This isn’t just a book about how to win the election – although it’s full of that from two experienced political campaigners if you’re looking for it – but it’s also got some great tips for anyone about how to win campaigns.
Some of the early chapters on strategy and messaging have some brilliant lessons that all campaigners would do well to remember.
Reading it was a refresher into some simple and timeless truths for all campaigners. Here are my top 10;
Have a strategy that is written down – create a strategy by making choices, about what you’re going to do – and also what you’re not going to do as well. Write it down. Ensure it has a purpose – the change you are looking to achieve, and a plan to achieve it. Ensure that your plan is plausible and that you can trace how that sequence of events could happen.
Remember most of the time your audience isn’t paying any attention to what you’re talking about – your audience lives busy lives, and they’re often largely disconnected from the issues that you’re passionate about. You only have a brief moment to intrude on their lives and make your point to them. Ensure that you have a simple and emotionally compelling message.
Avoid being a missionary or a martyr – A missionary is someone so full of campaigning zeal they fail to see how far their own priorities are from those they’re looking to engage, while a martyr is someone who believes the electorate is wholly wrong for not holding their own position. Sometimes we can be guilty of falling into either trap.
Remember most of the time your audience isn’t paying any attention to what you’re talking about – normal people don’t spend most of their time thinking about politics. The repetition of your message is OK. Appeal to the emotional as well as rational mind. Detailed evidence-based slide decks will only get you so far.
You don’t win people over to your cause by attacking them – so look to build common ground, and always give someone a path of retreat to look good if they change their mind.
Be flexible – remember the old adage that “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy“. Always be ready to adjust your plans.
Build a team – however efficient and effective you are, you only have 24 hours in a day. Teams mean more people getting more work done, and different perspectives to help to make better decisions.
Remember you are not your audience – firstly, they do not pay as much attention to politics as you (are you spotting this as a theme!). Invest resources in developing an understanding of what they think and why.
Follow media coverage of what’s happening around you – your campaign doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but when you’re busy it can be easy to stop paying attention to what else is happening. Monitoring the media can help you spot new opportunities or avoid avoidable challenges.
Borrow from other fields – look at how other successful campaigners campaign, but don’t stop there. Learn, adapt – and succeed from reviewing what others do.
An absorbing if long read that wonderfully intertwines the stories of those involved in the campaign, with the lessons and reflections on what did and didn’t work for the campaign.
It’s a great contribution to a lot of other useful writing on the campaign (I’d also recommend this) and I’d really recommend a watch of some of the online discussions that Sasha did as part of the promotion of the book, or a read of this.
As I read the book I noted down a few of the lessons that I think are applicable to all movements – most from the winning side, and one from those who opposed it.
Set out a clear plan for victory – advocates came together on multiple times to set out their shared strategy and playbook. The book makes it clear they didn’t always agree on the approach, but nevertheless spent time developing collective plans together and understood the role that different actors were going to play. Together they set out a ’10-10-10-20′ strategy looking at how the approaches in different States and the tactics and resources needed. I was struck by the sense of farsighted the movement had been.
If you’re not getting anywhere with political processes, build pressure from outside politics – advocates for a time focused on corporates to try to recognise the rights of their gay staff to access healthcare for their partners and other rights to grow pressure from other routes on political decision-makers.
Build a funding infrastructure committed to the 4 ‘multis’ – multi-year, multi-state, multi-partner and multi-methodology. I hope many movement funder will read the book – it’s a reminder that if we just aim to fund a slice of what we think is needed we will probably fail.
Learn from past issues and campaigns – advocates spent time learning from the success or failures of others movements in the US such as abortion rights activists. We need to be students of what others have done, so we can learn and apply what might work for us.
Recognise the importance of divergent tactics – “there are many methodologies for social change and we really need them all pulled together in partnership and working to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts”. That can be uncomfortable when working in movements, but we shouldn’t forget it’s importance for our collective impact.
Obsess about what works – advocates established the Movement Advancement Project to assess the effectiveness of what approaches were working and not – and help funders to surge behind those that were.
