Bring back handwritten campaigning letters, says Esther Foreman of the Social Change Agency

At a debate on the future of campaigning, hosted by the think tank NPC, the founding director of the consultancy urges charities to "think of a human angle and build it into the campaign"

Esther Foreman
Esther Foreman

Charities should bring back handwritten letters as a means of campaigning and "remember that politicians are human too", according to Esther Foreman, founding director of the consultancy the Social Change Agency.

Speaking at an event in London on Tuesday hosted by the think tank NPC about the future of campaigning, Foreman said that politicians, like most people, do not want to receive "anonymous, bland emails".

"MPs are more impressed by one handwritten letter," she said. "I think this is something that our sector has forgotten and I would really like to bring it back."

At the debate – "The future of campaigning: is hashtag activism killing grass-roots action?" – Foreman discussed research she had carried out on campaigning and its effectiveness in the House of Lords. She said that politicians "hate online campaigning" because they did not see it as coming from "real people".

"I suggest people think of the message they are trying to get across in their campaign and hone lobbying by thinking who can act on your behalf and build networks in the places that you want to lobby," she said. "Also think of a human angle and build it into the campaign."

Also speaking at the debate, Amy Whitelock Gibbs, head of campaigns at the Children’s Society and a councillor in Tower Hamlets, London, cautioned against charities using "blanket approaches" to campaigning and urged them to use a "local feel" in campaigns.

"The best campaigns combine both hashtag and grass-roots activism," she said. "Charities have a lot to learn from grass-roots activism and need to learn more about how to get to the local level. Hashtags can then be used to broaden the reach of the campaign and show the scale of public support."

Rather than ignoring e-campaigning, politicians should be shown how to engage with it, Whitelock Gibbs added.

Chairing the debate, Dan Corry, chief executive of NPC, said that campaigning had been in the news a lot recently. He alluded to recent comments that charities should "stick to their knitting" made by Brooks Newmark, the new Minister for Civil Society.

"Campaigning is important for charities to do and, although we do have a knitting group at NPC, we think that it is not the only thing that charities should do," said Corry.

"If charities are spending money on campaigning, they should make sure they are doing it effectively and be as rigorous as possible. If not, they are wasting time and resources."

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