4th June by Imogen Ward
One in four women in the UK face domestic violence in their lifetime. But lockdown is dramatically increasing the risk for many victims. The domestic abuse charity Refuge announced this week that they have seen a 66% increase in demand to its helpline and a record 957% increase in web traffic over the past few weeks.
When AAW placed Louise Firth as Director of Fundraising at the charity around 18 months ago, we knew she’d do a brilliant job. Sadly, domestic violence and the plight of the victims has historically been a difficult cause to fundraise for, but we were confident that Louise would meet that challenge head on.
Of course, little did we know that in such a relatively short amount of time, her leadership would be stretched and tested during this crisis. She has of course, done the brilliant job we expected of her. And then some!
Below she shares details of some of the innovative fundraising initiatives she has led during the crisis and also reflects on how the charity can use the recent increase in public support and relevance to plan for the future.
How has Covid-19 impacted on Refuge’s services?
Back at the start of March we were looking at countries ahead of us such as China and Italy which reported a threefold increase in domestic abuse. We tried to make assumptions on what the impact on our services would be, an incredibly challenging task. This is an unprecedented situation.
The increased demand on our services has been huge, with a significant increase in calls and contacts to our National Domestic Abuse Helpline which is essentially a front door to our services and women accessing broader support across the country.
Our assumptions around the increase are twofold:
1) It’s a recognition of the problem. The high press coverage potentially means some women have realised that they were actually already experiencing abuse before lockdown but had not recognised it as such – one the insidious parts of a perpetrator’s actions is a form of emotional and psychological abuse - isolating women from their friends and family is a common tactic of controlling behaviour.
2) Women are potentially locked in with perpetrators, without any respite - time away through going to work or education. The lockdown is potentially exacerbating a perpetrator’s existing abuse. There is now a greater awareness of our work with the general public.
COVID 19 had an immediate impact on our Helpline team, which is usually based at our head office. This is a safe, confidential, cyber-protected space where staff and volunteers support each other after having to deal with a high number of distressing calls. We have had to temporarily relocate the majority of our Helpline team to home working, ensuring their wellbeing, and that they have the technology and a confidential and safe space for them to work.
Our tech abuse advocates have been busier than ever, and our approach is to empower women who have been experiencing tech and economic abuse, to keep them online and connected safely.
Our 48 refuges across the country have also had to adapt. Staff are undertaking the majority of their casework remotely, but in parallel still be available for women in our refuges. This could be checking on people self-isolating and helping them to buy food for example.
Staff wellbeing has been a priority: ensuring every staff member has the support they need, the adequate tools, flexibility with childcare, home schooling and caring commitments.
It has been an incredibly complex situation; however, Refuge has kept all of its services open. One of Refuge’s key message to the public and to women who have needed help during this crisis has been – we are here, our services are still open and even though we’re in lockdown; you are not alone.
Talk us through the impact on fundraising over this dramatic few months
I’ve been at Refuge for 18 months and it’s the first time they’ve had a full-time Director of Fundraising, I’ve therefore spent a year building and empowering a team and developing a fundraising strategy. Although obviously we had no idea this crisis was coming, we were ready; the team has been really agile and dynamic and moved straight into an emergency plan - this was our moment to be bold.
We moved quickly on both a high value and mass focused emergency appeal, we took some (managed) risks bringing lots of plans and expenditure we had in the pipeline forward. I felt that this unique moment of increased awareness around domestic violence and a subsequent propensity for people to show their support, was our chance to scale - this was our duty to ensure we could be there for even more survivors.
For our high value emergency appeal, we worked hard to bring the story to life. The crisis has affected every single part of our operation, our case for support therefore had be clear for the need for core funds to run our services, whilst being flexible to our needs and driving towards our ultimate ambition of sustainability.
Almost immediately both the public and high value audiences responded well to our appeal. The timing has coincided with the fact that we've been building some good new relationships in our prospect pipeline for high value audiences. This meant that these contacts were ready to approach with an ask, so we have been able to make some requests which have been fruitful and positive, and we’re extremely grateful to the generosity of each and every donor.
Digital has been key. I’ve been leading a digital transformation project over the past year, working with experts and building skills and capacity internally. Our piloting and testing using Facebook adverts has delivered an unbelievable return on investment. We’ve also launched a virtual mass participation event based around working out from home which has been really successful. 5,000 people joined our ‘100 Squats a day for 30 days’ Facebook group, which raised over £100,000 in six weeks. Although Refuge has quite a well-known name, we are not a large, well-resourced charity, therefore getting these sorts of results has been phenomenal.
Alongside your own fundraising activities, has this crisis inspired support outside of your existing pipeline?
We've been approached by a number of trusts and HNWIs we haven’t worked with before which has been very heartening.
We've secured some new high profile partnerships, which we probably wouldn't have secured pre-crisis - for example Chelsea Football Club (CFC) players coming on board creating a video campaign from their homes, and launching a Facebook fundraiser. The CFC Foundation then matched all of those donations from the public.
We’ve also collaborated on some fun campaigns, such as the Closet Clear Out in partnership with OK! magazine and eBay, with celebrities donating clothes for sale on eBay, and we’ve asked the public to join in clearing out their own closets.
We’ve had some great high profile support - the poet laureate Simon Armitage and singer Florence Pugh have released a charity single for us, whilst Refuge is receiving a share of the proceeds of the Isolation Song Contest, an alternative to the cancelled Eurovision Song Contest with comedy and cabaret starts performing in their own homes.
HRH The Duchess of Cornwall has given us a personal gift, and JK Rowling pledged a gift of half a million pounds to help bring awareness to our cause and encourage others to support us.
All in all, we have hit our annual target in the first seven weeks of our financial year. And our reforecast is looking really positive enabling us to be there for the survivors who need us, and we’re hopefully able to meet that increased demand for our services.
Many people are saying that with COVID 19, we are all in the same boat facing this virus, but we’re really not. Different parts of society are being much more adversely affected and that includes victims and survivors of domestic abuse, minority ethnic communities and more lower income families and women generally. The impact on these groups will be deeper and more far reaching.
I have started to think to the future of Refuge’s fundraising, it is vital that we use this time of significant public relevance to continue to build on our strong foundation. We’ll be reflecting on, and revisiting, our longer-term fundraising strategy and plan in the coming weeks and months.
Post COVID 19, our services will continue to be in demand and funding will need to increase. I’m bursting with pride for each member of my team, they’ve all stepped up, delivered their expertise and worked extremely hard. Perhaps we are a little bit more tired than we were in March, but fundamentally, I think we are all a lot stronger.