Key tips for responding quickly to real world events to campaign and fundraise effectively

At Forward Action, we’ve found that our partners’ best performing emails, ads and campaign actions aren’t always those planned weeks in advance. Often, the best content is created quickly in response to breaking news, current events, political developments and even popular TV shows.

So, how can you make reactive tactics work no matter what your cause? In our recent webinar, Forward Action’s Beth Miles (Digital Strategy Manager) and Eve Flynn (Digital Strategy Expert) talked through some past campaigns to discuss what works well and why.

Below is a quick rundown of some of our most inspiring examples and important tips. If you’d like to see the full webinar, you can watch the replay here.

What do we mean by responding quickly?

  • Breaking news – at its simplest, reactive content can mean linking something that’s hit the headlines to your cause and call to action. It might be a big story everyone’s heard about, or something less widely known but important that you want to draw people’s attention to.
  • Current events – this could be anything that’s grabbing public attention, from the World Cup or Wimbledon to a royal wedding or Eurovision.
  • Political developments – what’s happening in parliament often makes headlines, but you might also want to draw attention to something that’s gone under the radar. It could be a controversial quote from a minister, a point in PMQs, or a new bill or act that’s making its way through the house.
  • TV shows – it could be a huge show everyone’s talking about, a blockbuster movie or even a soap storyline. By tapping into issues raised by popular culture, you can create attention-grabbing new angles for your campaign asks.

Why is reactive content powerful?

Of course, having a clear plan for your content is crucial. Campaigns and fundraising can only succeed if you’ve thought through what you’re doing, when and why in advance.

But alongside this, reactive emails, ads and actions can be a brilliant way to boost your campaigns, fire up your supporters and reach new audiences at key moments.

That’s because when you respond to current events you can create more relevant and urgent messaging, and connect with an existing wave of feeling about what’s happening in the world. This can help drive:

  • More income – when done well, responsive content can deliver higher donation rates and average gifts.
  • More actions – timely, pressing messaging can motivate more people to take actions like signing petitions, sharing content and emailing targets.
  • Real world change, faster – when an issue has already got people’s attention, you can capitalise on that to achieve campaign wins, faster.

So, we recommend putting processes in place that enable you to be flexible and responsive alongside planned content.

What you need to do this well

1. Someone scanning the news

This doesn’t have to be a big job. You could set up Google alerts around your key issues and spend 5-10 mins each morning checking the headlines.

Consider creating a cross-team Slack (or Teams) channel where people can share articles that might be useful to different teams. Eg, as a donate ask, or a timely ad for a live campaign.

Work out which teams and roles should lead on reactive activity. Fundraising and campaigning officer and manager roles will likely benefit most.

Once you’ve identified a potential story or event, use a decision-making tree to decide whether to progress it.

2. A 24-hour sign off process

To get content out the door quickly, you’ll need to establish a process and timings for creating reactive content in advance. For example:

  1. Identify the call to action, the format (ads, email, new action) and the hook.
  2. Explain this in a message, email or short call to a senior stakeholder, so they can agree the direction and hold time for sign-off.
  3. Brief in a new action page where necessary, but if possible keep it simple – eg, cloning an existing page template and lightly editing the content.
  4. Spend 2-3 hours drafting copy and sourcing imagery. Keep ads variants and email length to a minimum.
  5. Share the content and request feedback within 2 hours, then make edits and build any outputs within a further 1-2 hours.
  6. Send pages, ads or emails in situ for final sign off (within 2 hours), then launch.

3. Buy-in from colleagues

To convince colleagues it’s worth launching reactive content, show them the size of the opportunity. Some of the case studies in this blog could help with this!

Ask the brand team to share ‘red line’ guidelines for copy and design in advance, so they can feel confident any content you create won’t cross these.

If you’re struggling to get buy-in, you could suggest a trial run to test the process on a made up emergency.

4. Simple and quick sign-up forms

People need to be able to take action quickly, so simple UX and short forms are key. Keep copy to a minimum, make it clear what you’re asking people to do and only ask for the data you really need.

5. Content people understand and care about

Choose topics that are emotive and easy to understand. For reactive content to be effective it needs to be a subject people care about, and have a clear connection with your work. People should be able to see immediately how the action you’re asking them to take will make an impact.

6. Ready-to-use design templates

Use design tools to create content quickly. By setting up templates in a tool like Canva, you can make professional looking graphics fast.

Our tips for reactive activity

When you’re planning responsive content, it helps to bear these things in mind.

