10 reflections from NCVO Campaigning Conference

It was the NCVO Campaigning Conference yesterday – it’s always an interesting day bringing together a mix of campaigners and public affairs colleagues from across a range of issues.
As always you walk away with a notebook – or in my case multiple scraps of paper – full of notes, thoughts, good ideas and top tips – and a frustration you couldn’t be in more than one session.
Here are 10 things that I took from my morning at the Conference – do check out #ncvocc for more insight.
1. Brexit is the focus for government – both Jess Phillip MP and Jonny Mercer spoke about how the Brexit negotiations will dominate everything that happens in Parliament and Whitehall in the coming years. It’s not just because it’s the most important political decisions that many of us will see in our lifetimes, but it’s also because it’s taking up so much capacity from civil servant and ministers other issues are getting pushed to the side. Campaigners looking to get noticed will have to push harder than ever.
2. MPs really are tired of email petitions – so this isn’t news, and you almost expect to hear it from MPs in sessions like this, but when two pro-campaigning MPs who are instinctively on our side tell you that they’re fed up of pre-written email petitions, you know it’s time to think long and hard about if the tactic is doing more to hinder than help. Jess reminded us that she get’s over 6,000 emails every day, and the response to any pre-written email is to ensure a member of staff responds with a standard template email.
3. It’s MPs staff you should be getting to know – they’re the gatekeepers to most MPs, the ones who make key decisions about diaries and briefings. Build good relationships with them and it can really help you to get your campaign in front of an MP. Treat them badly and don’t expect to see much progress.
4. Ask do you really need to be in a coalition – I was fortunate to chair a really lively and interesting session on coalition campaigning. Jane Cox from Principle Consulting reminded us that there is a cost to coalitions (perhaps Jane had ready my blog on this) – sometimes a strategic partnership is a better approach than the time commitment an effective coalition can be. Jane wrote a really useful post with some of her learning from coalition campaigning.
5. Keep going until the end – too many coalitions just focus on the immediate change outcome, and when they’ve succeeded in delivering that they stop. That can be a mistake and often ensuring that you monitoring implementation is as important. This is something that you should factor into your planning – especially when applying for foundation support for your campaign.
6. We need to talk about power – Heather Kennedy from the Fair Funeral Campaign reminded us of the principle from organising that you either have organised money or organised power – if you’re opposition is organised money it can be easy for them to ‘sit it out’ until you’re coalition has come to an end. It was one of the few references through the day to power – which given campaigning is often about winning feels like it was something missing from the conversation.
7. Celebrate success in a generous way – Heather shared about how the Funeral Poverty Alliance has built it’s coalition over the last few years and managed to put the issue on the agenda – it sounds like a really great campaign coalition which doesn’t have lots of governing documents but has placed building relationships through well facilitated strategy sessions and strong face-to-face relationships. Demonstrating that coalitions don’t have to be dominated by ‘egos and logos’!
8. When developing campaign leaders high commitment should mean high support – I really enjoyed the session on developing volunteers as campaign leaders – it felt that there was a recognition that in response to the declining effectiveness to e-petitions we need to look again at building our networks.
I’ve been aware of the work that Alice Fuller and her team at the MND Association┬áhave been doing at building a network of Campaign Contacts in their local groups over the last few years, but it was great to hear more about it – and to hear some honest reflections about how much the team have learnt about the level of support they need to provide, the commitment to training and investing in volunteers, but also letting go and trusting volunteers.
9. Metrics matter – Eleanor Bullimore spoke about the work, and the challenge of developing relevant metrics to measure the impact of the work that volunteer network at The Ramblers is having. Elle suggested that as well as developing metrics for going up the the ‘ladder of engagement’ we also need to be looking at those going down – recognising that some volunteers will find they have less rather than more to offer.
10.Trust us – Joining Alice and Eleanor was Katy Styles, one of MND Associations local campaigners. It was so refreshing to hear of the ways that Katy had been able to get involved in leading MND’s campaign (Katy has helped to produce this cracking toolkit) – and to be reminded that most people aren’t paid to campaign they do it because of a passion. The big message that I’m taking from Katy was as professional campaigners we need to let go of our concerns about brand and reputation and trust our volunteers.
Update – all the presentations from the sessions are available here.

One thought on “10 reflections from NCVO Campaigning Conference”

  1. Excellent summary Tom. And great to hear Jane’s comments went down so well (proud to say Jane probably inspired me to move towards advocacy originally).
    Any thoughts on what comes after e-petitions. I feel like we’ve been on a downward slope for about 4 years now …. but how to move large (and small) organisations on? And equally, how do we move on when they seemingly have some impact (if diminished). MPs often say one thing and do another.
    Time for an NCVO and Bond brokered discussion about them ?

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