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Top tips for engaging politicians

7 September 2021

Charities have an important role to play as advocates. We can empower the constituents of politicians, particularly those whose voices are minoritized. We can help people to directly ask for what they need. The result can be momentous: changing laws, policies, and decisions that affect our everyday lives.

But inevitably, when juggling limited resources and multiplying priorities, it may feel challenging to add engaging with councillors, MPs, and members of the devolved legislatures to your charity’s to-do list. And that’s before we need to carefully consider how campaigning and political activity meet charitable goals and build trust in our organisations.

So, as we once again prepare for the end of Parliament’s summer recess, here are three steps to keep things simple. These will help you review and plan your engagement activities to get the best results for those your charity represents:

  1. Keep it local

Politicians care about causes but, like all of us, have their own personal interests and expertise. However, they will prioritise issues directly impacting constituents who can vote them back into power. Mobilising your supporters to engage at a constituency level is key. Can you work with people with lived experience of your cause to co-create an action to contact their local representative? Can you help your supporters to confidently share their own personal stories? Are you able to provide specific statistics per constituency?

With inboxes increasingly swamped, we’ve seen craftivism rise as a mindful, gentle way for supporters to communicate their needs and experiences. Featured in a BBC documentary on craftivism, the We Care Campaign supported unpaid carers to stitch sticking plasters with messages for their MPs to explain their role in holding the health and social care system together and to present solutions to increase support now. Similarly, Soul Food Edinburgh’s supporters knitted hearts for their Member of the Scottish Parliament to share stories of the injustices of poverty and call for systemic change to address hunger in Scotland.

2. Keep it specific

Campaigns need to be clear about how politicians have the power to make the change needed. You can have the most persuasive case for change in the world but without a clear call to action, it will stutter to a halt. The more specific the ask posed by your supporters, the harder it will be for politicians to reply without acting on the behalf of their constituents. For example, the not-for-profit Power for People are helping people to call for a Local Electricity Bill to become law. By asking MPs to back the Bill as a tangible way to keep the UK on track to meet its climate change commitments, their supporters have brought on board a cross-party group of 260 MPs.

Consider whether your engagement allows a politician to be visible in their action. To highlight the devastating impact of repeated lockdown closures on their shops, West Midland’s sight loss charity, Beacon Centre for the Blind, invited one of their local MPs Pat McFadden to spend a morning swapping his desk for a shop counter and generated local press in the process. Traditionally, events held within Parliament and the devolved institutions have offered politicians a time-efficient way to “drop-in” to show their commitment and generate a photo for PR. However, they come with a substantial price tag for room hire and catering costs. As we resume in-person events, it might be worth considering whether you are expecting large numbers of politicians to attend and want to generate press. Otherwise, one-to-one online meetings might be a better use of resources.

3. Keep it going 

Once you’ve mobilised political support, it’s important to keep the momentum going. You and your supporters should make sure you are prepared with lots of resources that you can offer to keep them engaged with your cause. Think about having statistics, testimonials from service users, case studies prepped and ready to go. Keep any briefings concise. Provide your chosen politicians with powerful stories to relay to others.

Be ready to meet last-minute requests. It’s always a good idea to have a bank of speaking points, case studies, relevant statistics to hand. Just like journalist requests, politicians will need information very quickly if they are able to raise the issue in the chamber or in the press.

Treat them like key partners. Make sure your political stakeholders are told about your latest news, research, and reports, and that they understand where they can add their support to the latest point in the campaign. Make sure they are thanked for their time and commitment, so you build strong and lasting relationships that can be capitalised on next time.

Remember: Treat engagement as a conversation

As a charity, you can see big returns from targeted, creative engagement that helps those with political power to listen to their constituents and take action to create social change. The most important thing to do is to develop activities that support an ongoing conversation as the campaign progresses. By keeping it local, we ensure it feels personal; by keeping it specific we empower people to ask the right questions; and by keeping it going we ensure it is responsive. You can read more about running an impactful virtual event in this blog from Scope.


If you liked this you may also enjoy Unleashing the power of a campaign to change the law.

Banner image: Ming Jun Tan on Unsplash

Helen Deakin

Helen is a freelance communications specialist who helps charities to get their message across.