Refuge: A Story of Successful Selection, Migration and Fundraising


Cheswick, West London in 1971, Refuge in the United Kingdom opened the world’s first safe house for women and children escaping domestic violence. They’re committed to a world where domestic violence is not tolerated. A world where women and children can live in safety. Until late 2019, Refuge relied largely on statutory contributions. But, in 2020 after a successful Christmas campaign, the United Kingdom went into Covid-19 lockdown and calls to Refuge’s free 24/7 helpline increased by 50%. Refuge responded and support came in droves transforming their fundraising.

Problems for Refuge to Solve

It was mid-2019 and Refuge had just hired a new Head of Supporter Fundraising, Jo Felgate. Jo, who had been heading online fundraising programs for charities for years, took a long look at Refuge’s programme. She had come into a small supporter base, there was a new team and a very limited budget. Internally there were issues to overcome.

There was a strong focus on and commitment to building a digital movement.

From the digital side, there were several issues. Website traffic was largely driven by media placements and influencers. The organisation had little control of how people came to the site – or what they were asked to do once there.

Additionally, user experience was awful. After analysing things, Jo found it took three clicks just to get to a donation form from the homepage. Once there, the form was very long and felt dated. When you finally made it to the payment options an rather strange pop-up appeared separate from the donation form. Conversion rates on the current donation form were around 2.78%. Still £200,000 came through annually.

The question: Clearly people want to give, how can we make it easier? Also, how can we take control of driving our own traffic to the website and forms?

The Solutions

Jo set three goals for improvements and moving things forward for the digital fundraising team.

Step one – fix the forms

After identifying there were issues with the current digital tools, Jo set out to find a toolset that offered what Refuge needed. After evaluating several platforms, Refuge chose Engaging Networks. The integrated platform included email and donation forms which could be easily built and customised with minimal support. Additionally – a technology-forward approach – Refuge noted that, while they weren’t using all the tools right away, the functionality they may need to grow was already available with Engaging Networks.

Having chosen a new platform, it was time to get to work. Refuge chose an Accredited Engaging Networks partner, Forward Action, to redesign the donation forms and email templates on a rapid timeline. They needed to complete migration, form and email designs and go live in only six weeks!

Step two – drive their own traffic

Now that Refuge had the tools to do so, they wanted to drive their OWN traffic to the site – and more specifically to the new beautifully designed donation forms.

In the midst of migration, Refuge discovered that they would lose nearly half of their relatively small email list due to lack of necessary opt-in information. A possibly devastating blow just before the holidays.

Refuge went live on Engaging Networks on 25 November 2019. They immediately began emailing their list to drive traffic to donation forms and their Refuge parcels page.

Forward Action and Refuge tested relentlessly. They encountered issues not uncommon to a new eCRM such as learning new tracking. They tested old and new methodologies.

Christmas Campaign Results

The Christmas campaign was an overwhelming success. And the testing yielded results that Refuge could carry forward into 2020.

  • Email open rates were a very strong 34% – it was a small but mighty email list
  • Refuge increased income by 21% over the previous holiday season
  • There was a dramatic 71% increase in direct debits (monthly gifts) through new forms
  • Page conversion rates went from 2.78% to around 17.5% – an enormous success!

But… Refuge wasn’t finished. There was step three. Mother’s Day…

Step three – Mother’s Day 2020

This was the next big push after the holiday season. The plan was to build on the intensive testing they did during the Christmas campaign and then… Covid-19 happened.

Refuge had to rapidly pivot into response mode. They took their previous learnings and adapted the campaign from a standard giving campaign to a response campaign. Forward Action advised the following:

  • Adjust advertising to a Covid-19 emergency ask with emergency appeal emails
  • Covid-19 specific donation pages and website banners
  • An upsell ask added to thank you pages asking donors to become monthly donors – making their support ongoing during the crisis
  • Testing regular appeals against sending traffic to the Refuge parcels page where they added new relief-related parcels

The message and situation of being locked indoors with an abuser resonated with many people – a potentially scary situation.

This idea was bolstered by data of increased abuse reports and increased calls to the helpline. As a result, there was a robust media response and surge in media coverage.

Mother’s Day response was amazing, it blew us away really. – Jo Felgate

Mother’s Day and the following six weeks, Refuge:

  • Acquired 18,000 new donors from Facebook ads
  • Raised over £1,000,000 (61% attributed to Facebook ads)
  • Saw a 5:1 ROI on Facebook ads
  • Saw a 6325% increase in fundraising over same period in the previous year
  • Found their parcels ads on Facebook had a 495% return on ad spend

More unrestricted or voluntary revenue for Refuge has had a transformative effect on their services.

The influx of voluntary donations has transformed the way that fundraising is viewed in the organization. – Jo Felgate

Key Takeaways

Jo reflected on a few key takeaways after a rushed eCRM selection, migration and launch just before Christmas – all leading into a planned but suddenly altered Mother’s Day campaign.

