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? 

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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.

Review: Page One – Inside the New York Times

A new documentary raises some questions about the challenges that newspapers are facing in the UK and the impacts that could have on our use of the media in campaigning.

We don’t have a UK equivalent to The New York Times, the paper of record in the US, but even so Page One – Inside the New York Times is a fascinating and thought-provoking documentary for any campaigner who wants to think about what impact the perfect storm of a decline in advertising revenue and the growth of social media will have on newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic and by extension campaigns that use them to raise public awareness of key issues.

The film spends a year or so, following the journalists on the Media Desk of The Times as they try to make sense of the changing media landscape and the need to cut costs, while at the same time breaking huge stories like Wikleaks.

Some of the themes that documentary picks up on are similar to issues that Nick Davies touches on his excellent book Flat Earth News which looks at the decline of news reporting in the UK, and a book I’d also recommend for anyone wanting to understand the challenges faced by many journalists.

For me as a campaigner, the documentary raised some great questions to reflect upon;

  • What’s the impact of a decline in the resources that are available to newspapers to dedicate to longer and more investigative pieces of journalism? Does this present an opportunity in the short-term where newspapers are more likely to work with campaigning organisation to provide these stories?
  • Will online sites like Huffington Post have the same resonance with policy makers? What takes the place of the columnist or editorials who cited as influencers. Will this increase the importance of key broadcast shows, like Today and Newsnight, when it comes to ‘setting the agenda’?
  • Will we see the same rapid decline in the ‘tabloid’ media? It not, do we have campaigns that were able to pitch to them?
  • What impact does a media model that is driven by ‘popularity’, for example the website group Gawker has a ‘big board’ that displays the 10 most popular stories, have on our ability to get campaign themes that aren’t interesting, but yet of critical importance in front of the public?
  • Is an increasingly open media environment a good thing because it makes it easier to get our messages out, or a bad thing because it makes it harder to get a critical mass of the public aware of our campaigns?

I’d suspect that the film will have limited releases in UK cinemas, but I’d highly recommend that you go and watch it or get it out on DVD.

Advocacy in 2020 – future trends and how to prepare for them

I’m not sure what caused it but the spring saw a number of  reports being produced by NGOs which looked at future trends. The two I’ve found most useful are ‘Leading Edge 2020‘ by Troicaire and ‘2020 Development Futures‘ by Action Aid.

They’re well worth a read as they provide a huge amount of insight into what might be coming on the horizon, much of which could have huge impacts on our advocacy and should also provide a challenge for any organisation that hasn’t spent a little time thinking about how it’ll respond to a changing environment.

Alex Evans who, amongst other things is editor of the excellent GlobalDashboard.org, authored the ‘2020 development futures’ paper for Action Aid, in it he makes 10 recommendations for the next 10 years.

They’re all insightful but 5 stand out as being especially important to advocates;

1. Be ready for external shocks – A reminder that external shocks are often the key driver of change, reflecting on the quote from Friedman that ‘Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around‘. Evans suggests that ‘Civil society organisations should put aside a substantial proportion of their policy and advocacy to roll them out rapidly when ten times as much political space opens up overnight, for three weeks only‘.

2. Putting members in charge – arguing that we’ve traditionally built our engagement on largely passive engagement of members who have responded by signing a postcard or donating money. Evans argues that CSOs need to ‘put their members in charge as far as possible using technology platforms to ask them regularly what to campaign on, where, how to do it, and how they want to be involved’.

3. Specialise in coalitions – but not simply civil society organisations, suggesting that power is going to become more diffuse and that it’ll be going to bloggers, citizens, NGOs, businesses and beyond. The effective civil society organisations will need to be the catalysts to create shared platforms and the glue to keep them together. Practically, Evans suggests that coalitions will need to be more diverse and will need staff within CSOs who have experience outside the civil society sector who can act as ‘translators’ in bring these diverse coalitions together.

