The National Trust – the UKs most influential campaigning charity?

The Guardian had an interview with Dame Fiona Reynolds, the Director General of the National Trust on Saturday, where it asks if she is the most powerful woman in Britain at the moment based on the way that the organisation is currently campaigning against reforms to planning laws that threaten the countryside.

The National Trust has over 4 millions members in the UK.

While, we don’t have a way of systematically ranking organisations based on influence, I think that the National Trust could make a genuine claim to be one of the most influential campaigning organisations in the country at the moment. Here’s why.

1. Membership – The National Trust announced earlier in the month that their paid membership is now over 4 million, that’s around 1 in every 10 voters. I’d suggest that many of these members are based in marginal constituencies around the country, as well as  in safe Conservative areas, for example Surrey is the county with the most members. That means its members views are likely to be heard by lots of Tory MPs.  Moreover, I’m sure that many MPs, Lords and other key influencers are also members, and share a natural affinity with the organisations aims.

Their reach is simply put enormous, with a membership far bigger than any single political party or trade union in the UK. Moreover, I suspect many members of the National Trust wouldn’t see themselves as the ‘campaigning types’ so the organisation has an opportunity to introduce campaigning to a whole new audience.

2. Influence – As Dame Reynolds says in her interview, the National Trust doesn’t want to be ‘became rentaquote, that wouldn’t be right. We reserve our voice for something that is really important, absolutely at the heart of our core purpose and touches what we stand for and where we make a difference’.

As such I’m sure when the National Trust chooses to campaign on an issue I’m sure it send panic through the heart of the government. They’ve proven they can mobilise hundreds of thousands of people to take action, most recently collecting 200,000 actions on a petition around the changes to planning legislation, and a look at the Guardian data on ministerial meetings suggest that the National Trust has met with ministers from across Whitehall.

But equally they’re smart about selecting issues that they campaign on, with Dame Reynolds saying they’d only work on issues that are ‘central to what we do and I suspect it would be rare, but when we make a contribution it matters’. Their influence meant that when they speak up those at the top of Government need to act, for example the Prime Minister recently writing to say ‘we should cherish and protect it [the countryside] for everyone’s benefit‘ in response to the Trusts most recent campaign.

3. Communications Reach – The organisations magazine has the 6th biggest magazine circulation in the UK, and is estimated to reach over 3.75 million people, which provides a great platform to inform and mobilise individuals to take action, imagine inserting a campaign postcard into every one that gets mailed. While their social media penetration is also impressive, the recent Charity Social 100 Index put them at number 7 and they have over 40,000 followers on twitter. All add up to a significant base from which they can mobilise.

Do you agree? What criteria would you use to identify the most ‘influential’ charity?

Five for Friday….28th October

Sorry for a quiet week on the blog, but work has been rather busy! Anyhow, here are five things that every campaigner should read this Friday.

1. Can’t decide which e-campaigning tool to choose. Hugh Mouser has done the hard work of comparing them for you.
2. The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network has insight from National Deaf Children’s Society about how they built and launched an effective media campaign against government cuts.
3. POLIS has a write up of seminar about how investigative journalism can help campaigns. (h/t @framingthedot).
4. I wrote earlier in the month about how 38 Degrees was encouraging supporters to lobby a Lord. Lib Dem Lord, Paul Tyler has some feedback for them. (h/t @nicseton)
5. The Huffington Post has a video interview on the role of civil disobedience in making change happen with Kumi Naidoo from Greenpeace.

What we can learn from the Robin Hood Tax campaign

The Robin Hood Tax campaign has used a range of new and innovative tactics that other campaign coalitions could learn from. 

I suspect that you’ll be hearing a lot about the Robin Hood Tax in the coming week. The campaign has a great opportunity to succeed when G20 leaders meeting in France at the start of November, while the ongoing #OccupyLSE protests have increased the level of debate about what’s stopping the UK government implementing the tax.

I’ve highlighted before that the campaign has produced some fantastic campaign videos, but a few other tactics that I’ve seen the campaign use stand out.

Innovation Day – Back in the summer, the organisers behind the campaign opened up the planning process to anyone who wanted to come along and attend its Innovation Day. The day was hosted in London and facilitated by a team involved in the campaign. It’s great to see a campaign ‘open-source’ its planning process in this way, inviting supporters to help to shape the direction and contribute their ideas. The day ended up producing two ‘concepts’ that supporters were invited to provide further feedback on and get involved in. I’m not sure what happened next, but it’d be good to see more invite committed supporters to get involved like this.

Fundraising for adverts – The campaign isn’t the first to invite supporters to make small contributions towards advertising or other campaign activities, but by using it the Robin Hood Tax campaign has highlighted a growing trend by campaigning organisations – asking for small donations for specific items of spending.
You can see the strengths in the idea with PayPal it’s easy for people to donate, and micro donations of £1-£3 don’t feel like an enormous cost to an individual. My only concern with this approach is that is doesn’t help to communicate the less visible costs of a campaign (producing a policy report, paying for staff, etc). We need to ensure that we’re encouraging people to commit to long-term support for campaigning organisations as well.

