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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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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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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Older people are an often overlooked but vital group of activists so it’s great to see the Sheila McKechnie Foundation launch the ‘Take Action’ award supported by Age UK to ‘recognise and encourage older campaigners who are aged 60 or over who campaign about issues that matter to them’.
In my own work, I’ve often been inspired by the commitment that some of our older activists have played in our campaigns, so its great to find an opportunity to acknowledge the key role they play.
Here are a few reasons why I think campaigning organisations shouldn’t overlook the valuable role that older campaigners can play;
1. Engaged – From voting to participation in voluntary groups most surveys show that the over 60s are more likely to get involved, so if we’re looking for people who are likely to get involved on a regular basis older people are likely to be a reliable source. Add to that the fact that they vote means that they’re a group that politicians like to listen to because they’re more likely to turn up at the ballot box when it matters.
2 – Well networked in their communities – Many older people have lived in their communities for years and are often active members of community groups, faith communities, etc. So if we’re looking for people who know other people to get involved in our campaigns using the networks that many have could be an effective way of doing just that.
3 – Professional experience – This is a theme that Duncan Green picked up in a post entitled ‘Are Grey Panthers the next big thing in campaigning?‘ at the end of last year. If we’re looking for people who can talk about the importance of health systems in developing countries, should we be looking to get retired nurses and health workers from the UK involved? Will they be able to speak with an authenticity born from years of working in the health sector that others can’t?
4 – Time rich – One of the criticisms of the current debate about ‘clicktivism’ is that it’s campaigning for the time poor. That it’s suited for people who don’t have the time to do anything more than send an e-mail or click ‘like’ on a Facebook page. Many older campaigners have time to devote to other activities, so perhaps they’re the group we should be focusing on to take part in high-level campaign activities.
So how should we respond to working with older campaigners? Here are a few thoughts;
- Build alliances with key gatekeepers – I remember being told once that the government really started to take notice of the Jubilee 2000 Campaign when it started getting messages from local WI groups around the country. I don’t know how true that is, but it’s a useful reminder that coalitions could do well to reach out to and engage similar groups.
- Profile them in our materials – Too often our annual reports have pictures of enthusiastic young people on a demonstration, perhaps it’s time to start to profile some of the activities of our older campaigners.
- Remember to go beyond philanthropy – One of the untold stories in development over the last 20+ years has been the role that the Rotary Club International has played in the fight to eradicate Polio worldwide. Through its branches it raised over $900 millions, but more than that it’s advocated to raise over $8billion from governments, but you probably haven’t heard much about it. A great example of using a network, which has its fair share of older members, not simply to raise money but also advocating for change.
Paul Waugh has a great article on ‘Who won the AV digital war’. It’s full of interesting learning about what worked and what didn’t.
In short, the Yes campaign (the link is to the Labour YES site as the cross-party site has already been taken down) tried to build from the grassroots, based on the fact that they inherited a list of 150,000 people who were involved in campaigns like Unlock Democracy. It put it’s effort into converting this online support into offline activities, like getting activists to organise street stalls and events (of which 3,000 were organised). I guess by extension it was also hoping that its messages would cascade down from activists to their friends through social networks.
The No2AV campaign didn’t inherit an email list and focused on buying advertising on high-profile websites, reportedly spending the most of any campaign in UK political history on the day of the ballot (the exact figures will be released in the coming weeks when the final spending figures are released) and pushing people to its sites and You Tube page, which worked as the NO campaign registered almost twice as many views of its YouTube channel. According to Waugh a decision was made not to engage on twitter and also placed a greater focus on using text messages as a tool to mobilise supporters to attend events.
Clearly the result of the referendum wasn’t simply about the success or failure of the digital campaigns (you can read more about the politics of the campaign here) but I still think it has some interesting lessons for NGO campaigns especially as Waugh suggests ‘From its hardline attack ads to its press operation and its mass bombardment approach, the No2AV campaign most felt like a mainstream political party. With its activism and social engagement, not surprisingly perhaps, the Yes campaign most looked like an NGO’
1. Digital media needs to be at the heart of any campaign – Both campaigns put digital media at the heart of their approaches by ensuring the appropriate lead staff attended key strategy meetings. Waugh says ‘MessageSpace’s Jag Singh, an early appointment as Director of Digital Comms for No2AV, was ’embedded’ in the highest level of the campaign, attending all of their 8am morning meetings for example’ and suggests that same was true of the Yes campaign.
