You may say that I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one…

“A call to action and a reaction, taking our lives into our own hands instead of sitting around talking…”

“Yes, how many years can some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free? Yes, how many times can a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see?”

Greenday and Bob Dylan, like many others, show that people are often inspired to take action, optimistic that change can happen. Challenging the status quo and influencing social change has a firm place in our social history. It has made its way into popular culture through music, art and literature. It is mainstream and widespread. So why is there controversy around voluntary sector campaigning?

This debate is very much alive. At a fringe event at the recent Conservative party conference, Dame Clare Tickell and Polly Toynbee both suggested that some charities are being told “you won’t be part of the circle that can influence” if they speak out against Government. Dame Claire Tickell of Action for Children, underlined that charities must “speak truth to power”. One comment on my recent blog Can charities still change the world? also asked the question “how bold can charities afford to be…on some of the most burning issues affecting people’s lives…?”

The independence of the sector is vital; an independent voice in the interests of the individuals and communities it supports. The most frequently expressed concern around threats to the sector’s independence is that a powerful funder can prevent legitimate campaigning and influencing. It is deeply worrying to think that this could be true. It is not right or just.

Voluntary and community groups have traditionally been at the forefront of social change. People coming together to make a difference. People changing the world. There are laws and regulations that govern charity campaigning, and charities should respect these, but charities can legitimately campaign when it is an important part of fulfilling their mission. One aspect of good campaigning is finding viable solutions to a problem; the voluntary sector can help find solutions that will transform lives. Campaigning, influencing and advocacy is at the core of the voluntary sector’s work and it is essential that any legal restrictions on campaigning activity are not unduly prohibitive.

The right to campaign is crucial to a healthy democracy where people feel able to stand up for what they believe in. Where people come together to take action and speak out about things they feel passionately about.

Imagine.

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Sarah Gilbert Sarah Gilbert is an experienced campaigner. She is an independent consultant and runs projects for NCVO on campaigning and influencing, including the Certificate in Campaigning and Leadership in Campaigns. She also coaches campaigners, has guest lectured for Roehampton University, and is a member of the advisory board for the University of Westminster's MA in Campaigning, Communications and Media. Sarah sits on the Campaigning Effectiveness Advisory Board and writes blogs, articles and tweets about how to influence people and the sector’s role in campaigning.

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