Can charities still change the world?

With demands for sector services up by around 15%, public spending cuts affecting the sector and a quick pace of change from and within government, this feels like a challenging time for campaigning. Many charity leaders expect to maintain or increase the services they provide over the next quarter, despite mainly expecting their expenditure to decrease or stand still. So, will campaigning remain high on the agenda for charities that want to see a change in the world?

Campaigning is about influencing both policy and practice. With these changes and the sector playing such an important role in delivering public services, this feels like a very important time for the sector to be campaigning, using their specialist knowledge and experience in delivering these services to improve policy and practice and ultimately the lives of people they support.

Some organisations may be concerned by an expectation that if they are spending public money they should not campaign, but this is not a new concern for campaigners. Campaigning doesn’t have to be adversarial or public – it is about building an appropriate plan for your campaign with a good understanding of the people you want to influence and knowing what is likely to influence them. Increasingly terms like ‘advocacy’ and ‘service user involvement’ are being used in relation to campaigning and service delivery. With this, local campaigning is becoming very important and influential.

I’ve read some great guest blogs on NCVO’s website highlighting both challenges and opportunities that come with the government’s Localism agenda, and how campaigners need to adapt their tactics, build new contacts and take advantage of new opportunities to be successful in this environment. NCVO believes in the independence of the sector, both ethically in terms of government and private funding, and legally in terms of the right of the sector to campaign. Despite the challenges the sector faces in these changing times, the role of the sector in campaigning and influencing policy and practice is more important than ever. Charities have a vital role to play in changing the world around them and campaigning is an important part of this. The principles underpinning effective campaigning remain the same and NCVO is continuing work to support organisations to campaign more effectively.

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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.

2 Responses to Can charities still change the world?

  1. Ade Fashade says:

    Thanks for this blog Sarah.

    In my personal opinion, I think a prior question to answer before the one you posed is how effective will campaigning be in the current climate of limited resources in the sector, and within a state-controlled system hostile to effective non-partisan campaigning? Although the Conservatives go on about the ‘Big Society’, Oliver Letwin has let it be known that we are wasting our time on campaigning and should cut back on this, and provide more services instead! I use the phrase ‘state-controlled’ because in the sector, it looks like we are being more careful what we should be campaiging about, for fear of political sensitivity and possibly, the fear that donors may not be too keen to support ‘politically sensitive’ campaigns. So, how bold can charities afford to be to campaign on some of the most burning issues affecting people’s lives without upseting some of our political paymasters i.e. government funders/donors?

    Ade

  2. Sarah Gilbert says:

    Thank you for your comment, Ade. You pose a very important question about how bold charities can afford to be. This is a timely discussion which inspired me to write my next blog post http://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/2011/08/11/you-may-say-that-im-a-dreamer-but-im-not-the-only-one/ on the independence of the sector and charities’ right to campaign.