Leadership essentials for campaign success

As austerity bites deeper and charity campaigning is brought more to the forefront of Government and public awareness, there will be further challenges to our legitimacy to campaign. Campaigners are still demonstrating what can be done, from securing plain packaging on cigarettes to additional resources for women’s refuges and shifting the government’s policy on refugees. But knowing how to talk to Government, mobilise the media and public opinion, and frame your arguments has become ever more crucial in such a contested environment.

For years the sector has relied on a set of underlying value and policy solutions which may no longer have the same traction in this new environment. Also, backbenchers on the Government side seem less inclined to listen, judging by the latest nfpSynergy poll which shows that 62% of Conservative MPs agree with the statement “the charity sector as a whole is too political”, while 30% agree with the statement “charities should not campaign in Parliament”. Individual organisations and the sector will need to have a clear sighted, innovative and sophisticated approach to ensure campaign success and avoid giving easy targets to those questioning the sector’s right to campaign.

The temptation for organisations will to either hunker down and not campaign, or become stridently oppositional without necessarily being effective. Neither route is likely to protect or enhance the rights of beneficiaries. More than ever, campaigners need the leadership and strategic skills to navigate what is going to a more complex and hostile environment.

The challenge for leaders

How campaign leaders guide their organisations, and the sector’s approach in the next few years, will determine the future of campaigning in the sector. Get it wrong and campaign success will be limited, and restrictions on campaigning could be tightened further.

What are the essential attributes that campaign leaders will need in this environment?

Understanding Your Context

There is a much greater need for organisations to understand their own ecology, from members, supporters and potential stakeholders, to how the vibrant dissatisfaction of campaigners can be mobilised to help deliver real change. This entails knowing when to use public campaigning rather than diligent policy work and behind the scenes influencing, and in what combinations. Is legislation the solution or can reframing the issue, or changing attitudes and behaviour, bring the change you want?

Strategic Insight and understanding how change happens

It’s crucial to understand how change really happens for your issue. You must then define what you are really aiming to achieve, and have a clear plan of how you are going to succeed. This is essential, not just for the success of your campaign, but also for convincing those inside the organisation, or funders, that you have a viable and fundable plan for change when resources are limited.

Framing Your Argument

Knowing how to communicate your campaign, and frame arguments to appeal across different values to ensure resonance and support for your issues is crucial. Ensuring that you take control of the framing of your issue may make all the difference in how it resonates with key audiences and appeals across wider groups than just your core supporters.

Political Sensitivity

Understanding the politics of Westminster in the new parliament is a start. But also understanding how governance is changing through more devolution of powers, what drives the civil service, local government and other key decision makers will also be critical to success. Managing your internal environment, when organisational resources are under pressure and trustees may be fearful of repercussions, is also an essential skill for campaign managers.

Get these areas right and you will not be guaranteed success, but you are more likely to succeed. You will also be demonstrating that campaigning is at least as important in achieving your mission as ‘sticking to the knitting’ of service provision.

Develop your campaigning skills

There is no better time to hone your skills to ensure your campaigns are effective. NCVO’s ground-breaking Certificate in Campaigning course is recruiting applicants for 2015. Apply for your place now.

In November, you can attend NCVO’s three-day course Leadership in campaigns, aimed at developing leadership skills in a campaigning context. Find out more and book your place.

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Avatar photo Brian is chair of NCVO’s campaign advisory group and author of NCVO’s Good Guide to Campaigning and Influencing.

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