Focus on messaging as well as operations – ensure you’re clear on who your audience is, and continuously develop your messaging. “no matter how many people you train and deploy to go canvassing, if you can’t figure out your message, you are dead in the water”
Try new approaches – that helped the movement develop it’s ‘deep canvassing’ approach which focused on interactions that where seeking to change the views of voters as opposed to simply focus on identifying new and existing voters.
And one lesson from the opponents – trendspotting – opponents of equal marriage had a well resourced campaign, but also benefitted from a network of individuals within their network who effectively acted as trend-spotters. Looking for up-and-coming issues ready to make the jump from niche policy interest to mass concern.
10. Ask tough questions – finally, reading the book reminded me of this excellent article on questions proponents were forced to ask themselves and honestly answer, which seem vital to any successful
The annual NCVO Road Ahead report is a great resource – packed full of insight and predictions about the trends, drivers challenges, and opportunities that are going to shape the next year might look like for charities – it’s basically a ready-made PEST analysis for the charity sector.
The 2022 edition was launched earlier this week (this is a great summary from the report’s author Alex), and I thought I’d pull out 7 key trends that I think are particularly important for campaigners and change-makers, but I’d 100% encourage a read of the whole report as its packed full of useful insight, examples and case studies.
A period of political stability – the authors might be regretting writing this given the political drama of the last 72 hours! But after the snap elections in 2017 and 2019, most predicted that we could be entering a a period of relative political stability, with an election most likely in 2024 (or 2023).
It means campaigners should be starting to think now about how they plan their influencing activity – as I wrote ahead of the 2015 election, decisions about elections are made month or years in advance so start to plan now and not when the election is called. But I guess whatever happens with the Prime Minister in the next few weeks, shows the importance of being able to plan ahead, but also adapt to changing circumstances.
The continuation of a culture war – or at the very least some who want to continue it, with the authors predicting that ‘Politicians are likely to continue to seek dividing lines where they feel there is political advantage in doing so, so we should expect that culture wars will be a part of our political environment in the years ahead‘. Although the polling suggest that the public is more split on the topic that the politicans might want, but as Bobby Duffy has written‘the huge surge in media coverage of culture wars – in 2015, there were only 21 articles in mainstream UK newspapers that discussed a “culture war” in the UK – in 2020, there were 534’ shows that topic isn’t going away.
Devolution– the continued growth in the profile and role of Metro Mayors (remembering that 41% of the UK population now have a Metro Mayors) and the continued promince of the devolved adminstrations that has come about beause of the pandemic (this is a great thread by Andy Glyde from CRUK about the important for national charities in how they approach devolution and how they should be influencing the devolved governments). As the report says ‘charities that aren’t considering the local and regional landscape, and the decision-makers within it, are likely to be missing opportunities to further their cause.’
Restrictions in the space for campaigning– timely this week with the defeat in the Lords of part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill, but expect some of the elements of that which seek to, amoungst other things, introduces new powers allowing police to decide where, when and how people can protest and increases penalties for those breaching police conditions on protest.
It’s been great to see so many organisations come out against the Bill, but whatever your campaigning approach standing and challenging the Bill which the report says will limit what is ‘a fundamental tool for democratic expression and social transformation’ is going to be vital as it passes back to the House of Commons.
Likewise the Elections Bill might not sound relevant to many campaigners, but as this briefing from Friends of the Earth notes it again has clauses that should concern all those involved in social change.
Pressure on household finances – I think this economic driver is likely to be one of the political challenge of the year. It’s most pronounced now with the rise in fuel prices, and the latest figures on the cost of living (inflation), and as such its going to dominate the media and political agenda, as well as being a cause of concern for many in society.
Savvy campaigners are going to need to think about how they can adjust their messaging and approach to adapt to this issue which is likely to repeatedly dominate politics.
As we potentially return to some sense of normal how these volunteering trends unravel will be fascinating to follow for any campaigning charity that relies on volunteers to lead much of it local campaigning activity. At the same time, as the report finds the changing face of work, could present new opportunities with more people working flexibily or from home changing how they can engage.
Increase in regulation of social media– the report suggest that ‘governments are starting to take the regulation of social media platforms more seriously. There are concerns about how platforms push and curate news to users and how this can spread fake news and malicious content with alarming speed’.