Gone after the vested interest – Often in campaigning I think we’re guilty of not spending enough time thinking about the forces and organisations who don’t want our campaigns to succeed. We campaign under a belief that if our arguments are ‘right’ then we’ll succeed. The RHT campaign was clearly aware this wouldn’t be the case when it came to heavy resistances from the financial sector, and it’s been good to see how the Robin Hood Tax hasn’t been afraid to highlight the ideological and financial links between the current government and the bankers.

Exemplary use of a expertsBill Nighy has been an inspired choice as a spokesperson for the campaign. He’s been active in the campaign for the last year, appears on TV to talk about why we need a RHT, writes op-ed pieces and turns up at events. Unlike other celebrities he appears committed for the long-haul of the campaign.
It’s also been good to see how the campaign has used Economists, like getting over 1,000 to sign a letter ahead to G20 financial minister and more recently Jeffery Sachs writing to the UK Chancellor, to counter the financial voices that say that a FTT can’t work.

What else has impressed you about the Robin Hood Tax campaign? What hasn’t worked so well? 

Video – How to plan highly effective campaigns

This video of a talk that Chris Rose gave at the last eCampaigning forum is fantastic. I’d recommend that you put aside 40 minutes in the coming week to watch it.

How to plan highly effective campaigns by Chris Rose from FairSay on Vimeo.

Originally found on the shiftlabs website.

Working in coalition – learning from the last 10 years

A new report provide some important lessons about what works when it comes to campaigning in coalition.

Make Poverty History, The Treatment Action Campaign, Jubilee 2000, The Global Campaign for Climate Action (GCCA). All campaign coalitions that have been active in the last 10 years or so, but what lessons can we draw from them for current and future coalition campaigning?

With funding from the Gates Foundation, Brendan Cox has written ‘Campaigning for International Justice – Learning Lessons (1991 – 2001)’ which attempt to do this. It’s a really excellent read and is based on conversations with hundreds of NGO staff, politicians and civil servants to draw out key lessons from coalition campaigning over the last 20 years.

The whole report is packed with useful reflections, some that you’ll agree with, others that you won’t, but as Cox quotes those who want to ‘repeat their successes must first learn from them’ so its worth reading.

For me, the most interesting section is ‘Identifying Themes’ where Cox tries to identify some core elements that have helped campaigns to succeed or fail. Here are the 10 or so that struck me the most.

1. Organisations are increasingly keen to demonstrate clear attribution of their impact, as such they become concerned that working in coalition can make it harder to attribute impact to one’s own organisation. This is pushing organisations to consider focusing on more and more niche areas where they can provide ‘impact’ but this overlooks the fact that the most important issues often need grand coalitions to achieve change.

2. INGOs are actually coalitions in themselves. That many of the largest organisations like Oxfam, Save the Children and Amnesty are made up of multiple national chapters and as such getting them to agree on a priority campaign can take a long time in itself, and as a result those INGOs are able to be as flexible as others would require them to be to help form effective coalitions.

3. Unusual coalitions still get noticed. The report cites the example of the Publish What You Pay (PWYP) campaign that got Shell on board which added more creadibility than the addition of many NGOs would have had. Cox also highlights the role that faith groups can have in helping to mobilise a more ‘mainstream’ public.

4. Coalition structures follow the ‘last worst experience’. Make Poverty History was set up without a high-profile secretariat to avoid the tensions that many had found in the Jubilee 2000 campaign that had one. Cox argues that the desire to avoid tension and compromise brand profile in a coaltition means that we’re forming a series of ‘lowest common denominator’ collaborations which are reducing their impact. We need to rethink our models of coaltition advocacy.

5. Trust matters. Cox points to the examples of the Treatment Action Campaign and PWYP which he describes as having ‘a close-knit group at the centre of thea campaign’ which meant high levels of trust. at the centre of the campaign. He contrasts this with the GCCA which started out with a small group, but over time saw that broken down as more staff came into the campaign and reduced its functionality.

6. The challenge of the ‘moment’. Cox highlights the challenge of a campaign focusing on a moment, a political opportunity where the campaign comes to a head, but argues that while they provide focus they can provide real challenges of keeping a campaigns momentum going beyond this.

7. Incrementalism can be a successful approach. Cox suggests that incrementalism in a campaign, the belief that a campaign should take a step-by-step approach to achieve its aims, is often the most successful approach. Suggesting that the evidence of the Internaitonal Camaign to Ban Landmines which successful focused on a targeted definition of landmines rather than going for a broader definition of cluster munitions, or the Jubilee 2000 campaign which focused on debt cancellation for specific countries rather than heading calls to focus on the cancellation of all debt.

