Reprieve asks supporters to take and the impact of their work is so tangible – supporters know that what they’re doing is genuinely helping save lives.” – Jamie Draper, Web Developer
Reprieve is our go-to example of how digital mobilisation can be transformative for an organisation, regardless of size. When we started working together back in 2016, Reprieve’s digital programme was half a staff member and an email list of a few thousand people. Since then, they’ve built one of the most effective mobilisation programmes we’ve seen, all with a tiny team and a shoestring budget. It’s helped win campaigns to free wrongly-imprisoned people and raises millions for their work providing free legal representation to people on death row.
We’re proud to have played a small part in Reprieve’s brilliant success, from setting their fundraising and list growth strategy to optimising their technology. Most recently, we worked together on a handraiser and email pilot that made back £4 – £6 in donation income for every £1 spent on advertising, giving Reprieve the basis of a replicable list growth and fundraising model that will enable them to continue to scale up their impact.
Let’s be honest, we couldn’t leave it at five. Here are a few more projects we wanted to give a shout out…
Major win for Centrepoint’s first digital campaign
“As a direct result of Centrepoint supporters’ campaigning, the government allocated £10 million in 2020 to help homeless young people. Seeing the campaign hit the headlines was fantastic.” – Yasmin Aslam, Digital Strategy Manager
85,000 visitors for GLA’s journey tool
“This campaign was one of the reasons I applied to work here! I thought, damn that’s cool.” – Simma Rai, Digital Delivery Officer
SumOfUs’ weather app: using one billion bits of data
“I love using data to create amazing digital tools so this was a personal highlight – and a challenge to say the least. Same goes for WaterAid’s “How much shorter?” calculator.” – Joe Escalante Coney, Co-Founder and Executive Director
Amnesty International UK: 40,000 new opted-in supporters in days
“When we hit on the Sexist Judges Quiz creative idea, we knew it was a winner.” – Lauren Wilson, Digital Creative
A culture of testing & optimisation for 350.org
“When testing just a few lines of copy can boost opt-ins by 28%, there’s massive potential for impact when these optimisations are rolled out at scale.” – Hannah Lownsbrough, Strategy Director
Blueprint: a digital mobilisation toolset we built in-house
“After all the work we put into Blueprint, seeing it in action for the first time with Tommy’s and The Brooke was a special moment.” – Lew Jacklin, Co-Lead Developer
Embedding digital mobilisation in the sector
“Some of our clients – like St John Ambulance, the IRC, Versus Arthritis, and World Vision – have been able to use digital mobilisation principles and tactics to really rise to the challenges of Covid-19.” – Amy Cameron, Head of Clients Services and Strategy Advisor
Thank you to every single organisation we’ve partnered with over the years – your vision and passion is what makes this work possible. Special thanks also to our friend Paul De Gregorio at Rally, and to our advisory group – Alison Goldsworthy, Matthew McGregor and Michael Whitney – whose expertise is invaluable to us.