4. Expect failure – Which is linked to being ready for external shocks, but also recognising that CSOs will also expect to find their own operations under stress. I’ve written before about how we shouldn’t see failure as a bad thing as long as we learn from it.

5. Be storytellers – suggesting ‘if diverse coalitions are key to effecting political change, it is narratives, and compelling visions of the future, that can animate networks and coalitions over the long-term‘ and calling on CSOs to be storytellers about the future.

If you’re inspired to spend some time thinking about how future trends might impact your work, here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Have a read of NCVOs ‘Making Sense of the External Environment‘ booklet.
  • Gather together some colleagues and spend 30 minutes trying to draw together PEST or PESTLE  analysis on the trends that might affect campaigning in the coming years – both are simple tools that allow you to gather your thoughts on what might be happening in key areas.
  • Based on your PEST chart, ask yourself what will campaigning look like in 2020.  Identify different scenarios and consider how your campaign might adapt.
  • Spend sometime soaking up ideas on sites like trendwatching.com or www.3s4.org.uk
  • Look at NCVO Future Focus booklet which asks what will campaigning look like in 5 years time.
  • Come up with a list of up to 5 practical things you’re going to do to respond. I’ve found it’s easy to spend lots of time thinking about future trends but organisations often struggle to start to act on them.
Do you agree with the recommendations that Evans makes? How do you go about reflecting on future trends?

Four exciting things happening in campaigning

I spent some time with some colleagues last week talking about future trends in campaigning. As part of it, I was asked to share the four things most exciting things happening in campaigning at the moment.

Here’s my list, what would you include?

Change.org – Combining e-activism and crowd sourcing, change.org seems to have hit upon a great campaigning tool.

Although it’s not had a big launch in the UK yet, it did manage to generate two significant actions to Home Office in the last 12 months. Change combines a platform to allow individuals to come up with their own campaign actions and a mechanism to push those out to a wider audience, including media and organising support.

I really like the way that they’re putting the campaigning tools in the hands of individuals who are interested in running campaigns and the creativity of some of the actions that are being generated. Lots of campaigning organisations could learn from the approach that change.org is taking.

Gates Foundation – I’m not only excited by the recognition from the Gates Foundation that they need to be engaging in advocacy, and the clear theory of change they have which is to invest in research and analysis in the south, initiate a debate in the media and support public mobilisation.

I’m excited at the potential of other Foundation following them and providing a much-needed funding stream for advocacy. I also think we should be thankful for the work that these Foundations have been doing to help us measure to monitor and evaluate the impact of advocacy.
Finding Frames – Because it’s helped to spark a conversation about the language that we need to be using to win our campaigns and helping the sector to engage in the literature about frames and values. It’s sister report, Common Cause was the most recommended item of summer reading, it’s a great introduction to lots of fascinating and vital literature.

Citizens UK – Community organising seems to be making a (much-needed) comeback and this has been spearheaded by the work of London Citizens. It’s engaging a new set of activists, empowering communities that haven’t been engaged in campaigning before and having real success in changing policy. They’re reminding others that campaigning is about community, identity and empowerment.

What would you include in your top 4 and why?

The F Word…

We’re always quick to celebrate a campaign success but what about a campaign failure?

While it’s probably not appropriate to be trumpeting our failures in emails to supporters, it’s right to make sure we’re making space in our organisations to learn in a constructive way from the not so good, but how many of us actually do this?

This post was prompted by some great tips from the New Organising Institute about dealing with failure in one of their daily e-mail. The tips included;

Create a culture of debriefing. Schedule time to debrief into everything, before work starts. After every event or project, evaluate what worked, what didn’t, and articulate key learnings together. Require short, written reflection on major projects, especially those that fall short.

Get back out there! Who wants to wallow in failure? Encourage those you coach to get out there and try again!

To that I’d add a couple of thoughts;

Tolerate failure. It sounds counter intuitive, but one of the most useful things I’ve taken from a seminar was the idea that if we attempt 5 things and only 2 work then we should celebrate those, rather than lament the 3 that don’t work.

