Skip To Content


Raising £3m amidst a pandemic

The Challenge

How do we create a digital fundraising campaign that breaks through in an oversaturated UK market?

The Insight

Audiences were overwhelmed at the height of the pandemic, yet research showed the majority of people were nevertheless aware of their own privilege and safety.

The Solution

An integrated media and content campaign with empathy at its heart that drove an increase in donors, revenue and loyalty.

How do you make a difference when you’re always in crisis mode?

​​UK for UNHCR supports the UN Refugee Agency’s global humanitarian work by fundraising in the United Kingdom. Brand awareness in a crowded market remains a challenge and when they came to Blue State, the team was considering how to integrate digital-first appeals into their fundraising strategy.

In a crowded giving landscape, UK for UNHCR needed a digital-led and audience-centered fundraising approach to both deepen their relationship with their existing audience and bring more donors into the fold.

When the pandemic began in early 2020, this significantly increased humanitarian relief operations for an organisation already responding to many refugee emergencies around the globe and UK for UNHCR needed an enhanced responsive digital fundraising model to support UNHCR’s work.

Redefine rapid response

In their previous model, UK fundraising for UNHCR would typically plan several fundraising appeals throughout the year, with an additional one or two emergency response moments. 

Given the organisation had a lower budget and brand awareness, we had to shape messaging around what people were talking about online, in that moment. And, we had to craft creative that would resonate with the audience and differentiate UK for UNHCR from other nonprofits.

Starting with focus groups and user testing, we learned that some audiences were educated about the issues facing refugee populations, while others felt overwhelmed by charity appeals and that the appeals could be emotionally manipulative. 

Yet, this testing showed opportunities. Individuals felt disgusted with consumerism and how wasteful our society had become. They felt guilt about their own privilege, and wanted to even the scales wherever they could.

collection of sticky notes from a brainstorm for UK for UNHCR

It also became apparent that we needed to use language that felt more accessible to everyone. We introduced an audience-first content planning approach that complemented rapid-response moments, through social monitors that tracked how our existing and potential audiences were feeling. The monitors also picked up on emergency moments and aptly alerted our team so we could respond. 

As refugee crises continued to flood news feeds throughout 2020, our teams were able to pinpoint which events were striking a chord with our audience the most and craft campaigns in response. 

To ensure the content didn’t tire after one or two weeks, the best-performing assets were refreshed and optimised, using social monitors to adapt to the creative that was proving most successful. 

Tailor to your audience & lead with empathy 

After already raising a record-breaking £2.4M during the first 10 months of the pandemic, our teams launched the Winter Appeal, responding to the feelings of frustration and distress from COVID-19 to drive empathy for how refugees feel every single day. The campaign came to life via Facebook, YouTube, paid search and programmatic display activity to drive both consideration and conversion.

Instead of pushing out messaging using snow and winter as the hook we took an opportunity with this campaign to show a mirror to the user. We communicated that, however isolated or disoriented they might be feeling now, it was even more important to think from the perspective of a refugee: 

Our teams worked to create content that would further inspire empathy for refugees and motivate giving. One highlight was an interactive campaign quiz made up of a series of five statements, taken from interviews conducted with refugees as well as survey responses from members of the British public during lockdown.

Elements from the “Are We Worlds Apart?” Quiz.

The “Are We Worlds Apart?” campaign helped bridge the gap between our audience and those who we intended to help. And, it brought us a little closer together in a year where we were famously apart.

Now, when an emergency lands, our teams can respond in a way that resonates more deeply and differentiates UK for UNHCR from other appeals. 

We can also respond more rapidly than ever before. A campaign that would have taken a week to launch can now go live in hours, through the use of pre-approved emergency assets and streamlined protocols.

Moving forward

Unfortunately, the global refugee crisis around the world continues, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is still intensely felt by refugee populations. But now, UK for UNHCR is better prepared to respond to whatever may come next, with a hugely expanded supporter base and a proven digital fundraising foundation to build on.


  • £3mil+ total raised
  • 364% increase of donors acquired year on year

Press & Accolades

Ready to talk? Contact Us