Campaigning ‘with’ rather than ‘for’
For charities, there’s been a growing consensus in recent years that influencing activities are most effective if has been created by, or with the support of, the people you’re there to benefit. Indeed, most charity campaigners I’ve met would agree that a major part of their role is to amplify the voices of people affected by an issue, and empower them to take action directly. If possible, people who’ve had direct experience of a specific issue – be it discrimination, ill health, prison life, etc. – will also be deeply involved in all significant campaigning activities too.
For example, say you want to campaign for a new HIV treatment to be offered on the NHS. This aim usually should have been discussed and agreed with people affected by HIV. Doing that has two benefits. First, if the engagement and planning is done well, you can be assured you’re campaigning for something that’s actually needed and would help your supporters. Second, especially if your supporters are visibly involved throughout the campaign itself, this helps protect against opponent criticism that your issue is the ‘wrong’ one, or you aren’t representing the true views of those you support.
In taking this approach, you’re campaigning ‘with’ your supporters, rather than ‘for’. At one extreme, your organisation may be do very little campaigning itself, and just provide supporters the tools to run their own campaigns, as with organisations like 38Degrees.
However, sometimes engaging people directly affected by the issue is not possible or easy. For example, if you are campaigning against solitary confinement, you may struggle to speak to prisoners currently in that situation. That said, you may be able to reach former prisoners, or the families of those currently imprisoned.
There’s also a careful balancing act required. Often supporters may have ideas, drive and passion – all positive. But that does not remove the need for expert campaign development and coordination. Like any project, enthusiasm is vital, but this needs to be matched with a clear plan and delivery. Sometimes your supporters will have the capacity and skills to do this themselves. Other times you’ll need to emphasise what you, your organisation or your other sources of support (shameless plug for me!) bring to the table.
A great example from my experience chairing Prostate Cancer UK’s Policy and Campaigns Forum, which met quarterly to review progress on our projects. This was a joint group consisting of roughly one-third staff, one-third volunteer campaigners (who had experience of prostate cancer themselves or in their family) and one-third health professionals. This helped establish at the start that every member of the group had an equal say, vote and expertise to share.
This bond was strengthened by our initial discussions where the Policy and Campaigns Team shared a set of briefings on potential campaign issues (derived from our research, prior plans, and requests from the members). The group then spent a day discussing, debating and finally voting on a confirmed shortlist of work to take forward. The results were great – the staff could then be confident as we went forward that they had been open and clear about what they felt they had the capacity to do, as well as what issues might be easier or harder to deliver as campaigns. The health professionals and campaigners also saw that they had a determinative role in directing our work, and knew (not just felt!) that they valued for their expertise.
While a Forum such as that might not be applicable in each organisation, it demonstrated to me the success that can be had from engaging all stakeholders in campaigns planning and delivery from the start.
Are you struggling with how to engage supporters in your policy and campaigning activities? Or do you feel your current engagement processes need a shake up? Contact me and I’d be happy to help.