8. The role for radicals. One of the main tensions in a coalition can be between those who want a incrementaal approach as opposed to a more radical approach. In practice this has often meant the formation of two coalitions but Cox suggests that utilising these differences can be helping to ‘shift the centre of gravity within a political space, and make the demands of the centerist group sound more resaonsable’.

9. Using celebrities. Another point of tension in many campaigns. Cox finds that those campaigns that have gone beyond a ‘photo call’ and invited celebrities to be involved in policy advocacy have often found that they’ve brought alot of strength to a campaign. He cites the use of George Clooney in the Save Darfur Coalition who has testified before Congress in the US as well as lend his ‘brand’ to the campaign.

10. Finding a common approach to evaluation. Their are lots of recommendations at the end of the report, but the one that caught my immagination the most, was a proposal to create a commonly reconised body responsible for high-quality evaluations which would help to improve future campaigns as well as providing reassurance to funders and supporters.

So what happens next? All in all a very useful report, but at the end of the report I’m left asking, what happens now? Brendon Cox makes many thoughtful recommendation and highlights some stark truths for the sector but my fear is that now the ink has dried on the report nothing else happens, especially as Cox has recently moved into a new role at Save the Children.

Charity meetings with Government Ministers

The release of details of thousands of meetings between government minister and lobbying groups has received lots of coverage in the press in the last few days.  Although the headlines have been on the number of meetings that ministers have had with business groups, there is also lots in the whole data that campaigners can learn from.

The Guardian estimates that charities had around 800 meetings with ministers in the last 12 months, unfortunately they haven’t provided a break of the classification that they used, but a quick play with the information suggests that the following charities had the most meetings;

*These figures currently just include individual meetings in the data that organisations have had. It may change when coalition or roundtable meetings are included.

What else? It looks like lots of the meetings that were held between charities and government were classed as ‘introductory meetings’ this is perhaps to be expected at the start of a new government, but it’ll be important to ensure that this changes in the next 12 months and that representatives are invited to be consulted on policy.

Also, charities and campaigning organisations have been involved in a significant number of meetings with other charities, I count over 80 meetings like this in the date, which is perhaps indicative of the way that we often work and campaign in coalition, but a different approach to that taken by business group.

I plan to spend more time looking at the information later in the week, but please do use the comment section below to share your reflections on what the data tells us about routes to influence.

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What makes a successful demonstration?

Ensuring you are clear about your objectives is vital if you plan to organise a successful public mobilisation event.

A late night drive back from Manchester after being involved in ‘Bearing Witness‘, a mobilisation which saw 1000+ supporters of Tearfund, Christian Aid and CAFOD march through the streets of the city ahead of the Conservative Party Conference, to call on the government to achieve its commitment to be the ‘greenest ever’ got me thinking about what makes a successful public mobilisation event.

For me, before embarking on organising a demonstration, rally or similar event that will see large numbers of supporters gathering in one place, you have to be confident that the event will achieve at least 2 of the following objective.

Political – The event will have a direct impact on presenting another policy position to those decision makers the campaign is trying to influence. This could be through a ‘mass lobby’ event where supporters meet face-to-face with MPs or other key decision makers, or a march/demonstration that is of such a size that it’ll get covered in the media or seen as it causes peaceful disruption in the area its targeting are working.

Personally, I’m sceptical about the impact that many marches that take places around Whitehall at a weekend have, because the majority of those who need to be influenced aren’t around and don’t get covered in the media. One way to overcome this is to invite politicians to speak to address those attending but negotiations to do this can be delicate to arrange to say the least!

Media – Too often the event and message from the event don’t get covered by the media. Sadly the majority of traditional marches go unnoticed by all but those attended, and even then those that attended can often feel unmotivated that the event didn’t get picked up. Bearing Witness was fortunate to get picked up by Sky News cameras looking for evidence of demonstrations happening around the Conservative Party Conference.

There are way of making a march more likely to get media coverage, for example involving high-profile individuals, but unless there is a threat of violence they don’t seem to get noticed. One way of to overcome this is to ensure that the event is linked to a political hook that the media will be wanting to cover because a march can provide good footage to demonstrate opposition, but the timings of this can often be difficult to predict.

Education – Events can be useful ways of bringing together dedicated supporters to a cause and equip them with further information about the issue and plans. At Bearing Witness, the agencies involved put on well attended training afternoons as a way of doing this, which allowed supporters to learn more about the climate change issue the campaign was focusing on and further actions that they could take. I’ve also seen this done well at Mass Lobby events where supporters spend time being briefed before going out to lobby their MPs.

Energising supporter – Marches can breathe life into campaigns and provide a focal point to mobilise lapsed and new supporters to get involved again. For example, the Make Poverty History march in Edinburgh back in 2005 helped to mobilise lots of new supporters who wanted to attend the event. Although it’s a high barrier to entry ask, if packaged right I think it can help to recruit new supporters (and energise lapsed supporters), as well as helping campaigners who might feel isolated that they’re part of a bigger movement.

What objectives would you select? Should we ever organise marches or demonstrations just for the sake of marching?