Digital mobilisation during the Covid outbreak – Messaging and Tactics

The Covid outbreak has created a sudden need to rapidly scale up digital advocacy and/or digital fundraising for a number of the organisations we work with. They’ve had to temporarily shut down the offline channels they’ve traditionally relied on, the outbreak is disrupting or creating additional demand for their services, and/or there’s an urgent need to advocate for policy changes to support at-risk groups.

Here we share some of the strategy we’re recommending to those that we work with, and some advice on how you can do this work yourself.

Messaging during the crisis

While the outbreak is so high in the public consciousness, more than ever urgency, timeliness, emotion, and tangible impact will be crucial to fundraising asks that perform well online, while also ensuring you’re keeping your messaging balanced, accurate and responsible.

As ever, the best approach is to test A/B different copy and imagery as much as possible to find your best performing content. Within that testing, we suggest prioritising asks that make it clear how this is urgent and different from “business as usual” campaigning and fundraising. This could be:

  • Explaining how your beneficiaries are at risk unless there is an urgent change in policy
  • Demonstrating how you are delivering additional work to support beneficiaries impacted by covid, e.g. launching new services to support people isolated at home.
  • Explaining how demand for your services has increased – for example, a higher number of calls to your helpline from people anxious about/affected by covid.
  • Being honest about the extent to which Covid has impacted your ability to fund your work and making it clear that you urgently need support to continue to deliver vital work. You’ll need to find the right balance between acknowledging the bigger picture (especially if you’re not a medical or aid organisation), while still making your case in a compelling way.

This messaging approach (including A/B testing creative in everything you can, from ads to pop ups) should apply across all the tactics we suggest below.


We’ve divided our recommended strategy into four tiers. If you can, start work on all four now, if you can’t, start at one and expand as you can. 

Tier 1 – Tried and tested tactics to drive donations and online actions, with low-lead times

Direct-to-donate Facebook ads

Assuming you already have Facebook ads manager setup and you need to fundraise, this is the easiest and quickest tactic to get going with straight away:

  • Start by spending £150/day, then adjust spend up or down depending on performance. Your metric of success should be which kind of ads deliver the best lifetime return on ad spend (i.e. the ratio between ad spend and lifetime income received).  
  • If possible, use the Facebook pixel to optimise for completed donations. If not, optimise by clicks, but ensure your ads have unique URL tracking so you can spot and deactivate any which are driving lots of clicks but very few conversions. 
  • Test a range of fundraising propositions to find the most compelling asks. We recently found that direct-to-donate Facebook ads to a “parcels” virtual gift product outperformed one-off/monthly donation asks.
  • Draft and test lots of different ads. One or two different copy and image combinations isn’t enough: identify 3 – 4 different framings of your ask, and for each copy variant draft 4 – 5 copy variants and choose 3 – 4 different images then set up every possible combination.
  • Test a range of audiences, but keep them broad. We’d suggest 3-4 default audiences to test: 1) Anyone in the UK over 18, 2) A 3% lookalike of your email list or Facebook followers, 3) One or two audiences with interests relevant to your work (audiences should be 800k people plus). 
  • Test one off vs. Direct Debit asks. We typically see Direct Debit asks delivering much higher lifetime income than one off asks. It’s possible the urgency of the moment will change this for covid-related asks. We’d suggest A/B testing but ensuring that your one off thank you page upsells people to a Direct Debit

Email fundraising campaigns for your existing supporters

Start by drafting and sending a 4 – 6 email series, centred around one-to-two urgent, covid-related fundraising/advocacy asks.

  • Emails should be sent in short succession (e.g. one every 24 – 48 hours). If this campaign performs well, keep writing and sending emails. Don’t worry that your supporters will feel bombarded – as long as you’ve got a reason to email them, people are much more forgiving of email volume than a lot of us assume. If your emails aren’t resonating with supporters you’ll see it in how they perform. 
  • All emails should be sent to all supporters on your email list, not just previous donors or campaigners. All the data we’ve seen suggests supporters are willing to take a wide range of different actions for organisations if the actions are valuable and motivating

If you’re fundraising: make sure your donation technology isn’t costing you income

The user experience of your donation pages has a huge impact on how much money you will raise. We’ve run tests where changes to user experience have more than doubled the percentage of visitors who complete their donation, and a recent donate page redesign and rebuild project increased conversion rate from 5% to 17%. Setting up optimised donation technology will be crucial to maximising income from the increased traffic you’re driving to your donation forms over the next few months.

Tier 2 – Quick-to-implement optimisation wins to make the most of increased traffic

Action pop up on your website homepage

A number of organisations have reported seeing a big spike in organic website traffic over the last week or so. A lot of these extra visits will be from people who are looking for a way to help, so you need to make it as obvious as possible what the most valuable thing they can do right now is, then make it as easy as possible to do it.

We’ve found a homepage popup that loads as soon as the user lands on your site is an effective way to increase action rates on a priority ask. Here’s a live example from SumOfUs. A/B test your copy if you can. 

