How charities made their voices heard pre-election

Manifestos, hustings and social media were buzzing with discussions about policy, writes Susannah Birkwood

Former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg meets Freddie, a 10-year-old volunteer for Guide Dogs
Former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg meets Freddie, a 10-year-old volunteer for Guide Dogs

Many charities clamoured to make their voices heard before the election. Manifestos were published, hustings were hosted and social media came alive with policy requests on everything from migrant rights to access to the arts for disabled people.

Charities such as Shelter spend three to four years gearing up for an election, which means it won't be long before preparations begin for 2020 (see case studies, below). So what was learned this time that will make the campaigns even stronger next time around?

Julia Brosnan, founder of the third sector communications consultancy Dovetail, says a manifesto is important for a charity. "Drawing one up can provoke internal debates about fundamental issues that you've never fully discussed before, and this can strengthen your team," she says.

There are many ways charities can disseminate their manifestos, says Brosnan: they can send them to the media, along with their latest press releases; they can send them to prospective funders alongside funding applications; they can run social media campaigns, releasing policy requests one by one; or they can use them for direct mail campaigns and on posters.

Charities are more likely to get media coverage of their manifestos if they invite partners or other organisations to sign up to them, she adds.

CASE STUDIES

Guide Dogs

For the sight-loss charity's first-ever pre-election campaign, its activities included partnering with organisations such as the RNIB to launch the UK Vision Strategy manifesto and produce a hustings guide, which supporters could use to quiz candidates about key policy issues. A highlight of the campaign was when the former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg knocked on the door of a 10-year-old volunteer called Freddie, who used his hustings guide to ask Clegg if he would provide more talking buses for visually impaired people. Clegg tweeted the incident to his 254,000 followers. Louise Robertshaw, head of communications and campaigns, says the charity will be putting more focus on campaigning now the election is over.

Shelter

The housing charity started working on its pre-election campaign almost four years ago, says Roger Harding, its director of communications, policy and campaigns. Its main focus was the need for more affordable housing. The charity began by conducting surveys and focus groups with middle-income parents to discover their concerns. It used this to develop a narrative that echoed the common concern that the next generation would not be able to afford their own homes. Shelter's press releases, online advertising and direct mail all built on this message, and the charity used street stalls and polling to track how people responded. It decided not to produce a manifesto, however, because its policy requests were already on the agenda by the time the political parties' own manifestos came out.

League Against Cruel Sports

The animal welfare charity kicked off its election campaign by launching its manifesto in the House of Commons in March. It encouraged supporters to ask local candidates to sign up to the manifesto, collecting 900 signatures. In April, it partnered with the ethical cosmetics company Lush and the animal rights group Animal Aid to launch the Votes for Animals campaign, designed to tell people where their candidates stood on animal welfare. Tom Quinn, director of campaigns, says the league's number-one aim was to protect and strengthen the hunting act, which was endorsed by the Labour Party in its manifesto. The Conservatives' manifesto included a pledge to hold a free vote on repealing the act in the new parliament.

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