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Save the Children experiences donor growth with Adobe

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett January 31, 2023
Experience Cloud helps charity respond to emergencies like the war in Ukraine.

save children
Linda McBain

When Russia invaded Ukraine last February, there was a race against the clock to get aid to the country. UK charity Save the Children was able to raise £1.5 million for the Disaster Emergency Committee’s Ukraine Appeal in just two weeks – enough to provide around 150,000 food baskets, 220,000 family hygiene packs and 90,000 emergency first aid kits to those most in need.

If the invasion had taken place some years earlier, the charity’s contribution may not have been able to contribute so much. Back in late 2017, Save the Children rolled out Adobe Experience Cloud as the platform for all its digital content creation, marketing and donations. So when the Ukraine invasion happened, the charity was able to provide personalized homepages using Adobe Target - something which previously would not have been possible and which led to extra donations. Linda McBain, Chief Digital Officer at Save the Children, explains:

Emergencies are our bread and butter so whatever technology we're on, we always need to ensure it does that. What we saw with Ukraine was, we had a higher volume of returning donors to the site. We don't usually see that with emergencies, people often just give a one-off donation. Because we saw that was happening, we put out a test and offered a different experience if you'd already donated to show the impact of your donation and tell that story so it's slightly different. That increased donation revenue from second donors.

Save the Children began the project to update its web platform in mid-2016, prompted by a change in supporter behavior. People no longer wanted to just interact with the charity over the telephone and by post, while online donations were increasing. However, the experience for online donors was often sub-par and donations weren’t supported on all devices. 

The charity knew it had to increase and improve the online experience, and set out to develop a digital strategy to recruit and engage more supporters with a best-in-class digital experience. McBain says:

Our technology set-up was quite lo-fi, I often say everything was held together by elastic bands and Sellotape. We knew that interest in Save the Children through digital channels was growing. We wanted to better be able to harness data to provide more relevant and personalized experiences so we could increase long-term support. That wouldn't have been possible with the set-up that we had before we made that decision.


The organization went out to market and did a full assessment of the options available at the time. Adobe stood out in terms of its ability to deliver on Save the Children’s ambitions, but also as it could integrate across multiple products. The charity was already using Adobe Campaign Manager and had a good experience with that. The new technology platform needed to work well with that technology, because of the element of data personalization Save the Children wanted to provide to supporters.

The Experience Cloud implementation took around 18 months from initial business case to being up and running. Previously, Save the Children didn't have an equivalent to the Adobe platform. It was using the free version of Google Analytics, and the open-source Drupal content management system. McBain adds:

I'm not critical of any of those technologies, but the way we had them set up was not right. It was either a rebuild completely of all of that and a consideration of how we better utilize it, or pay for paid versions, or a move to Adobe. All these technologies are very similar in many ways, but it's about what you want to try and harness or how easily they integrate for the customers.

Save the Children decided to go for the latter option, with an Adobe one-stop-shop for all its digital content, marketing and donation needs rather than piecemeal software. The aim was to build a strong support base for Save the Children by bringing in new supporters and further engaging current support, encouraging donations, and being able to take those donations, upgrade them or get people to donate regularly. McBain says: 

Ultimately we want someone to take out a monthly gift with us. That's always our ultimate ambition to have that financial knowledge so that we can help children as best we can.

Digital donors

With the new technology platform in place, the charity was ready for the ensuing push to digital as a result of the COVID pandemic. McBain recalls: 

What we saw overnight was a shift in demand to have much more digital experiences, even from those supporters who might have previously been uncomfortable about that. Where 45% of our total mass income was coming in digitally pre-pandemic, now it's at 60-66%. That shift is not abating, in fact it's increased.

Save the Children’s website is now fully optimized for whatever device a user has, with support for Apple Pay, PayPal and SMS donations for both regular giving and single cash donations, as well as via sites like Facebook or Instagram. 

After the Adobe rollout, the number of website visitors converted into donors jumped 85%, while those signing up to become regular donors increased by 58%. By using Adobe Target more effectively to do more user testing, Save the Children has also seen incremental growth of £500,000.

As part of its move to digital, Save the Children has invested not only in the technology but also the people aspects. Before the Adobe project, there was just one person managing, maintaining and editing its website from a content perspective; it now has an eight-person UX and content team. McBain says:

It's a big shift. We've gone on a journey beyond technology here. This is about shaping new skills across multiple teams. Our marketers are all expected to be digital-first marketers, we don't call them digital marketers.

Delivery of the program required involving a lot of different people. Save the Children has a model of devolved content creation, which meant any team who manages pages on the site needed retraining to understand how they could edit content on the new platform.  McBain notes: 

Our CEO's office might want to update a report, our policy and advocacy colleagues want to post content or our media team want to put the press releases out. It really did touch so many areas of the organization and even if they weren't content editing, we needed to sense check all the new content before we ported it over onto the new site.

As well as having digital champions for each team to keep people updated on the project, and a change manager to coordinate all of that, McBain’s team worked closely with internal comms to ensure a smooth rollout: 

I ran a series of lunchtime talks every month through the program and brought in experts from loads of different tech companies to also spark inspiration, getting Google in to talk about user research, and design or brand marketing expertise from people like Innocent.

It was really trying to get people up front to be thinking about what it would mean when the new technology landed so that it wasn't like, 'These things turned up like a space shuttle, what do we do with it now?'

Creating a buzz

The project team also sat in a central location in the building, so other staff could see the team and their kanban board on the wall, and create a buzz so people would be more interested. However, this has got McBain thinking how they would replicate that in the new era of virtual and hybrid working

Nothing has that same level of visibility anymore. That's my experience in the change with remote work. It'll be much harder now than it was being in the building and going around talking to people all the time about it.

Save the Children has been using Experience Cloud for around five years now, and has still got the same kit it originally deployed as it works really well for the organization. While the charity is maturing its use of the tech, one thing it would like to see additional support for is building more experts, according to McBain: 

With the move to low and no code, how does Adobe get its MarTech stack to be as simple and usable as possible, with ease of use for as many different staff roles as possible? It's all about simplifying and meaning you can empower staff to do their own work easily without loads of training.

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