  • Look at your existing program and identify where you can add value
  • Small changes = big results
  • Work across teams to ensure you can communicate and pivot quickly when needed
  • Include your database team every step of the way
  • Track and test everything
  • Utilise partners’ expertise

This exciting case study was presented at the Engaging Networks Community Conference in May and October of 2020. To hear it straight from Jo and the Forward Action team, watch the recording below.

Thank you

Engaging Networks is proud to work with amazing charities around the world like Refuge. Please visit their website to learn more about the vital work they do, or watch the video below to hear about their life-saving impact directly from a survivor.

Chloe Green is a copywriter and digital campaigner with almost a decade of experience in the charity and political sectors. She’s delivered campaigns, copy and consultancy for a raft of good eggs including Anthony Nolan, the National Union of Students, St Mungo’s, and Hillary for America. She was Social Media Manager at the Labour Party between 2016–2019 and now she’s Head of Creative with the lovely team at Forward Action. She leads on fundraising emails, UX copy, and all creative facilitation. She’s an expert in email list growth, digital strategy, organic and paid-for social media, and digital mobilisation.

Rachel founded the specialist charity web agency, Rechord, in 1999. Between 1999 and 2012 they created hundreds of different web applications for organisations in the UK and internationally.
In 2013 she became the 'Donor Whisperer' and focused on helping small to medium-sized non-profits to reach new donors and activists and from there increase their income. She uses a unique process that combines the benefits of consultancy with capacity building.
Her clients include Traidcraft Exchange, the Overseas Development Institute, Jubilee Debt Coalition, the Leprosy Mission of England and Wales, Tax Justice UK, The Canary, Humanity and Inclusion, the Anti-Tribalism Movement, BRACE, New Family Social, Arseh Sevom - and that's just the last year.
She also feels weird writing about herself in the third person.

Ellen is Campaigns Manager overseeing national and local campaigning at the MS Society. She has worked at the MS Society for 2 and a half years, with roles at Scope and Guide Dogs prior to this.

Hannah is Senior Campaigns Officer at the MS Society, working on their local campaigning programme, Local Action for MS and also on social care and carers. She’s worked at the MS Society for a year and a half, and was previously at the MND Association and National Voices.

Executive Director of C6 Digital, London based agency

Emily has worked at Guide Dogs for the Blind Association since 2019, working on a range of campaign areas to empower people with vision impairments to live the life they choose. Prior to this, Emily working in parliament and severed as a borough councillor.

Brani Milosevic ia a digital consultant and coach at
She helps individuals, teams and organisations to learn how to seize the opportunities offered by digital and navigate its challenges.
Brani set up the Digital Leadership Forum, is an NCVO trainer, a CharityComms mentor and a qualified executive coach.

Rhiannan Sullivan is the Vice President of strategy and partnerships of social action network, Over the past 10+ years, she has worked with hundreds of UK and EU charities helping them grow and develop their digital fundraising programmes. Prior to working for Care2, Rhiannan worked at then political campaigning agency Blue State Digital, a global leading digital strategy agency who has helped many organisations build and engage online communities, clients included political and advocacy campaigns, non-­‐profit organisations, cultural institutions and global consumer brands.

Calum manages social, email and some digital campaigns at CPRE, and is CPRE’s expert Engaging Networks user, working on development and helping other teams make the most of the platform. Happiest working on campaigns for change or rambling around in the countryside.

Brandon Fuller is Engaging Networks alumni and owner of Raise the Roots, a digital agency that has supported over two dozen organizations on Engaging Networks - helping them to maximize their digital engagement using this powerful platform. He previously managed global online advocacy campaigns for the Pew Charitable Trusts and has worked in the nonprofit community for nearly two decades.

I joined the Woodland Trust in 2018 and now lead on policy and engagement campaigns working to improve protection, restoration and high quality creation of woods and trees. Prior to campaigning for trees, I worked in Peterborough, tackling fuel poverty in the community. I care deeply about the climate and nature crises and the many, intersectional impacts and solutions. Endlessly inspired and energised by the dedication and passion of our supporters and the public who take action time and time again.

Hannah Mudge is Digital Innovation Manager at The Leprosy Mission England and Wales and has had the privilege of seeing the 147-year-old international development charity evolve over the last decade, from sending out its first online fundraising appeal to achieving record levels of income despite the challenges faced since the start of the pandemic. She is based in Peterborough and enjoys running, cooking and reading in her limited spare time when not parenting two lively boys. During 2020 she added ‘homeschooling’ to her skillset although what Ofsted rating she would achieve is probably best left to the imagination.

I am a campaigner in the Woods Under Threat team at the Woodland Trust. My role is to help protect ancient woods and trees from damaging developments across the UK. Ancient woods and trees are irreplaceable, so we work hard to stop any further loss of these precious habitats and ensure they are protected for the benefit of people and wildlife.

Matt Strong is the Campaigns and Engagement Officer for the Ramblers.

He has recently run campaigns on increasing the number of new green walking routes in some of our biggest cities, including London and Manchester. He has also been leading on the Ramblers’ campaigns work around the Environment Bill. Matt has a background in politics after spending a decade as an elected councillor on Manchester City Council and having previously worked for two Members of Parliament and a political party.

