It is imperative that charities do campaign, and with real courage and determination.
The right of charities and other voluntary sector organisations to campaign has been much discussed in the sector and on these pages in recent months. Many – including me – have complained about charities retreating from campaigning and have pointed the finger at the government and the Charity Commission for inducing a chilling effect. But new evidence from the first SMK Campaigner Survey suggests a more nuanced picture.
Sue TibballsOur survey suggests we might be self-censoring
At the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, we don’t take a view on the content of campaigns, as long as they don’t break basic principles of human rights, respect and tolerance. But we do celebrate successful campaigns and campaigners.
One of the most impressive campaigners I have come across is Pat Davies, chair of Preston New Road Action Group, and winner of the Environmental Award at our annual Campaigner Awards this year. For the past two years, Davies has led a campaign to stop the energy company Cuadrilla being allowed to explore for shale gas – to frack – in her locality. Along with the Roseacre site nearby, theirs has become a test case: if permission is given to frack here in Lancashire, it will give a green light elsewhere.
A question that campaigners regularly ponder is: what is it that makes some people become campaigners, and how can we encourage more people to do so? This is particularly relevant for big social challenges that might not have any personal ramifications (it was depressing to see how many turned up to a public meeting where I live when the council said it was thinking of getting rid of a right-hand turn for cars at a local junction).
It is an absolutely critical question. Despite high levels of concern about a wide array of issues, relatively small numbers of people take the step of actively campaigning. Why is it that some people do and others don’t?
Sue TibballsThe three broad types of charity campaigners
Summer can be a good time to step back and find space and time to reflect. I’ve been doing this around one central question: what makes for effective campaigners and campaigns?
A new report that has prompted some thinking is Networked Change from an American consultancy called NetChange (and thanks to Bond’s Tom Baker and his The Thoughtful Campaigner blog for bringing this to my attention).
The authors distinguish between three models: institutional heavyweights: traditional top-down and centralised models of campaigning; grass-roots upstarts – the digitally enabled, decentralised campaigns; and directed-network campaigns.
Sue TibballsDistinguish between the three campaign models
Charities still retain huge levels of trust, but were constrained during the referendum by narrow advice from the Charity Commission, writes our columnist.
Brexit. As in a game of Jenga, the British people have pulled a block out from the base of British politics and everything is tumbling. The political establishment is frantically try to re-establish order. Extraordinary times.
What part have charities played in all of this, if any? Or more appositely, what part could charities have played in all of this?
Sue TibballsCould charities have swung the vote behind the European Union?
For someone who has spent most of her career in the women’s movement, it feels like some aspects of her campaigning experience are missing, writes our columnist.
Since joining the Sheila McKechnie Foundation in January, I have been reading the various books and guides on how to campaign. I’ve been surprised by how many are written by people who have campaigned chiefly in the green movement, and for Greenpeace in particular. I have just finished reading the new edition of Chris Rose’s How To Win Campaigns, for example. It gives excellent advice and has some great stories drawn from Chris’s front-line – and highly successful – career in green activism. And yet, to someone who has spent most of her career in the women’s movement, it also feels like some aspects of my experience are missing.
Sue TibballsWhere are the females in the campaigning canon?!
Our columnist was taken aback when someone suggested the most interesting campaigns are no longer coming from the charity sector.
At a voluntary sector event in Scotland last month, someone said to me that “the most interesting campaigns today are not coming from the charity sector”. I was taken aback. Haven’t charities always been at the vanguard of social campaigning?
Sue TibballsIt’s our campaigning that sustains the third sector!
The chief executive of a large grant-giving trust recently told me that the various government measures aimed at further regulating the charity sector were influencing the funding decisions of his trust and others. The bark of these measures might be worse than their bite, he said, but they were creating a climate of fear that was causing funders to contract.
He also said: “It feels like the politicians had expenses; the bankers had Libor; the media had hacking – so now it is the charity sector’s turn.” As if corruption in society is endemic and, look, even the charity sector is at it too! But what strikes me is that our crimes are not of the same order. We are under pressure for paying senior management too much, for over-aggressive fundraising and for being, well, just too big and well off. Some legitimate questions are raised, but none of them is in the same league as the other practices outlined above: the first one is in clear breach of the rules; the last two are illegal.
Sue TibballsA climate of fear that is damaging campaigning