Thank you page with Direct Debit upsell for people who make a one off donation

All the data we’ve seen shows the moment when people have just taken an action is the perfect moment to ask them to take another one. This even applies to donations: we typically see 3.5 – 4% of one off donors immediately set up a monthly donation through an upsell ask on the thank you page. 

Thank people first and foremost. Then make the case for why setting up a monthly donation will have additional impact, on top of the one off donation they just made. As ever, A/B test two or three copy variants if you can. Here’s an example.

Set up an automated email too, sent to people immediately after making a one off donation. It should thank them, then make the case for setting up a monthly donation.

Fundraising footers in your non-donation emails

If you’re sending out non-fundraising emails over the next few weeks, including a fundraising box at the bottom of your email can be a good way to generate additional donations through a “soft” ask which doesn’t detract from the main content or action of your email. In some emails, we’ve seen these footers bring in as much as 50% of the income you’d expect from a “hard” fundraising email, so they’re worth doing. The copy should be urgent and covid-related if appropriate. As ever, A/B test!

Ensure your Facebook Fundraising tools are turned on

It’s free and easy to do and even if you’re not putting any work into actively promoting them, this will allow any supporters who want to to set up Facebook fundraisers for you and donate directly through your Facebook page.

Tier 3 – Longer lead time, but with potential to deliver high returns over the next few months

Handraisers with an action daisy chain, promoted by Facebook ads

We find that petitions and handraisers (which ask visitors to add their name in support of a values statement or policy, without an explicit target like a petition – examples from some of our partner organisations here and here) are usually the most cost-effective way to rapidly recruit large numbers of supporters, who you can then re-mobilise via your email programme. Crucially, they can also be very effective at driving people to take a higher bar action (such as donating or messaging an advocacy target) on the thank you slide, straight after signing – provided you’re using technology with an optimised action daisy chain (example here). We’ve worked on projects where the organisation has recouped as much as 50-70% of their ad spend immediately through the daisy chain donate ask.

If you’re not confident setting up high performing handraisers, it might be worth bringing in expert support – these could serve as a sustainable recruitment and fundraising tool for the medium to long term. 

Welcome email series for new signups

Draft a four-to-six email automated welcome series to be sent to everyone who signs up via the handraisers. We find including a welcome survey in your first email, ending with a high value advocacy ask or donate ask, is a really effective way to both drive high levels of engagement (40-60% of email openers click through to take the survey) and generate high value actions. 

After this, each email in the series should contain a single high priority advocacy or fundraising ask. People often assume they “can’t ask too much too soon” or need to warm up the new supporter with some passive content before asking them to do anything else. The data suggests the opposite is true: people are most engaged and motivated to take action soon after they’ve signed up, and it’s giving people things to do that feel valuable and impactful that keeps them engaged longer term. You can still tell a story about your organisation in these emails – just do it by bringing the supporter and the impact their action can have into the centre of the narrative.

Optimise your opt in ask format and copy

Getting your opt in ask working well is essential to running a cost-effective handraiser campaign. You should be aiming for a benchmark of 50 – 65% opt in rate.

Setting up petition/handraiser technology optimised for driving post-sign up action

As with donation technology, having an optimised user experience for your handraisy action daisy chain has a massive impact on performance. For example, we’ve found adding a Yes/No ask between the signup and donate/share slides increases donation rates by as much as 50%, while adding a “Signed -> Shared -> Donated” progress bar increases people donating as well as sharing by 40%. So if you’re going to be driving increased traffic over the coming months, it’s worth investing in getting your handraiser tech in order now to make sure you’re not missing out on significant numbers of actions or income. 

And finally, tier 4 – newer digital mobilisation tactics to pilot

If you’re looking for additional activity beyond Tiers 1 – 3, you could look to pilot some new models:

  • Virtual challenge events – we’d recommend speaking to Adrian from Get Your Stories Straight if you’re interested in trying these; we’ve seen some of the case studies of really outstanding results he’s been driving using a combination of Facebook ads, groups, email and the Facebook fundraising tools.
  • Using email and Facebook posts to prompt supporters to launch Facebook fundraising appeals for your organisation. This could be a good automated email follow up ask for people who’ve just made a donation themselves, for example.
  • Webinars – some organisations have had success fundraising through webinars with supporters. Make sure you’re giving supporters a compelling reason to join the webinar – for example, offering to talk them through a plan for how they can support people struggling during the covid crisis – and then make two or three direct asks for people to make a donation there and then during the call.
  • SMS/WhatsApp. Create a list with a clear incentive to sign up – e.g. service users can sign up for covid-related advice or updates/advice from your organisation. You could test embedding a soft fundraising ask embedded at the bottom of each message, with people replying to the message to donate if using SMS.

If you have questions on anything in this blog please do get in touch via email or Twitter – we’re happy to offer any pointers and advice we can to help you. Thank you to everyone in the sector for all your hard work at the moment – look after yourselves.

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