The Gift That Keeps On Giving: How ‘Help Refugees’ Grabs and Keeps Its Donors Through Unpretentious Personalization

‘Refugee’ has been uttered so often over the last decade that it’s easy to forget what the word actually means. After countless newspaper articles and primetime reports on victims and their families—fleeing war in the Middle East or escaping rising seas in the Indian Ocean—the deeper flesh-and-blood side of the phenomenon can be lost. 

In truth, of course, every single refugee, from Syria to Bangladesh, represents a deeply human tragedy. And if anyone understands that, it’s Help Refugees. Based in London, with projects across Europe and beyond, the organization claims to be one of the “most efficient refugee charities in Europe.” 

And how, exactly, does it succeed? Read on to learn how this dynamic, community-run NGO grabs its audience, keeps donors engaged, and markedly improves the lives of refugees around the world—all by reminding us that, whatever some politicians or columnists might claim, these people are deeply and engrossingly human

A refuge from hype

With so many NGOs around—the United States alone boasts 1.5 million—it can be tough to get your project noticed. Like all successful marketing campaigns, therefore, the best NGOs need to grab an audience. 

Click here, and it’s immediately clear how Help Refugees manages the trick. That starts with specificity. Rather than making grandiose claims about who it helps, the organization  uses statistics to hone in on the details. 

By scrolling through the NGO’s website, we learn that it successfully moved ten refugee families to safety in Greece, and that 1,500 vulnerable people get help in Calais. Apart from humanizing the needy—it’s easier to picture ten Syrian families than a thousand—this also sheds light on some of Help Refugees’ most heartwarming projects.

This straightforward approach extends to the organization’s internal setup, too. Unlike its rivals, Help Refugees clearly explains that it doesn’t have any highly-paid executives, and that 89% of donations “go directly” towards supporting refugees. (To put that in perspective, Oxfam only manages 84%.) 

Elegant simplicity has served Help Refugees well—raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for needy people and building up a solid audience of dedicated fundraisers.

Making it personal

Supporting a good cause once is easy: you don’t have to give up much of your savings, and you get a shiver of pride down your back while doing so.

But as many NGOs understand, getting people to keep donating is far tougher. How can donors really know where their money’s going—and why bother giving and giving if it’s just being sucked into the ether?

Once again, Help Refugees solves this problem by keeping things simple. For example, its ‘Choose Love’ shop lets people make donations, or buy supplies, directly for individuals, giving them control over where their old coats or books actually go. 

At the same time, this tactic once again humanizes the people Help Refugees is actually supporting. Sending $50 to some generic website is one thing—securing a teddy bear for a young Syrian child is quite another. 

More to the point, these successes offer lessons for other NGOs—and it’s worth adding that Help Refugees is far from unique here. From Snapchat’s Bitmoji to Target’s Guest ID system, there are countless ways to build a devoted audience through personalization.

MarketSmiths Case Study

An environmental NGO, ioby (“in our backyards”) needed a new website that was fun, easy to grasp, and with the ambition to match its work—to improve New York, block by block. Unfortunately, it was struggling to escape old cliches of environmentalism as the preserve of aging hippies or middle-class do-gooders. But after tapping MarketSmiths, we soon put them right, developing a hopeful and non-preachy tone perfect for New Yorkers in all their diversity. Apart from putting ioby in touch with new demographics, we also helped new fans donate through clear, simple language—boosting ioby’s fame and finances in a crowded field.

>Read the full case study here

Back to basics

Fundamentally, then, Help Refugees attracts and maintains an audience through unabstracting the NGO game—dumping highfalutin language and grand principles in favor of small acts of kindness.

In fact, this approach extends to everything Help Refugees does. Rather than promoting a top-down style of giving, after all, it works with local charities, boosting these experts on the ground to make a difference.

So next time you’re looking to do some good, why not head to Help Refugees? 

Need a refuge from dreary copy? Our team of dedicated experts can bring any project home.

Andrea is originally from London, and came to New York after a stint in journalism. He loves everything to do with writing—as well as obscure language facts, decent wine, and chocolate cake.

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