Not-for-Profit 2021

In a year when staying safe was more important than ever, the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges overcame a significant funding gap and helped vulnerable women and children enjoy 207,500 nights free from the threat of family violence thanks to a well-executed marketing strategy.

In safe hands

In 2020 the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges (NCIWR) successfully challenged the norms of a mass charity appeal, and generated the most donations for Women’s Refuge ever ($4.15 million – a 300 percent YoY increase. All in the context of the most difficult year for the sector and public, thanks to the pandemic. And all this, for a marketing investment of just $100,000 – an impressive ROI of 41:1.

NCIWR achieved this impressive result by flipping the traditional charity narrative. The collective chose to not play on people’s consciences or focus on the emotive pull of the problem. Instead, they used positive and upbeat messaging, introducing a practical solution and empowered prospective donors with a sense of agency. Focusing on the transformational difference even a small donation would make to someone else’s life, and providing complete transparency about how their money would be used.

New Zealand has the highest rate of family violence in the developed world. Every night, more than160 women and children are too afraid to stay at home. And, unfortunately, violence was on an upwards trajectory – even before the added pressures of Covid-19 took hold. While there were around 24,000 referrals to Women’s Refuge in the 2016 financial year, this number had steadily increased to just under 60,000 in the financial year ending May 31, 2020. While distressing, these referrals represent only a partial picture of the wider problem. The NZ Police conducted 133,022 family harm investigations in 2018 – again a steady increase from 95,101 investigations in 2013. And according to some estimates, three out of four of family violence incidents are not even reported to the Police.

At the same time, NCIWR – along with other charities – faced a wider societal trend in New Zealand of donation apathy. The amount of individual donations from mass appeals has flatlined since 2016. And, with fewer people donating and volunteering, giving has become more concentrated in a smaller number of more generous individuals.

In order to fulfil its purpose of liberating women and children from family violence, NCIWR needed to dramatically increase donations in the face of intense competition for charitable support. To connect a new, broader cross-section of the New Zealand public with its mission. Even more so during the context of an unprecedented pandemic that not only increased the scope of the problem, but meant Kiwi families of all shapes and sizes were going through their own hardships and financial uncertainty.

NCIWR had successfully managed to keep public fundraising at consistent levels of around $1.1 million per annum since 2016/17 – the absolute minimum needed to bridge the gap between government funding and what’s required to keep the 40 refuges around New Zealand operational. The collective even managed to increase its fundraising to $1.4 million in the 2018/19 financial year.

But, their best efforts were not keeping pace with the growing societal need for our support. To have a hope of addressing the scale of the issue NCIWR knew it needed to raise more money. To do this, it needed to appeal to a lot more donors.

While its core donors were as vocal and engaged as ever, NCIWR knew appealing to them alone wouldn’t stand a chance of getting where the organisation needed to be. Looking back at its data, NCIWR found that its total number of supporters had fallen year by year – faster than the amount of donations received – ramping up the pressure its our core supporters. In the face of stiff competition for limited dollars from the public, NCIWR had to find a new approach to meet the needs of the many women and children requiring its help.

People tend to give to causes that are close to their heart. That they’re touched by. Either through intimate knowledge of the issue or cause. Or because the story told to the public catches attention and connects emotionally. For a long time, NCIWR stuck to talking about the significance of the problem. But, people had tuned this out as it was not their problem. NCIWR’s research had shown, perhaps unsurprisingly given the nature of our work, that people perceived them as a “faceless” organisation. One that lacked visibility, with people neither having a good understanding of what it did or how their donations could help. The collective had to find one thing to make itself famous for in the eyes of prospective givers.

NCIWR needed to be bold and unexpected in order for its cause to cut through everything else competing for attention and reach a wider audience. Not just speak to its current, shrinking pool of supporters. It needed a new way to stand out, increase relevance and appeal. 

In short, NCIWR created a new charity product. One that transformed Women’s Refuge from a charity to an accommodation provider. The collective invited people to gift a ‘Safe Night’ on its bespoke booking platform for just $20, asking donors to gift a room to someone they’ll never meet, in a place they’ll hopefully never visit. 

From the first discussions with its board, to taking the idea around the country to the local refuges, NCIWR stakeholders gravitated towards the freshness and bold simplicity of Safe Nights.

The new platform gave NCIWR a compelling brand platform to hold all its disparate public activity – from on the ground collections to targeted digital campaigns. More significantly, it allowed the collective to build greater relevance and momentum for its brand and fundraising efforts by tapping into culture at key moments throughout the year – most notably during lockdown and over the summer holidays.

Before the launch of Safe Nights, NCIWR simply hoped to exceed its baseline target of $1.2 million and successfully engage with a wider pool of donors.

The response was unprecedented. Generous Kiwis responded in droves to the positive re-framing of its offer for Safe Nights. As a result, the organisation had its most successful year ever. Meaning that 137,500 incremental safe sleeps for at risk women and children – at a time when they were most needed could be provided.

From both an 87 percent YoY increase in donors, and from cross-referencing Safe Night donations to its previous donor database, NCIWR realised that the majority of people giving are now new supporters – the campaign successfully appealing beyond its engaged core audience. Safe Nights has also proved to be a visible and clear rallying-point for organisations wanting to be noticed as good citizens, helping NCIWR secure new corporate partnerships to boost both its presence and fundraising ability into the future.  

Category: Supreme Winner and Not-for-Profit

Company: National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges Inc

Marketing Initiative: Women’s Refuge: Safe Nights

Marketing Partners: EightyOne, MBM, Storbie, Miranda Harcourt

Judges’ Comments: “This entry by Women’s Refuge was a clear standout for the Judges because of the end-to-end marketing strategy from insights to outcomes and their integrated and innovative market approach. They reframed the way the problem was presented into a positive relatable solution. There was clever alignment between the business strategy and the creative strategy. A highlight was the innovation of experience when a donation is used to create a tangible element. Incredible insights, and harnessing those, to deliver incredible results. Broadening the reach through new distribution channels and removing inertia to donations. A compelling entry in a tough category in an especially tough year.”

Finalists: (Not-for-Profit) Every Kiwi Vote Counts, Cystic Fibrosis New Zealand, Physiotherapy New Zealand, Starship Foundation, NZ Mountain Safety Council, Christchurch City Council, Coastguard.

This article was first published in the 2021 December/January issue of NZ Marketing magazine.

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