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Jeremy Bennett explains how The Torch took its annual fundraising art exhibition online for the very first time.

Confined online

Sunset Cockatoo by Stacey (Taungurong/Boon Wurrung people)

The Torch is a nonprofit organisation that works with Indigenous offenders and ex-offenders, delivering an arts program to help participants explore their identity and establish an art practice with the intention of creating avenues away from prison. 

Artworks created through The Torch are part of a rehabilitation process that helps build confidence, social capital, economic stability and pathways to reconnect with the community, with 100% of the sale price going directly to the artist – a concept unique in the art market.

The Confined exhibition is the key annual public event of The Torch’s Indigenous program and is a strong visual metaphor for the over-representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system.

The challenge this year for Confined 11 was overcoming the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions, meaning the team had to display the exhibition and sell the artwork in an online format for the very first time. This is where we, Bigfoot Fundraising, came in to assist.

Having never worked with The Torch before, Bigfoot Fundraising had a short timeframe to learn about their program and create a strategy aligned to their key focuses: creating strong messaging for an online audience; increasing sales both locally and interstate; and reaching new audiences that may not have been able to access their exhibitions before (regional and interstate). An online format opened the door for The Torch to do all of this.

The team at The Torch already had a great strategy in engaging with buyers face to face at exhibitions and in the gallery – they saw the barrier of COVID-19 as an opportunity to extend this warmth and engagement into an online capacity. 

Supporters of The Torch are buying into the experience with them, the context of the program and the desire to readdress the inequity that is experienced by our First Nations peoples. We wanted to help The Torch keep their messaging strong, while engaging with the audience on a completely new platform.

The 2020 Confined 11 exhibition ran for three and a half weeks from 14 May to 7 June with 300 artworks from 286 artists. 

The opening of the Dhumbadha Munga Talking Knowledge exhibition at the Metro Gallery, Armadale, WA, in 2019, from left: The Torch’s CEO Kent Morris (Barkindji people), Senior Indigenous Arts Officer Paul McCann (Marithiel people), artist Kelvin Rogers (Yorta Yorta people) and Indigenous Arts Officer Sean Miller (Kamilaroi people) (Photo: James Henry).

The Approach

In 2019, the Confined 10 exhibition sold over 50 artworks at the launch and over 130 during the exhibition’s run. Our aim was to increase the number of artworks sold year on year, as well as reach new audiences through the online format – something The Torch had never previously been able to do. We were up for the challenge.

Bigfoot Fundraising was engaged to run the digital advertising element of this campaign, as it was the first time The Torch was delving into the online market. We gave their team input into creating an organic social strategy, overall branding tips, landing page design critique and email marketing suggestions to ensure the campaign aligned, but our focus was to manage their paid social campaign.

We were set a reasonably small budget of $5,000 for the four weeks to run the campaign, identifying social media (specifically Facebook) as where their budget would be best spent. 

Our approach was to leverage their pre-existing data and 5,000-strong Facebook audience to take an integrated digital approach that also supported their offline channels, creating a ‘halo’ effect of boosting awareness, engagement and ultimately more sales to the Confined 11 virtual exhibition. This also allowed us to identify potential new supporters online who would be most likely to donate using lookalike audiences and a remarketing strategy to target those who have engaged with the website as well as video content via Facebook.

We conceptualised new messaging for the campaign that was strong, punchy and emotionally impactful. We were mindful that, as well as reaching new audiences, we also had to communicate to their existing supporters that this exhibition was now a virtual one and would be conducted online. 

Jack Charles

‘Jack Charles: Where Life Leads Us’ by Macca, Gureng Gureng people as featured in Confined 11, a fundraising exhibition held by The Torch

The Social Media Launch

An event page that eventually reached over 22,000 people was set up weeks prior to the exhibition to encourage people to attend the online video launch, which was to be live streamed at 6pm on the 14 May opening night. The launch was a key piece of communication in engaging The Torch’s supporters and communicating the online element of this campaign. It consisted of a Welcome to Country by an Indigenous elder, an introduction to the campaign in its new format due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and the new opportunity to present the artists’ stories in a stronger context than ever before.

Landing Page Integration

The exhibition landing page featured a wall showcasing the 300 artworks included in the exhibition, virtual galleries that could be browsed, videos exploring the stories of some of The Torch’s artists, and a comments feed for supporters to send messages directly back to the artists – a key piece of engagement that connected consumers back to the artists they were supporting.

Virtual Gallery

Visitors to the website were invited to take a tour of Confined 11 by entering virtual galleries.

Developing Paid Social Messaging

As this was the first paid social campaign The Torch had ever run, we had no previous digital advertising or learnings to work with. We created a series of ads with two different themes. The first focused on the details of the exhibition, on the movement into the ’virtual’ space, and with a strong call to action communicating that the only way to support the exhibition this year was to click through to the landing page, browse and buy – there was no physical exhibition. The second theme was a strong focus on The Torch’s overall proposition and how Indigenous Australians feel confined. We used hard hitting statistics and facts to appeal to our audience – and it worked. 

Confined online

My Elders Protecting Our Land by Leroy K (Barkindji people) (Photo: Mick Bell).

