How four charities developed and delivered their fundraising response to the Afghanistan crisis
In 2012 a masked gunman boarded a school bus and shot a young girl in the side of the head. That girl was Malala Yousafzai, her attacker, a member of the Taliban. Malala was 14 years old at the time, a young education activist ambushed on her way home in a Pakistan valley under Taliban control. She miraculously survived, and continues to advocate fiercely for girls’ education, but the attack will forever remind us of the brutality this fundamentalist military organisation is capable of.
Horrors such as this can only grow in frequency now that the Taliban has once again seized control of the already-struggling Afghanistan. In just 10 days they swept across the country, with the nation’s capital, Kabul, coming under Taliban control on 15 August 2021.
Despite hasty promises of security and an inclusive government, the country was plunged into crisis as thousands of people scrambled to escape, many dying in the process, with those left behind facing a frightening and uncertain future. The Afghan people have little trust in the Taliban, with its history of genocide, public executions, oppressive control of women and girls, the destruction of fertile land, and the banning of television, music and cinema, among countless other examples of barbaric human rights and cultural abuses.
It hardly needs to be said that Afghanistan is a terribly dangerous place to be right now. So, as is so the often the case in times of extreme crisis, we have much to be thankful for in the existence of NGOs delivering life-saving relief in the most precarious of circumstances.
International aid charities quickly developed their fundraising response to the Afghanistan crisis. We asked four of them – the Australian Red Cross, Tearfund Australia, Baptist World Aid Australia and ActionAid Australia – how they delivered their appeals and what they plan to do with the money they raise.
How quickly did you pull together a fundraising response to the Afghanistan crisis?
The speed at which these charities launched fundraising campaigns is emergency response 101. Within three days, and a massive all-in effort, all four organisations had developed their appeals. Tearfund took just 24 hours.
ActionAid engaged the support of Digital Ninjas and Parachute Digital who ensured their digital campaign went live as fast as possible. Baptist World Aid’s launch coincided with a prayer and solidarity event, with had their highest ever webinar attendance, reflecting the scale of global disbelief and sorrow at the events unfolding in Afghanistan.
What channels did you use for your appeal?
Tearfund, Baptist World Aid and ActionAid all used direct mail for their appeals, mailing 10,000, 9,500 and 8,000 supporters respectively – no mean feat when you consider the timeframe. Tearfund opted for a postcard, while the other two charities sent traditional mail packs.
The Red Cross relied mostly on digital channels, sending donor emails and utilising social media for breaking updates and sharing videos, including a piece to camera from Adrian Prouse, Head of International Humanitarian Programs. Pro bono support from Cummins, OOH Media and Shopper Media also enabled the organisation to run outdoor media, featuring a QR code and the tag line “Your quick response helps ours”. The charity reached 185,000 existing supporters with their activity.
Tearfund decided to dedicate their monthly ‘Tearfund Update’ email to their appeal, sent to more than 20,000 donors in early September, inviting them to donate and pray.
ActionAid’s Facebook campaign showed that, as one of the few INGOs with local staff still operating in country, they were on the ground supporting the Afghan people.
Utilising church channels has been part of Baptist World Aid’s strategy and they are one of 300 Australian churches and organisations who have joined forces in the advocacy group ‘Christians United for Afghanistan’, who make use of video as part of their joint campaign.
A quick Google search reveals that all four charities succeeded in securing traditional media coverage and all appeared in “here’s what you can do to help” articles, which so many of us turn to when we are struggling to comprehend how we can help in a crisis of such magnitude and horror… if in doubt, donate.
What was the concept for the appeal creative?
The Red Cross approach was to reflect how the organisation uniquely brings the global and the local together. Their appeal built on the story of 30 years of work in Afghanistan, delivered with the Afghan Red Crescent (the organisation’s name in Muslim countries), and their work back in Australia supporting people with links to Afghanistan to locate and reconnect with family members missing due to conflict or displacement.
Simplicity was the key for Baptist World Aid who ran with a stripped-back black and white theme with red highlights for their direct mail piece, which was shorter and more direct than normal. For social media, they again used their ‘disaster red’ highlights. Tagline, “The heartbreak we share”, formed the theme for copy across all communications.
ActionAid is a global women’s rights organisation and they had to be extremely cautious about their social media and digital presence to make sure they didn’t put anyone in Afghanistan at risk. Their imagery and copy could not mention women’s rights or the political situation, so instead they focused on the humanitarian needs of displaced populations flooding into urban areas.
Turning the creative for emergency appeals around as fast as possible is a priority for ActionAid, so they stuck to a two-page letter that outlined the immediate context, the need and what the charity’s response will be. To demonstrate close ties with ActionAid Afghanistan, the letter was written by Head of Programs, Sally Henderson, who has travelled to Afghanistan several times. A photo of Sally with a community woman depicted ActionAid’s long history of supporting programs in the beleaguered country.
