How to influence without a budget!

The impact of the pandemic has been likened to a tale of two cities for many small charities in the UK.

On the one hand some have benefited from unexpected publicity leading to fundraising windfalls, whilst others have been forced to make major cut backs, just to survive… So where, does that leave those smaller charities who earnestly need engagement with policy makers to champion their causes?

As we slowly creep back to normalcy many small charities find themselves with limited funds manpower and the know-how to launch successful parliamentary campaigns, despite their causes desperately needing high level political involvement.

Prior to the pandemic a lot was said about social media as means to create cheap and effective campaigns. On paper it, present great opportunities for small charities. A cost-free alternative to traditional face to face lobbying. We were led to believe that success was guaranteed as all that was required was a cleverly orchestrated public engagement plan, well timed activity pushed along by an anticipated viral response, further promoted by ample press coverage. The blueprint set. Success guaranteed. But in reality, you need a large amount of luck to guarantee social media success. And going viral is often a fluke.

Yes, you can orchestrate things to improve your chances of success. But when it comes to influencing and gaining attention for your cause – the real question is how does one convince those at the top of the policy making tree – those that reside in Westminster circles – to support and nurture your cause. Giving your campaign a life beyond the short life span of the national news coverage. Like the old saying goes ‘today’s headline is tomorrow chip paper’. Yes, gaining any media attention is affirming. But maintaining longer term engagement and involvement of policy makers should always be the ultimate goal. Nothing is more gratifying than gaining the required support able to turn your campaign into potential legislative change.

But how does one do that when you have limited expertise, limited manpower and frankly no funds at all?

Well making the investment to learn how to do everything yourself in-house is a first step. As 95 % of all the negotiation that is likely to take place will usually be executed by the Chief Executive, having that key person attend a course such as Lobbying for the Charity Sector or High Level Lobbying on Shoe-string will help to provide your organisation gain strategic insight to enable you to lead and run campaigns by yourself. Influencing is a difficult skill to master without adequate direction or training. It requires a mixture disciplines, from salesmanship, marketing, psychology, diplomacy, bargaining and negotiating. But even if your CEO is an all-rounder like most are, the culture of Westminster itself, its decision-making process plus the changeability of politics means that even the most adept corporate operator might find the environment perplexing, to say the least. That why it makes sense to invest a day to learn the skills, that will prepare senior staff of the realities and will provide them with a better understanding of how things really work and what they can expect to achieve on a limited budget once your organisation acquires the expertise.

Here are some thoughts, tips, questions and consideration plus steps your organisations should consider before embarking on this journey…

  1. Decide your immediate Objectives and work towards achieving success at a steady pace over a 3-5 Year period.
  2. Don’t be a One Trick Pony – make sure that your campaigns are inter-changeable and cover the core elements and entirety of what your organisation’s ultimate long-term goal.
  3. Lead your campaigns in a purposeful manner – every action should lead to one focused outcome. Avoid campaigning for campaigning sake! For instance, why are you running this campaign now – in this particular way? – Is it to increase awareness, gain support, create fund raising opportunities, safeguard existing funding, ensure good legislation or regulatory frameworks, educate Whitehall, Government and other key stakeholders, put right an existing misunderstanding, increase knowledge of your issue among parliamentarians?
  4. Timing – Is this the right time for you to launch a campaign? What opportune events, or planned activities stand to support the potential success of your campaign?
  5. Who is your central target audience? – Have a clear idea of whom you need to engage with before you draft your Plan. At what level do you need to engage ? Which groups or individuals do you need to influence? Who are your natural allies who will immediately understand the merits of your campaign?
  6. Evidence Based Policy Making – Do you have the evidence (data /analysis) to back up your assertions and overall campaign? If not, who can help you retrieve this vital information? What internal and external resources do you have already, in-house and how can you best frame and present your evident to a discerning political audience.
  7. Now you have launched your campaign – what are your expectations? Are you being realistic about what can be achieved? What does success look like? Can you engineer flexibility into the overall outcome? What will you evaluate the final outcome? What have you ultimately gained? Was it worth all the effort?