While changes might not immeditely impact campaigners given the important role that social media can play for charities in desiminating messages, changes to how platforms operate can have significant consequences. Those campaigns that have a distributed approach to how they share their campaign content are more likely to be able to ride out any change (forced or planned) to the algorthms.
It would be easy to think that the ‘Fundraising Preference Service’ (FPS) isn’t something to worry about as a campaigner – not least when the Government is including anti-advocacy clause in its grant agreements.
But while the focus of the FPS is about regulating fundraising communications, I think it’d be short sighted for campaigners in charities to assume that it won’t affect them as well.
If you’ve not been following in details how the FPS came about, you’ll be aware that last summer there was a number of stories about fundraising practices. As a result Sir Stuart Etherington from NCVO was asked by the government to review the current self-regulation arrangements. One of his recommendations was the Fundraising Preference Service with the idea it being; “a list of people, and their contact details, who do not wish to be contacted with fundraising communications. Charities can access the list to cross check their own databases against prior to fundraising campaigns. And where members of the public continue to receive fundraising communications despite registering, the Fundraising Preference Service offers a basis for changing the relationship”
Now the creation of a FPS hasn’t been without its critics (see here and here), and until it exists it hard to quantify what impact it will end up having. But it’s happening and a working group formed by NCVO has been created to look at its implementation.
So it’s helpful for campaigners to be thinking about the implications for their communicating with supporters. Here are 3 questions to be asking; 1. Will those who’ve signed up appreciate the different types of charity communications? The FPS proposes a reset button which would mean those who sign up wouldn’t be able to get any more fundraising communications (see Joe Saxton on the challenges of getting the data to work here). But will those who’ve signed up appreciate the difference between a direct mail asking them to donate to a email to sign a petition. While we might appreciate the difference will many see signing up to the FPS as putting an end to all communications from charities? Joe Jenkins argues here if we are to have an FPS that is workable it should focus on communications that primary or sole focus are on soliciting financial support so newsletters, campaign asks, etc wouldn’t be affected – good news for campaigners but something that needs to be made clear in the development of the guidance – but my hunch is that the FPS it will lead to charities being more cautious about all mailings that go to supporters (perhaps a good thing). If was being very cynical, I’d suggestion that the existence of the FPS would make it easier in the future to extend the guidance to include all charity communications. 2. What about integrated campaign/fundraising asks? Many campaigners have worked hard with fundraising colleagues to develop integrated campaigns which combine ask people to take campaign actions and donate (see some great examples here). If we take the principle that Joe Jenkins has made about the FPS being focused just on ‘communications that primary or sole focus are on soliciting financial support’ will that means that you can’t include a fundraising PS in a campaigning direct mail, or invite people to donate following an online action they’ve taken? On the other hand as Joe Saxton suggests perhaps it’ll lead to the rise of ‘fugging’ – fundraising under the guide of campaigning. 3. What will be the impact of the new ‘opt in’ legislation? Over the summer, the EU has passed new data protection legislation which will will mean personal data must be ‘freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous’. That won’t just affect fundraising but all charity communications, and while it’s a separate process to the FPS what this will mean for recruiting new campaigners isn’t yet clear. NCVO have a group looking at it and it’s another process to follow.
The work to shape the FPS is underway guided by a group convened by NCVO. As yet I’ve not seen any detailed proposals of what it’ll include, but I’m sure those involved will want to get input from a range of organisations.
So my recommendation. Don’t assume this is someone else’s problem. Start talking to your fundraising colleagues to understand how they’re engaged in the process and ensure that the FPS is shaped in a way that doesn’t inadvertently reduce your ability to communicate with your supporters.
