How charities can make the most of the party conferences

There is usually only one question I get asked this time of year: Are you going? And while party conferences are often expensive, hectic and occasionally frustrating, the answer is invariably yes. The fact remains that the annual gatherings of the UK’s main political parties are an unmissable opportunity to engage with the people that matter and to influence the public policy agenda.

Often we hear from smaller charities and voluntary groups who think that conference will be dominated by larger charities and corporates. While there is an element of truth to this, I would encourage smaller organisations not to be put off. Conference needn’t be so costly – flashy exhibition stands and well-lubricated drinks receptions aren’t necessarily the way to a politician’s heart. For the past four years, NCVO has supported around fifteen very small charities to attend the conferences; they get a pass and some sage advice from people who have worked the conference circuit over many years – nothing more.

Every single year, I witness these organisations start conversations and make connections that will enable them to influence a particular agenda, be better connected and better serve their beneficiaries in future. Jennie McShannon, the chief executive of the Federation of Irish Societies, attended last year’s party conferences as part of the scheme: “Conference was a great experience and I took on board a vital lesson – moving from a position of thinking we were just badgering MP’s to one of knowing that they actually appreciate being more informed and being kept up to date on what the issues are.”

That is not to say that charities and other voluntary groups should think that simply rocking up at conference means they will soon be supping warm conference wine with party leaders and power brokers. Making the most of your conference experience takes careful thought and planning.

This blog first appeared on the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network, continue reading here for my 7 top tips for making the most of the party conference season.

Chloe Stables’s blog

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Chloe Stables, External Relations Manager, reflects on the latest political developments affecting the voluntary and community sector.

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