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Challenging times for advocacy

24 September 2013

Charities are coming together to campaign against elements of the Lobbying Bill, otherwise known as “#gaggingbill”, that threatens their ability to engage in public campaigns, particularly during an election period.

Many see this as part of an ongoing and growing assault on the role of charities as campaigners – under fire for engaging in 'political' activities when they should be quietly delivering services. Yet, advocacy is becoming an increasingly important activity for many organisations, resulting in a growing demand for learning across the sector.

Early findings from our survey of the sector on advocacy issues show that very few charities are planning to reduce their involvement in advocacy: the vast majority are planning to continue as they are or increase their involvement.

This is far from unique to the charity sector. As illustrated by this research, organisations across the board are taking public affairs increasingly seriously because of the impact politics has on their core business. Charities, even those that prioritise service delivery, cannot disengage from advocacy because political decisions affect how they deliver their services, to whom and with what impact.

Advocacy can also achieve amazing results as illustrated by the campaign for the Arms Trade Treaty, which earlier this year saw the UN vote to adopt the treaty after 20 years of work by the likes of Oxfam, Amnesty International, Saferworld and numerous other NGOs.

Another emerging trend is the interest charities have in learning more about what works and what doesn’t through sharing best practice and learning across the sector.

Joint campaigns and collaboration between charities can give a glimpse of what other organisations do, but otherwise the sector seems shy about sharing experiences. There is a risk in replicating campaign tactics without knowing more about the strategy and reasoning that underpins them. The trick is taking lessons from others and using them in a way that is informed by your own organisation's strengths and weaknesses.

Better lesson-learning across the sector can only help improve impact and increase value for money. It would enable organisations that are just starting to build their advocacy capacity to make more informed calculations about where to invest their limited time and resources.

That’s why we launched our survey to find out more about charities' experiences of advocacy, the challenges they face and what they need to respond to them. We have already had a good response but the more responses we get, the clearer a picture we can draw of the challenges facing the sector.

Claire Hickson

managing director, Trio Policy Ltd

Claire Hickson is managing director of Trio Policy Ltd and has over 15 years’ experience of working in policy, advocacy and communications for the public, private and voluntary sectors.