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Been challenging myself to ask more questions. Here are a few I think I should be asking more often. 1 – What does ‘success’ look like? A fundamental question to ask regularly. The answer should have both a specific and detailed response, as well as a reflection on what you want your campaign to achieve in the long term. 2 – What has the real influence here? Who can deliver the change we want? Its easy to focus on campaigning towards a target we feel comfortable with, or we’ve approached before. A through power analysis should be central to any campaigning we do, and from that an informed strategy. I’ve always thought that the right target is whomever can wake up tomorrow and deliver your campaign ask. 3 – What do you really need from us? A question any organisations with resources should ask to those within its movement, campaigns often succeed because of the variety of voices working on a issue. Sometimes that’s in formal coalitions, where resources are distributed in formal ways, but even in more informal coalitions, ensuring that others partners in your movement have what they need is essential. The answer isn’t always money, sometimes its political insight, sometimes its practical resources or access to technology. 4 – Do we really need to campaign here? This might sound like a counter intuitive question, but launching a campaign should be a tactic if other more ‘insider’ approaches aren’t going to work, rather than an initial response. Why? Campaigning comes at a cost, it’s resource intensive, and often the success we’re looking for can be delivered by a well placed ‘insider’ interventions. 5 – What would we do with twice the resource? All campaigns operate in a resource scarce environment, where their are trade offs to be made, asking this question is a great way of checking that you’re allocating the resources that you do have the most efficient and effective way. If you’d do more on one thing that you’re already doing, then perhaps you should look to redistribute the resources you already have. 6 – What are we learning? What would you do differently next time? Finding time to evaluate in the midst of a campaign isn’t always easy, but by asking what you’d do differently helps to ensure future campaigns win. Planning times for quick evaluation should be at the heart of any campaign.
What questions would you add?
I’m often asked for suggestions of books campaigners should read. I could list hundreds, but here are 6 that I’ve found particularly useful in the last year. I’d love your suggestions and additions. 1 – The Power of Habit – you might be groaning under the weight of books available from authors like Malcolm Gladwell or Nate Silver. I’ve read far too many of them, but I found Charles Duhigg book is one of the most helpful. His book is full of insight about what makes us change our actions, and has a fantastic chapter on why Rosa Parks was successful and how movements start because of the social habits of friendship and grow because of the habits of a community. It’s also helpful if you’re trying to keep a new years resolution! 2 – Victory Lab – I’ve written before about why I think all campaigners should keep a close eye on what’s happening in the US to learn about approaches. Sasha Issenberg book is the best look at the data-drive approach that has been adopted across US politics. It’s a brilliant look at how the Obama campaigns and others have adopted microtargetting, testing and audience insight. Campaigners in the UK have much to learn on this and this book is a great introduction. 3 – A View from the Foothills – Campaigning is political, and its vital that every campaigner has a good idea of how politics work. To be honest, I’m sometimes time surprised about the level of political literacy that exists amongst some campaigners. if we want to win campaigns we need to know how the institutions we’re targeting operate. Chris Mullin’s diaries of his time as a MP and junior minister are one of the best reads out there, but you wouldn’t go wrong reading Alistair Campbell’s diaries either. 4 – Made to Stick – looking for ideas about how your communications can get traction, what the top brands do to ensure that you remember their adverts, then you need to read Chip and Dan Heath’s book. Its a practical, full of great illustrations and the principles will stick with you as you design your next campaign messaging. 5 – The World Is Not Ours to Save – this is a personal choice that I’ve found really helpful over the last year. Although its primarily written for faith-based activists, the premise of the book, that as activists and campaigners we need to recognise our limitations, and ensure we build in habits that allow us to rest and be refreshed is one I’ve found really helpful as I’ve been thinking about how I sustain a long-term career in campaigning. If you don’t find Tyler Wigg-Stephens book for you, perhaps try other authors who’ve written about spirituality and activism. 6 – How Organizations Develop Activists – A late entry into my list, but I adore this book. Hanhrie Han has done the legwork to work out why some grassroots groups succeed and others fail. I found myself changing from nodding in agreement to furiously scribbling down insight from Han’s study of two unnamed organisations in the US, for anyone who wants to think about how they can build a flourishing grassroots network . A good summary of why it works (or doesn’t) here and this by Jim Coe is a fantastic summary.
John Stewart spoke at the latest CASS Business School Charity Talk event. In a talk entitled ‘Campaigning with Effectiveness and Flair‘.
John is Chief Exec of HACAN, the largest voluntary organisation dedicated to those campaigning on behalf of those affected by aircraft flight paths, and chair of Airport Watch, a broader coalition of organisations campaigning against the issue of airport expansion.