Claire Warner is a former charity Fundraising Director & Senior Leader, turned Culture & Wellbeing consultant.

It was in trying to throw herself back into her beloved Fundraising Director role after 12 months' treatment for aggressive breast cancer, that Claire realised the focus & memory loss and heart condition side effects she'd been left with after her treatment, plus the life-changing experience of the illness itself, meant (guttingly!) a 300% commitment, 50+hours a week Fundraising Director role was no longer an option.

On looking into what others do in this situation, Claire discovered the field of workplace wellbeing, the research work of Prof Cary Cooper, the Gallup Organisation and Simon Sinek, and hasn't looked back since.

In 2018, Claire created her own piece of research into the wellbeing of fundraisers and when it concluded in 2019, over 700 fundraisers had taken part. The results of the research were used to further inform and refine the work Claire does with organisations and individuals in the charity sector.

In 2020 Claire won the Best Digital Leader Award at the Social CEO Awards and in 2021 curated the first Charity Wellbeing Summit.

Today, Claire works on organisational culture and wellbeing projects with charities and offers coaching and mentoring programmes to sector professionals.

Becky has spent the last decade building people power and people-powered movements to hold the most powerful to account for a fairer, more just, and cleaner future.
She helped build 38 Degrees UK into a movement of over 1 million citizens and led many of the biggest campaigns. As part of OPEN’s senior team, she helped build and sustain a network across 19 different countries, by supporting, coaching, and building fast-growing digitally facilitated organisations.

She's currently Senior Strategist at The Sunrise Project leading the Global Banks Program and building grassroots activism on finance around the world. She’s on the board of Skiftet, Sweden’s biggest online campaign community and Left Foot Forward in the UK.

Andrew Taylor-Dawson is Development Manager at Liberty, where he leads on member and support engagement. He has been in fundraising for around 13 years. In this time he has worked in the human rights, homelessness and social justice sectors as well as having been a freelance consultant.

He has held board positions with Global Justice Now and the adoption support organisation We Are family.

Rebecca is a Digital Project Manager, who recently led the redesign and redevelopment of The Children's Society's website.

Rebecca worked closely with senior stakeholders, subject matter experts, and digital agencies to create a new platform that demonstrates the organisation's refreshed vision, mission and brand. There has already been astounding results in the 6-months since launch.

I have worked as a web developer for about 20 years and for Which? since 2015, primarily on their WordPress sites. This has involved integration with a variety of different APIs, most recently the Engaging Networks API, along with the creation of APIs to allow sites to talk to one another.

Glyn Thomas is a digital strategist and web developer. He built his first website in 1997 and has been working in digital communications since 2002.

For the past 12 years, Glyn has almost exclusively worked with charities and non-profit organisations. Almost all the projects he works on are focused around campaigning, fundraising or supporter recruitment, and often a mixture of all three.

Now based in Berlin, Glyn works with organisations in the UK, Europe and North America.

Rhian is the Strategic Programme Manager for Physical Activity at Versus Arthritis. Alongside Sport England under the Richmond Group ‘Movement for All’ programme, Rhian is co-developing a long-term, sustainable programme to support those living with Musculoskeletal conditions to increase their physical activity levels and improve their quality of life. Rhian has over 15 years’ experience of supporting people with long term health conditions to become more active. She is passionate about prevention, working in partnership and using an effective knowledge base to create impactful change at scale.

Having gotten his start organizing with anti-war veterans and working as Sala Labs, Sales Engineer, and Partner Manager, Bryan now brings his expertise to non-profit and mission-driven clients as 4Site Studios Director of Digital Strategy. Specializing in challenging and complex projects, Bryan works with each client to craft holistic approaches tailored to goals, budget, and outcomes.

Mary Margaret Callahan is the Chief Mission Officer for Pet Partners, where she is responsible for leading mission delivery including the therapy animal program and grassroots advocacy program. She joined Pet Partners in 2013 and has worked to establish the organization as both an influencer and a resource within the animal-assisted intervention (AAI) and human-animal bond (HAB) community. In 2018 she was named one of PetAge Magazine’s Women of Influence. Mary Margaret lives on a small farm outside Seattle with her husband, daughter and menagerie of animals including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, chickens, goats and miniature donkeys.

Joe Derry Hall is a freelancer working on creative digital and communications. His interests include tech innovation, upending power and reimagining different futures. Joe has been the winner of a Mozilla Creative Media Award and the joint winner of a BAFTA digital award. He was previously in-house in campaigning and communications roles at Amnesty International, the Climate Coalition, the Ecocide campaign, Save the Children, Scope and others. He is one of the initiators of Right Way Up, an experiment to create a radical, practical new vision for the social change sector.

Anna Chowcat is the Digital Manager at Refuge and oversees the charity’s digital function and output. Since joining Refuge, Anna has been instrumental in introducing a number of digital engagement programmes including digital campaigns, bespoke email supporter journeys and user friendly donate/campaign pages. Before joining Refuge, she has worked in digital engagement and campaign roles at The Labour Party and Leonard Cheshire Disability.