Sometimes things we do won’t work but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try in the first place. This is especially true in the world of digital media where it’s much harder to pick up the website or tool that will take off. Many campaigning organisations have an institutional aversion to risk, and perhaps rightly so when resources are limited, but do we need to change the way we see things that don’t succeed?

Be honest about failure: When something doesn’t go right its often not something that we want to talk about, especially to others in our sector. But I think we should be encouraging campaigning organisations to share about what they’re finding isn’t working for them, as much as what is work.

The Admitting Failure website run by Engineers without Borders puts it like this “By hiding our failures, we are condemning ourselves to repeat them and we are stifling innovation. In doing so, we are condemning ourselves to continue under-performance in the development sector. Conversely, by admitting our failures – publicly sharing them not as shameful acts, but as important lessons – we contribute to a culture in development where failure is recognised as essential to success.”

What are you doing to learn from your campaign failures? How can we share them across our campaigns?

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From Across the Pond – Observations from my visit to DC and NYC

I really enjoyed my time in the US last week, it was great to spend time with some inspiring advocates and get an insight into the campaigning landscape in the US. Clearly the US is a very big country and I was only able to visit Washington and New York (a little like just spending time in London and Brussels if you visited Europe) so these are just a few advocacy related observations from my time in those cities.

1. Advertising everywhere. On the Metro (see photo below supporting Corn Growers), in front yards and in the papers I was amazed at the amount of advertising in support of different public policy positions. It seems that a combinations of campaigns with deep financial pockets and media laws that make it easier for campaigning organisations to advertise have made this an attractive tactic to use. I’d be interested to see some figures on the effectiveness of this as a tactic, my concern would be that it risks becoming ‘background noise’ because it’s used so much.

2. The strength of community organising. I got to learn about some amazing examples of community organising on the issue of Environmental Justice at a conference in New York. Organisations like New York Faith and Justice or UPROSE are doing some amazing grassroots work, mobilising communities often in economically disadvantaged areas and seeing campaign success with local government, for example getting the City Council in New York to clean up disused industrial areas. It felt to me that their was a far more vibrant community of grassroots organisations than we have here making use of all the layers of government (city, district, state and federal level) that exist in the US in a far more effective way than I’ve observed in the UK.

3. QR Codes While you occasionally see these funny black and white patterns, which can be used in conjunction with a smart-phone to send you to a website for more information, in magazines in the UK they were a lot more prevalent in the US. With the growing use of smart-phones I can see how they could be used as an excellent tool in campaign literature to help bridge the digital/paper divide. I suspect we’ll see campaigning organisations use them soon.

4. How healthy are the grasstops?  I heard this phrase the ‘Grasstops’ used on a number of occasions, it’s used to describe those organisations that are just involved in lobbying and influencing in DC or towards other legislators but don’t have any support from a membership base (the grassroots). It appears to be a fastly with hundred of organisations with names that include ‘Institute‘, ‘Centres for….‘ or ‘Association of‘ in them.

Walking around DC you quickly spot people with badges representing them of to meet with politicians and officials, but my question is where these groups draw their legitimacy from, even when they’re advocating for more ‘progressive’ causes. It appears to me that some of the most  exciting advocacy networks are those that have been able to combine effective ‘grasstops’ engagement with support from an active ‘grassroots’. One that impressed me considerably was Bread for the World, a faith-based movement to end hunger.

5. The influence of Foundations. I’ve blogged on a number of papers on various topics coming out of various US Foundations in the last week. It’s very evident that they’re powerful financial backers of many of the campaigns and from that they are producing lots of interesting and exciting research on issues such as M+E and assessing impact (this is an interesting study on just that). I need to do more research to find the key foundations and networks, but it’s worth keeping an eye on the website of organisations like New Organising Institute,  Institute for Sustainable Communities and others who are putting out some great materials.

Have you been to the US recently or are you based in the US? What are your observations on the advocacy scene in the States? 

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