In his talk he unpacked some of the reasons why the campaign was so successful at dominating the discussions and debates around the building of a 3rd runway. I’ve written before about the Heathrow campaign and some of the reasons I think were elements of its success but Stewart provided a first hand account from the inside. The KnowHow NonProfit website, which is linked to CASS Business School, has some excellent resources from the evening (which also includes Brian Lamb’s presentation which I’ll blog about later in the week).
Stewart drew out three main lessons from the campaign and argued that these were also based on things that they’d learnt from previous defeats that HACAN had experienced over Terminals 4 and 5. A good reminder to always learn from campaigns that don’t succeed! Bring together the widest possible coalition In previous campaigns, HACAN had drawn together a small number of residents groups and local authorities around Heathrow but the 3rd runway campaign managed to build a much bigger coalition not just of the usual suspects but a much bigger range of organisations, such an environmental groups, direct action groups alongside MPs, local authorities and residents groups.
Stewart said that this strengthened the campaign enormously, but also introduced new issues (climate change wasn’t a central part of the previous campaigns which had focused more on quality of life issues). Stewart shared the tactics that the coalition had used to keep together what must have been a disparate group of people, including regular face-to-face meetings, which meant that people got to know each other on a personal basis.
You have to admire the campaign for managing to bring together local Conservative councillors to direct action activists from Plane Stupid, but Stewart argued that united around a common aim to stop a 3rd runway was the strength of the coalition. The range of tactics meaning that it made it much difficult for authorities to know how to respond because their tactics couldn’t simply be put into a box or be predicted. Don’t dodge the economic arguments The campaign realised from its previous defeats that it had to engage with the central issue and argument that the government was using to justify building the runway, that the UK economy needed it. In previous campaigns, Stewart implied they’d focus on quality of life arguments that although important to those involved in the campaign didn’t resonate with decision makers who could suggest that these were the arguments of NIMBYs.
Stewart shared how they commissioned independent research on the economic argument, which was undertaken by an independent and respected consultancy firm which the EU also used, so it couldn’t be immediately dismissed by government as a being written by a pro-environment consultant. The campaign found that this report was vital in helping to counter the central arguments of the government, and convincing the opposition parties to get involved . A good lesson to remember the importance of independent research in supporting your campaign asks. Engage in pro-active campaigning
Early on the campaign realised its tactics couldn’t simply be limited to working through the official structures that the process would provide, like official enquiries which was its previous approach. Stewart argued that if these processes were effective at changing things they’d soon change the structures, perhaps a slightly cynical approach but the argument that they don’t favour community campaigns who have little of experience of making quasi-legal arguments is a good one.
Instead the campaign focused their campaigning on what communities are good at doing, talking to each other, and mobilising around more traditional tactics like marches and rallies. This was successfully combined with more traditional lobbying using a cross-party group of MPs, and excellent cheap media activities, like flash-mobs at the opening of terminal 5.
At the end of the presentation, Stewart spoke about how the campaign had worked with direct action groups. He argued that they’d been good for the campaign, and an important part of the campaign mix. While the campaign didn’t want everyone taking direct action, they helped to prevent the campaign from easily being boxed by the government. Listening to Stewart talk about the role of groups like Plane Stupid in the campaign, its clear they have a central role, and its fascinating to see how these groups co-existed and even shared platforms with those with much more conservative approaches to policy change.
Campaigners often have press officers and media teams to deal with enquiries from journalists, but that shouldn’t be used as an excuse for not learning more about what a journalist is looking for, or what might make a good story.
This top tips paper from nfp Synergy which is full of quotes from its Charity Media Monitor is full of useful advise which has come directly from journalists from the major newspapers and broadcasters. 10 top tips for charities from journalists
Tip 1: Case studies, case studies, case studies
Tip 2: Don’t just target the newsdesk – dig deeper
Tip 3: ‘No comment’ doesn’t mean ‘no story’
Tip 4: Be available, prepared and professional
Tip 5: Think globally, act locally – use local media
Tip 6: Build relationships – meet people face to face
Tip 7: Think carefully about your subject lines
Tip 8: Email your press releases – but phone with your exclusives
Tip 9: Know your targeted media inside out
Tip 10: Find out the other side of the story: media training and more
To get more like this, I’d recommend you sign up for their free monthly e-newsletter which is often full of useful information and tips.