  • You don’t always need a new action – you can just tweak existing landing pages by weaving in urgent, timely content.
  • Be ready to send multiple updates as things evolve – it keeps the supporter informed and gives you an opportunity to ask again.
  • Don’t be afraid to use undesigned content – for breaking news, visually less polished content can make things feel more urgent and real.

Messaging tactics for better results

Using these techniques can help increase people’s motivation to act, so you see higher action and donation rates.

  • Use words like ‘urgent’ and ‘right now’ to emphasise timeliness.
  • Use social proof to increase action rates – eg, saying how many people have taken action so far, or what the average donation is.
  • Update people when you hit key milestones – eg, a particular number of signatures or pounds raised, or a response from a key target.
  • Link topical asks to relevant calendar moments (such as Mother’s Day, Christmas or national days) to give them even more relevance.
  • Test asking for higher amounts than usual – emotive news and big moments can often inspire people to give more.

How does it work in practice? 

We’ve had some amazing successes running reactive activity with our partners. If you’re keen to understand how these tactics work in practice, make sure to watch the webinar recording.

Questions and answers

Here’s a summary of the Q&A, including the answers to some questions we didn’t have time to cover during the webinar.

How do you scale paid social quickly in a short window, balancing this with the algorithm’s learning phase?

You can move out of the learning phase within 50 conversions. To do some quick maths as an example… if your cost per acquisition is £1, you’ll be out of the learning phase after a spend of £50. So, you might put £100 behind your ads on day one, knowing that you should be out of the learning phase within half a day, and then you can start seeing how it performs.

Have you found a particular audience that works best for reactive asks?

A lot of the time, we test different audiences. But time and again, a broad audience on Facebook and X (formerly known as Twitter) seems to work really well. It’s letting Facebook’s algorithm do the work for you, because a lot of the time when you’re reacting to news and articles, it’s hard to know who’ll have seen them or have the most connection to them.

How does this process work in very small teams?

That sounds beneficial, to be honest! The fewer people who are involved, the more likely you are to be able to be super reactive. We’d suggest having someone who owns this process, making sure everyone knows who that is and building it into their role. And creating a clear drafting and sign-off process with roles and strict deadlines agreed in advance.

How can health charities use quick response tactics when the issues they focus on often move slowly, and change can take a long time?

Once you start doing this work, you may find you start seeing more opportunities and think outside the box a little bit more. For example, when Roe vs Wade was overturned last year, that was obviously an issue around abortion rights. But if you zoom out a bit, it’s also about bodily autonomy, which relates to things like trans rights and dignity at the end of life. So, you might see opportunities to create a sense of your organisation as part of a wider movement on certain issues. That could be something to test.

Have you tested any other channels beyond Meta for ads? When you say testing, do you use Facebook or another platform?

Yes! We have done some testing on Twitter across a number of partners now, and have been really pleased to see that in lots of instances cost per acquisition has been cheaper than Facebook. You can typically reach a much bigger pool of people on Twitter too. We’re also doing some initial testing with Google Search ads but don’t have robust learnings on this to share yet.

Have you got any benchmarks in terms of how well new leads convert to donors within the first 12 months?

Conversion to donors is so variable depending on the organisation that it’s really hard to give a generalised benchmark. It depends on a range of factors, from the quality of your email programme to how optimised all of your journeys are towards donations…there’s so much going on.

What we would say is that, at the point of sign up, we see an average of 0.75-1% of people donating if you ask for a cash donation, and 0.1-0.3% to a regular donation. However, in both cases, it can potentially be a lot higher (we’ve seen up to 5% one off and 1% RG).

And then there’s the longer term picture. We know that the best way to convert new supporters over time is through regular, action-focused emails. Donation emails within such a programme typically see between £0.05-£0.10 per recipient for cash asks (though again it can be much higher) and 0.05-0.1% conversion for RG asks. So if you know roughly how many donation emails you send in a year, you could work out a rough estimate of total conversion rate from the point of sign up + ongoing emails.

Is the return on emergency cash appeals worth the investment in paid social? 

We have found that for some partners, emergency appeals have worked really well, seeing a ROAS of 200% or more. If you’re just getting started, it’s important to make sure it sits alongside an email programme, and be willing to kick off with a test and learn approach.

You could start off by spending a few hundred pounds and establishing a cost per donation and an average gift, and then you could tweak the donation prompts you’re asking for to a higher amount based on those numbers to try and improve your ROAS. When it comes to  emergency appeals you can often getting away with asking for higher amounts as you’re defining the real urgent need for the donations.

If you have any more questions, or need support to make reactive tactics work for your organisation, just get in touch – we’d love to talk to you.