What happens when you handover a campaign postcard?

A while ago, one of my colleagues got to speak to a former ministerial Special Advisor (SPAD) to find out what really happens to all those campaign postcards we send to a government department.

My experience from running the Campaign Totals project over the last few years indicates that every department does things slightly differently, but here are five useful reflections from that conversation;

1. All correspondence goes to the correspondence unit. There’s no mechanism to make anyone outside the unit aware of it. However SPADs and Ministers can enquire about what the public’s writing in about, and SPADs in particular are likely to make sure they do as a good way to keep in touch.

2. Ministers will sign and read replies to letters or emails from MPs, and usually from directors of NGOs (sometimes from other senior staff) and will also read the incoming correspondence at the same time. That’s the only correspondence they’ll usually see.

3. The department may choose to post a reply to a public campaign on its website, usually if a SPAD says they should. That’s a good way to see what they think is worth taking notice of.

4. It works well for an NGO CEO to write to a minister to say how many campaign messages they’ve received and say what they’re asking the minister to do.

5. Hand-ins are a very good way to get a minister’s attention, if something is personally handed over to them. They’re more likely to agree if they think the photo will get good media coverage, and if there’s a celebrity involved, or someone who is seen as a celebrity by a particular audience. A hand-in with no minister present won’t come to a minister’s attention (unless you got media coverage for it).

What other insights do readers of the blog have about how to ensure your campaign postcards get noticed after a handover? 

Can campaigning help fundraising?

In my work, I’m often asked can campaigning help an organisation with fundraising? I’ve always replied ‘yes’, based on a belief that advocacy campaigning can be useful in;

  • Helping to recruit new supporters into an organisation – especially at a festival or other event where making a financial ask can be seen as a ‘high barrier to entry’.
  • Differentiating the asks we make of supporters – so we’re not always asking them to give us more money.
  • Building loyalty of our organisation and reducing the attrition rate.

But it’s not always been based on much empirical evidence to prove the point.

The reality is that is doesn’t appear that we have a huge number of examples or studies to draw upon, but here are three studies that all provide evidence that campaigning is good for fundraising.

1. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper.
Andreas Lange and Andrew Stocking in this 2009 Working Paper found that from a sample of 700,000 supporters of a large US advocacy organisation, that a person who takes an online advocacy action for your cause is seven times more likely to donate, compared with someone who does not take an online advocacy action.

2. PETA France.
Working with Engaging Networks, PETA France demonstrated that advocacy is an effective way to engage lapsed donors. They sent out various emails on the issue of seal clubbing to a total of 22,000 supporters.

As well as finding a correlation between level of activism and response rate, the more active the campaigner, the better the response rate. They also found that lapsed donors were significantly more likely to donate if asked to take action first then donate.

3. Greenpeace
Again working with Engaging Networks, found that directly integrating campaigns with donation pages as part of their Arctic campaign lead to a 1.23% response rate, compared to providing a donate link on the thank you page of the campaign action led to a best ever response rate of 0.4%.

What other studies or examples have you found to demonstrate the links between campaigning and fundraising? 

Can ‘Theory of Change’ transform our campaign planning?

To be honest, I’ve struggled to get my head around the ‘Theory of Change’ approach that I’ve seen being talked about across the sector over the last year.

I’ve felt that its something that could be an incredibly powerful tool, but found it’s been hard to really understand of it.

In an attempt to understand it, I attended a Breakfast Briefing organised by NCVO with Brian Lamb last month. Brian has been a leading proponent of the approach for use in campaigning and wrote this report which I blogged on last year.

Hearing Brian talk through how campaigners could make use of Theory of Change was really helpful at bring the theory behind the tool found in various reports and guide that I’ve read to life.

I came away from the time enthusiastic about if for the following reasons;

1. It get’s us to question our assumptions – One of the central features of the approach is to get you to name and provide evidence for the assumptions you’re making that lead you decide that the impact a certain input will have

I’ve long thought that we need to more to justify the decisions that we’re making between impact and outcome, and Theory of Change actively encourages you to do this, demanding you to list your assumptions and discuss why you’ve made them.

In doing so, I think its likely to force us to ask the question, what are the ‘most effective approaches I could use’ as opposed to ‘what existing tools do I already have that I need to use’.

2. It builds from impact up – The first thing that the approach asks you to do is to decide on the impact of your advocacy, this is defined as ‘the ultimate effect on the lives of those you’re seeking change for’.

Brian suggested that while this might sound like a straight forward question to answer, it often takes groups considerable time to come up with the answer to the question, but in doing so they help to reach common understanding of the change they’re seeking.

I know I’ve been in campaign planning sessions before where we’ve spent the majority of our time on agreeing a strategy to reach a policy solution; as opposed to asking what impact we want to that solution to have.

3. Provides clear building blocks – The approach is simple and logical. Working upwards from impact, to mapping the strategies that will be needed to achieve this, to looking at the outcomes needed from activities to achieve this, to looking at the activities that will be required at the heart of the campaign.

Also, because the built, there are lots of existing tools that already exist that can be used to help to guide our theories of change. In the session, Brian shared the work of the Harvard Family Research Project which has undertaken extensive research to identify a number of common approaches to policy goals and activities/tactics. Great source materials to help in campaign planning.

4. Gives us a common language – At the heart of the Theory of Change approach is the need for dialogues and discussion to reach conclusions. In the use of approaches like ‘so that’ chains (where you need to articulate a logical path between the steps you’re suggesting).

Throughout the process it provides opportunities for campaigners to clearly articulate their approach, but also invite others to test and question the logic. I can see how this is really helpful in unpacking the ‘mystery’ of our campaign planning to others, and helping to answer the hard questions

5. Helps to think about the best ways of allocating resources – You’re required to put all the outcomes and activities on the table in the process, rather than selecting those you think possible with the resources that you have.

Doing that means you can look afresh at how you might resource new approaches, or think creatively about new alliances to forge. The research also has some invaluable ‘checklists’ about what an organisation needs to have the capability to undertake effective advocacy.

My conclusion. That its worth investing the time into grappling with Theory of Change because it’s got huge applicability to campaigning and that its great to find someone to help work you through an example of the approach in person.