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Inside the DEC’s Guinness World Record-setting ‘Ukraine humanitarian appeal’


By Awards Analyst, writer

December 7, 2022 | 6 min read

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), in partnership with Torchbox, scored Most Effective Use of Paid Search at The Drum Awards for Digital Industries 2022. Here’s what went into this award-winning (and Guinness World Record-setting) campaign.

flyer that reads "ukraine humanitarian appeal"

DEC's 'Ukraine humanitarian appeal' / Credit: The DEC

In March of 2022, the Disasters Emergency Committee launched an urgent appeal, known simply as ‘Ukraine humanitarian appeal,’ to raise funds for people forced to flee their homes in Ukraine.

The result was over £350m ($425m) raised – setting the Guinness World Record for the most money ever raised by an online campaign in a single week.

The brief

For this campaign, the DEC enlisted Torchbox, a digital agency focused on charity, non-profit and education sectors. The objective was to raise £2.8m ($3.4m) within the first two weeks of its launch – a figure to match the revenue generated by the DEC’s previous Afghanistan Appeal from December of 2021.

The campaign would be strictly digital, running across Google, Microsoft Search Networks, Facebook and Instagram channels. However, targeting the campaign at the right online audience was not as easy as it seems, and the team had to approach the matter with thought, care and attention.

The idea

The DEC and Torchbox embarked on a full-scale creative test, building on past targeting experiences, implementing a new learning program and improving the quality of underperforming channels like Twitter and Facebook.

The imagery used in the appeal is arresting, gripping and desperate. The digital flyer features a family of three, flanked by bold red lettering, clutching one another, presumably for dear life.

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The results

Overwhelming public interest in the issue worked in the appeal's favor. At the time, it was a humanitarian crisis that eclipsed anything else in the public eye.

Within a week, the campaign had raised a staggering £350 million, an instant Guinness World Record for the most money raised by an online campaign in that time frame.

During the two-week period of joint action, Torchbox delivered £16 million in donations through its managed channels. In addition, the DEC’s ROI was over £15 for every £1 spent, the highest ROI Torchbox had ever delivered for the organization.

According to the DEC’s director of fundraising and marketing Simon Beresford, the expertise of Torchbox “ensured maximized returns ... during this special moment of generosity from the UK public. [The results] are already making a real difference in Ukraine and surrounding countries [and] will go on doing so in the months and years ahead.”

This campaign won at The Drum Awards for the Digital Industries 2022. You can see all the winners here. The Drum Awards for Marketing are currently open for entry. Find out how you can enter now.

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