On the face of it, the second annual Sheila McKechnie Foundation Campaigner Survey does not make for happy reading. Clearly, charity campaigning is still in the midst of something of a crisis. Yet, dig beneath the headlines and a more complex picture emerges, one that requires us to reflect on ourselves as well as the rest of the world.
If you look back at any significant example of social change, popular culture is very likely to have played a part. Think of that first pre-watershed lesbian kiss on Brookside 20 years ago and the part it will have played in paving the way for equal marriage. The huge impact of Cathy Come Home 50 years ago shifted public attitudes towards those without homes. I grew up with Rock Against Racism and the first LiveAid concert. Sometimes today I tune in to The Archers, which always seems to be tackling another tough social issue.
Sue TibballsWe need better partnerships with the arts
So the government has announced it will not be making any amendments to the lobbying act. It is to go against the advice of its own review, conducted by Lord Hodgson, against the advice of the House of Lords and despite the significant body of evidence showing the damage this ill-conceived and badly drawn legislation has inflicted on the voluntary sector. Brexit is understood to be the primary reason for not making the amendments.
Sue TibballsYes, it matters that the government is ignoring Hodgson
In a new report from the innovation foundation Nesta, called We Change the World: How Social Movements Influence Health and Wellbeing, I argue that campaigning is more an art than a science. I point out that there is no fixed model, no curriculum, no rules and no guarantee. Furthermore, I say that campaigning is about reading power and understanding where change might come from.
Sue TibballsThree books signal new interest in social action
With three recent reports saying that campaigning is a central function of charities, it’s time for clarity on the attitude of government, says our columnist
Three major reports about the voluntary sector have appeared in recent weeks: one from the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities; another from the Lloyds Bank Foundation; and the third from the sector think tank Civil Exchange. All look at the challenges facing charities and all are emphatic on one point: the absolute centrality of campaigning for charities and other voluntary sector organisations.
Sue TibballsGovernment should be clearer on charities and campaigning
Measurement and evaluation is often a fraught business, particularly when the things being evaluated are as complex as campaigns. I remember Jim Coe, a campaign consultant, telling me that the best tools for evaluating a campaign are a pen and a piece of paper. In other words, there is no model or fixed approach that can just be rolled in.
Professional campaigners are under a lot of pressure to demonstrate their impact and prove their return on investment. They often have to set targets and milestones, and show a whole linear journey that can demonstrate that their campaign has achieved what it set out to do. For campaigns aimed at achieving a change in policy or law, this can be relatively straightforward. For campaigns to change attitudes or behaviour, this is much more difficult. As a result, much campaigning is now focused on that which can be measured.
Sue TibballsDon’t design campaigns to fit evaluation models
The chief executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation reports from her trip to another continent.
I am writing this from a warm and fragrant Nairobi garden. The Sheila McKechnie Foundation is here in Kenya delivering advocacy training to children’s rights organisations from all over east Africa. The difference in their local contexts is, of course, profoundly different from the context here in the UK. The people we are training are working to prevent high incidences of child marriage and female genital mutilation, and to stop children being recruited into the militia, left to live on the streets or forced into domestic labour.
It has become a platitude to say that we live in increasingly complex and unpredictable times. In this “age of anxiety” that such a climate is creating, we need really strong leadership like we’ve never needed it before.
As the author and strategy consultant Robert Phillips says, we need leaders who can “actively embrace complexity and dissent; transform old, rigid, super-tanker organisations into open and adaptive social movements; and make themselves vulnerable and accountable to the many, not the few; to campaign together, in new and sometimes surprising coalitions, for public value and the common good”.
Sue TibballsWe need strong leaders. Why not campaigners?
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