The Challenges

Like any campaign, there were challenges. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on public gatherings had prompted the pivot to an online campaign, but the pandemic had subsequently plunged the country into recession just as the exhibition was set to launch. Launching an online campaign for the first time in such
an unpredictable climate was risky. Not only had the fundraising sector taken a huge hit, but so had most sectors, with unemployment on the rise and feelings of uncertainty being experienced all around the country. Would supporters of The Torch, let alone new audiences, be engaged in a campaign like this at a time when there were so many other things to worry about? These external factors made this campaign hard to predict.

The other challenge was that the online world was completely new to The Torch. There were no historical learnings to guide the campaign in terms of what has/hasn’t worked in the past – always useful information to have, especially when working with a small budget. In an increasingly uncertain market, we had to be careful in launching our ads, optimising regularly to test what was or wasn’t working. We were lucky that a large number of purchases were made early on in the campaign. Those learnings allowed us to optimise the ads to target audiences that were giving us the best return on investment, which led to success overall.

The Results and Overall Impact

Not having ever actively advertised artwork online prior to Confined 11, the results of this campaign exceeded our expectations and The Torch was thrilled. 

The campaign saw a record 226 unique artists sell their artwork – more than any Confined exhibition run previously – with over 17,000 unique visitors accessing The Torch website across the three and a half weeks. The feedback, messages and support received by the artists for sharing and telling their stories was much like the pandemic itself – unprecedented.

Overall, the campaign spent $4,995.50 across the exhibition, with just under 20,000 total clicks, a healthy CTR of 4.41% and a low CPC of $0.26. Purchases saw a surge in both the first three days and final three days, while remaining consistent throughout the weeks in between. A total of 96 purchases with $72,685 worth of revenue was attributed to paid ads and the campaign ended with a total ROI of 14.5. 

Confined onlineAs a result of the highly engaged Facebook page and success of the advertising campaign, The Torch’s Facebook audience increased by 1,055 (16.5%) during the campaign.

One of the key campaign focuses was to increase sales from the previous year, as well as reach new audiences in both regional and interstate areas. In four short weeks we did just that.  Of all campaign purchases, 175 were made by people who had  not previously supported The Torch, meaning that we’d succeeded in reaching new  audiences. In total, 93  more artworks were sold  than the year prior, so sales had increased by 65%, with revenue totalling $171,300. Due to increased website traffic, 130 artworks were also sold from The Torch’s everyday store (separate to the exhibition), totalling $80,830 in revenue for the exhibition.

The Learnings and Highlights

With any new client that has not previously run online marketing campaigns, there are always going to be learnings. Delving into Facebook metrics can be quite exciting when there is quantitative data to tell you all about your audience, who is engaging with your campaign, who your purchasers are and more – information that the team at The Torch had never been able to identify – which can then be used to target more effectively. 

A big learning for the client was the power of a remarketing campaign and using data. We installed a remarketing pixel on The Torch’s website at the beginning of the campaign. Running ads to this audience, as well as targeting previous Facebook video viewers, saw 43 purchases overall (44% of the online campaign purchases). This result was a major highlight for us, as helping The Torch achieve this by doing something so simple was of huge benefit and will also assist them down the track as their digital marketing efforts develop.

As this was their first foray into promoting their exhibition via paid ads, it was a huge learning for The Torch to find they could use owned data to target more effectively on Facebook, creating both custom and lookalike audiences. We were also able to identify key insights into The Torch’s audience: 75 online purchases were made by women and 14 by men (four were uncategorised); 89% of online purchases were by buyers within Victoria; and women aged 25 to 34 and 45 to 54 made the most purchases through ads (27 and 26, respectively).

“The campaign saw a record 226 unique artists sell their artwork – more than any Confined exhibition run previously – with over 17,000 unique visitors accessing the website across the three and a half weeks.”

On top of this, we were able to identify the most effective copy, imagery and creative. Advertising imagery showcasing the artworks (as opposed to images of people) was most successful in converting to a website purchase. The advertisements that incorporated a statistic saw a higher number of conversions (55) than the advertisements describing only the details of the virtual exhibition (37). The other four conversions came from boosted posts throughout the campaign.

Aside from learnings that were specific to The Torch’s future success, there were also learnings for us as an agency. Given we were only engaged to work on one element of the campaign, it was extremely important to align all of the marketing avenues. Integrating touchpoints, getting the timing of communication right, being data-led and using insights along the way to test and optimise for best performance were all crucial to the success of this campaign.

As well as having a strong paid campaign, it is vital that organic content is compelling and lends itself to the paid component of the campaign. During Confined 11 we assisted The Torch in planning organic content that could be boosted, that was engaging and that encouraged video viewers, which fed into our overall strategy of remarketing. 

We built profiles and personas to target, introducing interest demographics to many of our paid campaigns that targeted those interested in social justice and Indigenous issues. This was a key factor in allowing us to engage new audiences as we targeted this niche group of interests who had no previous association with The Torch. We also used square images as opposed to rectangles, as we know that the squares take up more real estate in the newsfeed, giving greater visibility to our ads. 

Innovating for Success

We were pleased to help The Torch transform, innovate, learn and succeed in their first digital campaign. Despite the challenges that 2020 has brought upon the fundraising sector, it was amazing to see some great results for The Torch, helping them take their event online with the right digital strategy and attract the right audience. Through showcasing artwork from Indigenous offenders and embracing them as artists, the Confined 11 exhibition provides an avenue for change. Because something needs to be done. 

Jeremy Bennett is Owner and Chief Consultant at Bigfoot Fundraising, a boutique consultancy that engages donors with charities by creating tailored approaches to strategy, digital fundraising, donor engagement and innovation.


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