Tearfund utilised their creative brand guide through the lens of a ‘sympathetic response’ to the crisis. At the same time, they were highly aware of the heightened security context in Afghanistan, and therefore limited the use of hero images and identifiable stories to minimise risk and exposure.
What assets do you think best communicate the theme of your appeal?
Tearfund: The direct mail postcard sent to supporters, featuring a QR code for easy response.
Baptist World Aid: The letter and highest performing social post, which was uploaded after the first emails had been sent out.
ActionAid: A Facebook advert that generated 41% of the donations the charity secured on the platform. It talks to ActionAid’s unwavering commitment to support the people of Afghanistan.
Red cross: Their outdoor media, with QR code, and a social post outlining their response in Afghanistan.
What will you do with the funds you raise?
The situation in Afghanistan is evolving, uncertain and dangerous. What this meant was that NGO work in the country was either on hold, or under wraps at the time of writing this article.
Tearfund has been supporting locally based partners in Afghanistan for over 40 years and, for their safety, they paused as the crisis unfolded. When it becomes possible for their work to resume, it will include emergency humanitarian assistance, such as food aid and basic health care. Ongoing development work will include maternal and mental health care, education for children and adults, hygiene and sanitation projects, and support to help local people experience greater food security and earn an income. Where it is simply not possible to deliver support in Afghanistan, the funds will go to similar projects in other crisis-affected countries such as South Sudan and Somalia; a reminder to give yourself room in your emergency appeal planning and communications to divert funds to other crucial projects if needed.
Baptist World Aid was also taking into consideration the safety of partner staff and limitations on sending funding. With their partners poised to respond with emergency food and shelter, medical assistance and hygiene kits, the organisation had just confirmed that the first portion of their funding would go towards displaced families in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the form of cash grants for emergency food relief and items such as blankets to protect against winter conditions.
The Red Cross will help provide vital healthcare and life-saving humanitarian support delivered by partners on the ground and will support communities in Australia to locate and reconnect with missing family caught up in the crisis in Afghanistan.
As cities and towns fell to the Taliban, ActionAid’s primary concern was for the Afghanistan team and the women and communities they work with. Ensuring the safety of their women’s rights staff was a huge focus in the first weeks. Funds raised through ActionAid’s appeal will go to supporting immediate humanitarian response such as food, clean water, emergency shelter, and dignity kits for women and girls. The first phase of their response will reach 35,000 people in the areas the charity works in.
How will you report back to donors?
In early October, ActionAid hosted an Afghanistan update webinar for supporters with their Executive Director and Head of Programs. They also invited high value donors to a briefing from the charity’s Afghanistan Country Director.
The events were designed to answer some of the many questions fielded by the fundraising team, with supporters asking how programs will be impacted, how funds will be transferred, and what the impact on women will be. Newsletters, both email and print, are another report-back touchpoint.
Donor acknowledgment started straight away for TearFund, with thank you calls to supporters happening alongside appeal activity. Their appeal web page continues to be updated with new information as it becomes available. Report-back content includes weekly video messages from Tearfund’s CEO, thanking supporters for donating, and sharing updates on how local partners are preparing to respond to the evolving crisis. These videos have also been included in Facebook posts and supporter emails.
Baptist World Aid will report back via email, blog updates and social media. Due to the delayed nature of the relief being supplied, they will aim for a six-month impact report-back to donors of the appeal.
The Red Cross are providing ongoing reports to donors via email and social media, where they also share tips for how the public can help those impacted by the crisis. The organisation has reported not only on their work in Afghanistan, but also how their Migration Support teams in Australia are welcoming Afghan evacuees.
How much money do you hope to raise from the appeal?
The largest target of $2 million belongs to the Red Cross, with $800,000 raised at the end of October 2021. At the same time, Baptist World Aid were at $473,971 of their $500,000 goal and ActionAid had exceeded their $100,000 target by $68,000. Tearfund did not set a target, explaining that their 40 years of experience in Afghanistan has shown them there is no limit to the amount of funds their partners can mobilise in their life-saving work; a lack of target, however, has not stopped the charity raising over $345,000 so far.
What these four charities have demonstrated is an ability to quickly mobilise fundraising in response to a crisis, before the emergency slips out of media and public view.
The response effort has also seen NFPs doubling down on collaboration, with 16 Australian charities joining forces for the first time in August 2021, to launch the ‘Emergency Action Alliance’, which brings together prominent government leaders, media executives and charity leaders (including staff from ActionAid, Tearfund and Baptist World Aid). In an historic move the members have united in their campaign and fundraising efforts to improve how Australians can support and donate when large scale overseas humanitarian disasters take place.
As tragic events continue to unfold in Afghanistan where, already, the Taliban are demonstrating their intolerance by conducting house-to-house searches looking for opponents, girls have been excluded from secondary education and Islamic State, an enemy of the Taliban (who show enduring support for al-Qaeda), have killed over 200 people in suicide bombings, we must place our faith and support in these NGOs and we most open our hearts to the many thousands of Afghans who are suffering.