An effectively trained team of campaigners can dramatically improve a charity's performance. Sally Flood presents a step-by-step guide to getting what you need.
When Sue Brown first became a campaigner for deaf-blind charity Sense, she had no experience of running successful campaigns. "I had a degree in public policy, which helped a little, but I had to learn the skills on the job," she says. "It was pretty much a case of learning from your mistakes."
Brown's experience isn't unique. The vast majority of charities in the UK rely on ad hoc, on-the-job training for front-line campaign staff.
This is usually for one of two reasons: training is seen as expensive, and the right training is often hard to find.
"There is a real lack of appropriate training for people who are new to campaigning," says Brown. "We'd like to offer a lot more training and development, but it's difficult to find relevant and affordable courses."
In an increasingly competitive charity market, however, effective training can dramatically improve a charity's performance. Such is the view taken by Tony Gibbs, managing director of Charitytraining.com. Better trained front-line staff, he believes, will make your charity look more professional to corporate and government supporters, and ultimately increase revenues.
"That means you can be more effective in achieving your goals and you will develop more sustainable revenue streams," he adds.
That said, finding the right training at the right price isn't always easy. This step-by-step guide will help you on your way, whether you're new to campaigning or looking to improve the performance of your front-line staff.
1. Identify your own goals and objectives - Training for front-line staff should always be tied to your charity's own aims and objectives. Do you want to increase awareness of your work among decision makers? Are you looking to increase the overall number of supporters? Do you want more effective direct mail campaigns, or even a completely new sort of campaign? "Only when you know where you want to go should you start to think seriously about training," says Brown.
County Air Ambulance, for example, invested in public speaking and presentation training specifically to help increase support from members of its local community, who provide much of the charity's financial support. "We are not publicly funded, nor eligible for Lottery money," explains Paul Weir, fundraising and development manager with County Air Ambulance. "We knew we had to increase support among local groups and businesses by making them aware of what we do, and why it is so important. Once we knew that was our priority, we were in a position to develop a training course that was highly focused on achieving it."
2. Identify core competencies - Although it might be tempting to recruit passionate volunteers and let them loose on your support base, it's worth knowing that good front-line campaigning staff are made, not born. "Some people are naturally better at communicating or persuading people, but very few people naturally have the skills required for this kind of job," says Gibbs.
So what are the key skills required of a campaigner? "First and foremost, you have to be able to communicate," says Andrew Moffat, director of fundraising with the Mental Health Foundation. "Campaigners need to present complex ideas in an easily understandable way that will engage and persuade the public."
Second, campaigners need good project management skills. Many will be running their own projects, such as lobbying for a change in policy, or working with academics to produce and publicise research.
Staff also need good relationship management skills. "You have to be able to engage with beneficiaries, because that's the best way to tell the story in human terms," says Moffat.
Building a relationship is a complex skill but can be taught, says Ellen Ryan of training company The Potential Centre. "It involves communication, empathy and an understanding of what the audience is looking for," she says. "Campaigning also relies on people having the ability to debate, to take risks and to be open-minded about other points of view."
3. Decide on the right type of training - For junior staff or those new to campaigning, general training - covering the basics of communication, marketing or management - might be sufficient.
But for more experienced staff, charities wanting to develop a very specific campaigning speciality or those that work in a niche cause area, general training won't provide the level of detail required, points out Gibbs.
For example, a general campaigning course might not be suitable for a charity that works exclusively to lobby overseas governments.
In this case, Gibbs recommends looking for niche training companies.
"There are hundreds of courses on very specific elements of campaigning," he says. "The market is much more sophisticated than it was 10 years ago."
One example is ePolitix's Westminster Explained course, which helps campaigners get to grips with the political system to improve their lobbying capabilities.
4. Find the best possible training provider - A quick internet search finds thousands of training companies. The problems are finding one that offers an appropriate course and knowing which one is right for you. "The problem is that many charities confuse free or cheap with good," says Gibbs.
