How to get your issue noticed by politicians

Katie Howe was part of NCVO’s Parliamentary and Media Team and has now left NCVO. Her posts have been archived here for reference.

Getting an issue noticed by policy makers is important for many charities. It’s something that has been discussed throughout my meetings with members to talk through priorities for the next General Election and is crucial in order to influence decision makers locally and nationally.

Organisations – smaller charities in particular – have questioned how best to communicate their sometimes difficult subject matters (bereavement, drugs and alcohol, sexual abuse, for example) to decision makers and individual donors. Campaigning on these issues can potentially be more challenging too, especially for small local organisations.

So what can you do to catch the eyes of the decision makers?

Find out who your political champions are

Could be your local MP – MPs are generally very well connected and interested in their constituency’s voluntary sector and are your first point of call if you want an issue brought to the attention of a political actor. Fridays are usually the day when MPs are in their constituency offices, and it’s worth checking out if yours has an open surgery in their local office.

Who really cares about your issue?  I do believe that parliamentarians get into politics because of their belief and motivation to improve their communities, society, (the world?) and most are driven by their personal key issues – whether that is the environment, homelessness, health or international development.

So these are the people – as well as the relevant ministers – to get in contact with to try to get your issue picked up. Find out who these people are – who speaks in debates on your key topic? Who tables and answers questions in parliament on the subject? And who is talking about your issue in public and on their websites? Sites like theyworkforyou.com which aggregate parliamentary activities are useful to help you to do this, and are helpfully searchable by person, committee and issue.

Another good way to see who may potentially be worth talking to is by looking at membership of All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs). APPGs are sometimes seen as the ‘after-school clubs’ of Westminster as they are voluntary, informal and cross-party groups that are run for and by MPs and peers, sometimes supported by external organisations and individuals. So APPGs are a good place to look for support too.

Speak to a variety of political colours

By definition charities are non-political and independent, so your engagement with MPs and peers should be across the political spectrum. It’s also sensible to be speaking to as many interested parliamentarians about your issues as you can, so do bear this in mind.

Tell real stories

Data is all powerful, of course. But to really gain the interest of decision makers in your issue, often real stories are more effective. Case studies take some work and you are more than likely already aware of what is happening on the ground – but personal stories can be more influential than broader statistics in public policy, and can be your way into a meeting or visit from an interested politician.

Have a clear ‘ask’

However useful you may find meeting your MP and talking through your particular area of interest, if there’s something you would like them to do with your information this is your time to let them know. It is much more useful for a politician to know exactly what you would like them to do, and you could discuss with the MP and their staff what action may be most effective. Asks could be a range of things; from tabling questions, writing to a Minister on your behalf, putting in for a backbench or Westminster Hall debate, or more general awareness raising in their party.

So whatever your issue, however broad or niche the organisation and whoever you may be looking to influence (local or national) – politicians are real people, with personal and political interests who might just be looking to hear from a civil society organisation just like you.

(They just don’t know it yet)

 

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