Duncan Green has just posted insights from a recent research project that the Oxfam GB has run into ‘influencing the influentials’. I’d highly recommend reading it – http://www.oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/?p=186
Without the actual report we don’t get the detail it provides, but a few lists that might sheed some light on a couple of points that Green makes; Print is much more effective than broadcast – Its useful to look at lists like the annual Guardian Media 100 to get a sense of the influence of different paper, I’d suggest its possible to take the position the respective editor get as a reasonable proxy for the importance and influence of the papers as much as them as individuals.
So from the 2008 list, Paul Dacre at Daily Mail is at 3, then a long gap to Rebekka Wade at the Sun at 30. The rest of the papers are then grouped together in positions 37 through to 48 in the following order Telegraph, Guardian, FT, Times, Daily Mirror and Independent. The editors of the Sunday Times (44) and Mail on Sunday (78) are the only Sunday papers that make it in. the ‘commentariat’ is becoming ever more important as the interface between politicians and public opinion – Its harder to find a list of top columnists, but the Total Politics list of the Top 100 Political Journalists, not all of them are members of the ‘commentariat’ but a good number are and the list was voted for by MPs is a good place to start. Many columnists are also active authors, appear on TV/Radio, regular bloggers and speakers.
Two columnists made it into the Guardian Media 100, Matthew D’Ancona (also editor of the Spectator at 42) whose column is described as ‘being the most significant of the next 12 months’, and Andrew Rawnsley at the Observer (72) described by a panel member as ‘one of the two people you read on a Sunday if you are in the Government’
Using the Freedom of Information Act, I’ve found out the following about the number of campaign actions that DFID get each year. Total number of actions and delivery method
Year Postcards E-mails Letters Petition signatures Total
2007 34,215 (38%) 31,514 (35%) 4503 (5%) 19,808 (22%) 90,040
2008 42,796(40%) 41, 683(38%) 4049(4%) 19,612 (18%) 108,140
Breakdown by Topic (2008)
HIV and AIDS 45,583 (42%) Debt 22,675 (21%) Trade 20,811 (19%) Water 8137 (8%)
Health issues (excluding HIV and AIDS). 2962 (3%)
Rainforests 2152 (2%) Fulfil G8 promises 993 (1%) Burma 988 (1%)
Various other development issues, where we received less than 750 items 3839 (3% ) Breakdown by Organisation (2008)
Stop AIDS Campaign 33, 229 (31%) Jubilee Debt Campaign 20,371 (19%) Trade Justice Movement 13,809 (13%) Tearfund 12,171 (11%) Traidcraft 5321 (5%) World Development Movement (WDM) 5451 (5%)
Oxfam 2,001 (2%) ActionAid 2138 (2%) UNICEF 2678 (2%) MICAH Challenge 1039 (1%) World Vision 1097 (1%)
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (Burma) 862 (1%)
Various other organisations, where we received less than 750 items 7973 (7%)
Undoubtedly their is some double counting in the lists, but it still makes for interesting reading, and shows the relative mobilising strength of a number of the main campaigning organisations in the UK. Christian Aid are perhaps a surprise exception from the list, but looking at their website they focused almost exclusively on Climate Change in 2008.
It shows the fact that some coalitions are better at getting their members to run their actions. For example the 45,000 actions on HIV and AIDS of which about 25% didn’t come from Stop AIDS coalition, against the 22,000 on debt most of which came from the Jubilee Debt Campaign (although its shows the influence the campaign still has that they can mobilise that many supporters to take action).
Finally it raises the question how much did the different organisations make of the opportunities to use their postcards to influence policy. It’s all very well to have lots of postcards but they don’t do much to influence policy if they just end up in the DFID postroom. Looking at the list, I think Stop AIDS Campaign are one of the best examples of how to use their actions to maximum effect, holding a high-profile hand in the autumn with Ivan Lewis MP to hand over 14,000 actions on patent pools, and running a significant campaign earlier in the year around DFIDs new three year strategy on the issue. Its a good lesson to remember that without an effective strategy to use the actions you’ve generated
I’ve made a number of other requests and I hope to be able to share them with readers of this blog in the coming months, along with further analysis.