Refuge Brought in 6,325% More Donations During Covid-19 – Here’s How.

This is a challenging time for many charities: Covid-19 has disrupted or created additional demand for frontline services, while social distancing means traditional offline fundraising events have been cancelled.

Many of our partner organisations, including national domestic abuse charity Refuge, have called on us to help rapidly scale up digital fundraising in response.

The digital fundraising project we ran with Refuge generated a staggering amount of donations – raising 6,325% more than the same period last year. That means real-world impact for the women and children who need their services more than ever.

The campaign at a glance

  • Direct to donate Facebook ads – delivering a 495% return on ad spend
  • A series of three Covid-19 fundraising emails – raising 15 times our benchmark average
  • New or optimised donation copy across the website. When we included an upsell request to the donation page, 4.5% of one-off donors immediately converted to regular giving – bringing in a projected lifetime income of £141,168 through this one optimisation alone

Why it worked – and what we can learn from it

Crafting authentic, relevant and compelling fundraising asks

While the outbreak is high in the public’s consciousness, it’s crucial that charities speak to how they’re responding – either in terms of frontline services or keeping existing vital services going – and the tangible effect that donations will have.

Refuge has an authentic, urgent need for support: isolation has made it harder for women to escape abusers, demand for Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline has jumped by 66%, and visits to the website (where women can request contact and live chat) has increased by a massive 950%.

Because of their proximity to the crisis, we were able to draw out how Covid-19 has altered the need for and delivery of Refuge’s services, and how the crisis has impacted their ability to fundraise – using personal stories to paint an emotive, compelling picture.

We crafted three fundraising emails sent to Refuge’s supporter list:

  1.  An urgent overview of how the crisis is impacting women and services
  2.  The need for hygiene products and other essentials to protect women and children in refuges
  3.  An emotive look at how children are impacted by the crisis – asking for donations to buy toys and games for children facing lockdown in a refuge

These emails raised on average around 15 times our benchmark for a fundraising email – and the conversion rates across all emails was between 50-56%, showing what urgent, tangible and emotive fundraising asks can achieve.

We also added Covid-19 appeal messaging to the charity’s homepage, and ensured messaging was unified across all platforms – for example, by updating the prompts for the fundraising parcels to be Covid-19 related items like cleaning products, or toys for isolated children.

Refuge's home page, with COVID-19 related fundraising appeal banner

Not every organisation will have such an authentic, urgent connection to Covid-19, but every charity is being affected. Make sure your messaging demonstrates an authentic need, and that it makes it clear how your campaign is urgent and different from your usual fundraising. 

If you need help formulating your messaging, check out our blog post on messaging during the crisis.

The value of data-based decisions

Use any data you already have to inform your approach. For example, Refuge already knew that tangible donation products, such as buying a virtual ‘parcel‘ for women in need, work best for them on Facebook, as opposed to traditional one-off or monthly donation asks.

We used this valuable insight to jumpstart a timely and effective Covid-19 Facebook ad campaign; the campaign accounted for more than half of the total income raised in March – with a return on ad spend of 1,000% in the first few weeks.

If your digital campaigns usually rely more on gut instinct than data, we’d encourage you to build a culture of testing. Having the ability to make data-led decisions gives you a head start for any campaign – and we’ve found that testing can throw up some surprising results.

Why internal flexibility matters

When a crisis like this hits, charities need to be ready to change up their approach quickly – which means having internal processes that allow you to sign off new ideas quickly and be flexible around budgets so you can respond to what’s happening. Refuge were already working with our friends at Rally to ensure they had the buy in and ways of working needed to respond quickly and effectively.

For example, when Refuge saw how well Facebook ads were performing they were able to release more budget that we could put behind the best-performing ads, which meant they could reach even more donors.

We don’t know how long this crisis will continue, or what the next significant world event will be. A lot of organisations are using this time of flux and change to think deeply about how to change internal processes and systems to be even more responsive – which is definitely food for thought.

Being prepared for the unexpected

Nobody could have predicted the Covid-19 crisis. But when it comes to fundraising for an issue so high in public consciousness, timeliness is everything.

Charities like Refuge have been able to spring into action because they had the systems and learnings in place to hit the ground running – for example, they were already authorised to run Facebook ads on social issues, and had existing donate ad campaigns that they were able to adapt quickly. Initially, Refuge saw a 918% return on ad spend – and even after two months, it’s at an impressive 495%.

It’s not too late to get prepared. Since this crisis is ongoing, now is the perfect time to get set up for digital fundraising – for example by making sure your Facebook ad account is authorised to run adverts on social issues (a process that can take a couple of weeks).

Next, donation technology is absolutely vital. A recent donate page redesign and rebuild project increased conversion rate from 5% to 17%, so if you’re spending money to get people to land on your fundraising page – you want the UX to be up to scratch.

Even small, low cost optimisations can make a big difference to existing donate pages, so it’s well worth thinking about.

If you’re worried your charity wasn’t prepared for this spike in digital fundraising activity and you’d like help to set up and optimise your donation pages for the future, this is something we can help you with.

Why you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for more from donors

We tested direct debit upsells, with a triggered email sent to anyone who made a one-off donation via the website. We asked people to upgrade to a monthly gift using an emotive, personal story from a woman in a refuge to show the real-world impact monthly giving can make.

 “Amy, you’ve been so generous already – thank you. Would you like to increase your impact by supporting Refuge with a small amount each month?”

We also set up direct debit asks on the thank you page that donors see after making a one-off donation online, and A/B tested these to find which ask was most compelling. In the first week alone, this resulted in 70 new direct debits.

It’s easy to think that someone who has just given would be affronted by being asked for more money – but when you make the case for how monthly giving has a more sustained impact and make it easy for them to convert, there’s absolutely no reason not to ask.

If you’re not already doing this, we would encourage you to test direct debit upsells, and collect data to see how your audience responds. If you need help with anything from setting up the donation technology to crafting effective donation copy, we can help.

Final thoughts

Not every charity will be able to demonstrate such a tangible link to the Covid-19 crisis – but most charities experience major spikes in fundraising around world events relating to their cause, and these tactics and lessons remain relevant for any future crisis fundraising.

Having optimised donation technology, digital fundraising tools like Facebook ads fully set up, and campaign data to make informed decisions in a timely way will mean charities are well placed to accelerate fundraising during times of greatest need.

Need some help responding to the Covid-19 crisis? Check out our three part blog series detailing tactics, strategies and tools for digital fundraising and mobilisation during Covid-19 – or get in touch for more support.