The most obvious source of training is subsidised or free training offered through government agencies such as the Learning and Skills Council. These courses can be good value, but Gibbs believes they are often more appropriate for new recruits.
If you decide on a commercial training provider, a typical day's training can cost anything between £100 and £800. When charities make this kind of investment, it's important for them to know they're going to get value for money, says Moffat. "I always want to know what concrete learning staff are going to come away from a course with," he says. "Without that, it's hard to know if staff are going to get the knowledge I would expect them to."
Moffat chooses training providers from a small pool of companies with which he has experience; he also talks to colleagues in the sector to find out their recommendations. Staff who attend courses also complete a full feedback form so that Moffat can tell if a training provider is meeting his charity's needs.
5. Don't overlook the expertise of senior staff - Campaigning is a task peculiar to the voluntary sector and comes in many different forms, from lobbying politicians and organising demonstrations to online campaigning, so you might find there isn't a commercial training course that matches your charity's needs.
"We'd like to improve training and development, but the lack of courses does make it difficult," says Brown.
For this reason, Sense does most of its campaign training internally, with senior staff mentoring new recruits through individual projects.
"It's about identifying things that need doing for the campaign and working through it with them step by step," says Brown. "That way, people will learn from their mistakes."
There are other benefits to this approach. In some cases, commercial training can't hope to match the experience and enthusiasm of your own senior staff. "If you have enthusiastic, and knowledgeable staff who can cascade their knowledge through the organisation, I think that's almost always the best option," says Weir.
County Air Ambulance runs a training course in public speaking and presentation for all 35 of its paramedics so they can promote the charity's work at external events. The course is run entirely by internal staff, who, Weir believes, can communicate the values of the charity better than any external provider.
6. Be innovative - If you can't find a course and you don't have the in-house experience, there are other solutions. For example, charities that want to step up their parliamentary work might consider asking an MP or political researcher to talk about how to approach and influence politicians.
Similarly, charities that plan to use the media more in their campaigning might think about asking a journalist to give a talk on how best to interest the media, or what they look for in a press release.
Other charities are also an important source of advice, especially if they are using techniques you would like to emulate. After all, the greatest campaigning expertise probably resides in the voluntary sector itself.
As Moffat says: "Ultimately, the best approach is to do a bit of everything.
We do internal training where we can and external training when we need to. It's just a case of planning ahead and knowing what you're hoping to achieve."
CASE STUDY - COMMUNITY ENTERPRISE DEGREES
Adrian Edgington works as a community development worker with Warwick Social Services, delivering services to young adults with learning disabilities.
His job is to raise funds and awareness of youth services.
Edgington found there was a lack of suitable courses to help improve his campaigning skills. Moreover, many of the courses that were available didn't take account of the irregular working hours typical of the voluntary sector. "It's not like business, where you have evenings free, or everyone can get time off for training," he says.
After searching for suitable training for several months, Edgington saw an advert in a local CSV newsletter for a new part-time Foundation Degree in Community Enterprise and Development at Warwick University. The course was aimed specifically at the voluntary sector. Over two years, students complete eight study modules covering topics such as the role of the voluntary sector and setting up effective community networks.
Since graduating, Edgington believes his campaigning skills have improved.
"I'm able to 'signpost' a lot more people as potential supporters because I have more awareness about who I can approach," he says. "I've also started bringing together groups of people from different organisations because I have better contacts and networking skills."
- Charitytraining.com runs a certificate in voluntary sector management, which covers campaigning skills. www.charitytraining.com - The Directory for Social Change runs annual campaigning masterclasses.
- The National Council for Voluntary Organisations offers events and training sessions covering campaigning. It has also published a book covering the core topics: The Good Campaigns Guide: Campaigning for Impact. www.ncvo-vol.org.uk - The National Learning and Skills Council provides information on local courses and qualifications. www.lsc.gov.uk - The Voluntary Sector National Training Organisation provides details of courses and providers nationwide. www.voluntarysectorskills.org.uk.