Our work: Salvation Army Covid campaign

Raising donations during a global pandemic

Experience: Engagement and acquisition

Coronavirus has had a devastating effect on the financial livelihoods of people in the UK living on the poverty line. The Salvation Army, a Christian church and registered charity, has been a core support to the hardest hit, distributing food through their networks, and supporting homeless people living at their residential centres.

Whilst the UK government did rush homeless people into empty hotels from 16 March – the beginning of the country’s lockdown, provisions as basic as food were not realised. As such there was an emerging and rapidly growing need to support food banks.

According to The Salvation Army’s UK Food Distribution Survey, during February and April 2020 they recorded a 63% surge in households given food support.

Spanning over three months, from 27 March until 21 June, The Salvation Army ran a multi-channel campaign which included pivoting their digital marketing with Manifesto to drive donations to support their coronavirus impact food programme.


Creating a dynamic strategy from scratch

This time, Manifesto could not follow a blue-print, or imitate proven successes with The Salvation Army such as its 2019 Christmas digital marketing campaign. Unable to accurately forecast, budget or draw a timeline beyond the present, the team had to return to the drawing board.

The vision was simple: to create an entirely new campaign shape which could move in tandem with the changing environment of COVID-19. That meant a strategy which was flexible, dynamic and reactive.

Whilst ultimately increasing donations for The Salvation Army through an increased awareness of their frontline work, the Manifesto team wanted to achieve three key things though this newly-built strategy. One was to build up an education around how the virus directly impacts the homeless and foodbank-heavy spaces. The second was to deliver frictionless donor journeys which maximise return on advertising spend (ROAS). Whilst the third was to recruit a good volume of donors from a varied pool of both warm and cold leads.


Pivoting alongside the public’s mood

Using Facebook, Bing, Google Grants and Google Paid, Manifesto designed a campaign which was much more fluid around performance than The Salvation Army had ever run before.

With data leading the way, the campaign strategy lent heavily on the implementation of Facebook Rules which – based on daily performance – would incrementally increase ad spend by about 5% each day, as long as the campaign was making a profit. This automation meant performance could quite literally dictate spending.

Throughout the three months, Manifesto used Google Trend data, and valuable insights from The Salvation Army’s work on the ground, to help pivot messaging alongside the changing public mood during lockdown. Whilst March-April saw the most donations, driven largely by a sense of urgency the start of lockdown induced, May-June saw a slow-down which required the strategy to adapt.

From 10 May – when the government announced its lifting of lockdown strategy – Manifesto could see a lull approaching in donations despite an unrelenting increase in people relying on The Salvation Army during this period. To curb this, Manifesto changed some of the ad messaging to convey relevant, hard-hitting stories. All in all, Manifesto pivoted its strategy about five times.


Hitting 731% return on ad spend and £1m revenue

As expected, the first month made up the bulk of the campaign’s total revenue. By incorporating behavioural economics theory in the latter two months, Manifesto managed to keep donation momentum following this first-month peak. Giving a donation range in the ad copy increased donation value, and hard hitting messages performed best as the lockdown relaxed and eased people’s sense of urgency.

When it was time to wind down the campaign, Manifesto used a similar rule-based strategy to the one implemented at the beginning. If ROAS dipped below 300%, the ad spend would decrease by 10% on that day. This meant the charity’s campaign was data-led from start to finish.

Over the three months, Manifesto maintained a 731% ROAS for The Salvation Army, bringing in over £1m in revenue. That means that for every £1 which went into the vitally needed campaign, £7.31 came back to the charity. It also generated the charity 20 million impressions across the four channels the campaign rested on. In all, the campaign attracted 13,790 donors, approximately, 6,870 of which were cold.

The campaign has since been shortlisted as a finalist in the Third Sector Awards 2020.


How this helps us on your project

Manifesto supports vital charity organisations in being reactive and agile, rather than rigid and predictive. The digital marketing strategies Manifesto implement allow our clients to scale their budget alongside their revenue. Our expert team make continuous improvements to ad copy and message framing to provide ongoing impact on donation size. Throughout this campaign, The Salvation Army never fell into a negative ROAS, setting a strong precedent for future crisis-focused campaigns.







Sign up for the Manifesto newsletter and exclusive event invites