2. You can raise money from online campaigning with the right ask – The Yes campaign generated £250,000 from small donations (the average was £28) in the course of the campaign. A good example of a timely ask to the right audience can raise money as well as lead to activism.
3. Let’s not forget mobile phones as an organising tool – It’s interesting to note the use of this by the No2AV team to mobilise supporters. A few weeks ago I heard that research has shown that most text messages are read within 15 minutes, the same clearly can’t be said of emails where a 10% open rate is considered ‘good’. Should NGO campaigns be investing more in collecting mobile numbers that can be used to inform activists of key events or actions?
4. You need to reach out beyond the usual suspects – Was one of the reasons that the No2AV approach work so well was that in buying on-line marketing it reached beyond the usual suspects on the day of the election, whereas Yes campaign activists were speaking in an ‘echo chamber’ where they were simply sharing their tweets and messages to friends with similar views who were already inclined to vote Yes. One status update on my Facebook wall perhaps summarises this problem well ‘if my Facebook feed is anything to go by, the Yes vote is in the bag. But then, I don’t think I have a very proportionate representation’
5. Decide what to do with the data afterwards before the event – Waugh highlights a problem common to many in coalitions, both campaigns have built significant e-lists but it isn’t clear what to do with that data now. A good reminder of the need to discuss this before your build your list.
Do you agree? Did the politics of the situation mean the digital strategy wasn’t going to make a difference either way?
Brian Lamb has written two excellent blog posts in the last week (on the NCVO site and on Third Sector), which both mention an evidence session of the Public Administration Select Committee in late January where a small number of MPs spent a considerable amount of time grilling representatives from leading charities about campaigning.
So what can we learn from the exchanges about which tactic campaigners should avoid if they want to keep (some) MPs happy?
In the same way that a single swallow doesn’t make for summer, we need to be careful to assume that the comments of a few MPs reveal how the majority of Parliamentarians view charity campaigning, but the transcript is worth a read as it reveals some bad campaigning practice that’d campaigners would do well to avoid if they’re to keep some MPs on side;
Lesson 1 – Sending the wrong person to do the lobbying
Some of the MPs objected to no longer being lobbied by Chief Executives but instead ‘by parliamentary campaigns officers who, in most cases, have absolutely nothing of interest to tell me‘. Clearly not all MPs feel this way (and MPs aren’t obliged to meet with Parliamentary Officers!) but does hierarchy matter more when you’re working with Conservative MPs? I’ve heard of one government department where the Minister will only meet with Chief Exec’s, and if this is a trend are CEOs making enough space in their diaries to engage in lobbying?
Lesson 2 – The personal touch counts
Others objected to the sending of ‘impersonal e-mails and sending letters on behalf of their Chief Executives with electronic signatures‘. With one MP arguing ‘I cannot recall ever sending a letter with an electronic signature to any of my constituents‘. Seems to be common sense to me and an easy mistake to avoid.
Lesson 3 – Don’t overwhelm them with automated emails
This issue seems to be Robert Halforn MP bugbear (he also wrote about it here) and it’s something that campaigners have heard before (remember the incident with Dominic Raab MP last summer), but the comment shows the sheer number of messages that MPs appear to be receiving ‘ that at least 20% of the 150 to 200 e-mails a day I get nowadays are from charities, and they’re not personal e-mails-they’re ones produced when people put their name and a postcode on their charity’s computer and you get an automated e-mail‘. Does this just show it’s an effective tactic or is it a tactic which is fast loosing its impact? If it’s the latter then it feels to me that the sector needs to start thinking and innovating about new ways of generating mass actions.
Aside from the highlighting of less effective campaign tactics, the exchange focused on the amount of money that charities spend on advertising and campaigning. Lots has been written about this, see Sir Stephen Bubb’s blog and Third Sector on this, but clearly it’s an issue that some who have a less favourable view of charity campaigning will continue to go on about.
Perhaps one solution would be to learn from organisations, like 38 degrees, who do direct fundraising to pay for campaign ads, perhaps it’d be worth others considering this to show that those who’ve given money are happy for it to be used in this way. That way, it’d be very easy for a charity to say that its donors were very clear about what the money would be used for.
As an aside, you could argue that the money that Shelter spent on the advert near Parliament was well spent because it’s clearly been remembered by Politicians!