Charities need to make hard choices about whose feathers they are prepared to ruffle, says DSC chief

Organisations usually cannot change the world without upsetting people along the way, warns Debra Allcock Tyler

Debra Allcock Tyler
Debra Allcock Tyler

Strange times call for disruption at all levels, according to the chief executive of the training and publishing charity the Directory of Social Change.

Debra Allcock Tyler was speaking at the DSC’s online conference yesterday about how charities could navigate a changing policy sphere and determine the most efficient campaigning strategy and channels for any particular cause.

She opened the conference by describing it as a strange and weird time to be engaging with the government, but she closed the event with a rousing call to arms that ended by quoting the former US president Theodore Roosevelt.

“The first thing is that principles have prices. If you have a belief in something that you want to change in the world, you can't usually do that by not ruffling feathers, and you have to make some very cold hard choices about whose feathers you are prepared to ruffle,” Allcock Tyler said.

She warned charities to not lose sight of their vision, because not everyone could pick up the phone to the Prime Minister like the England footballer Marcus Rashford during his food poverty campaigning.

She criticised the advice of one MP who told her it was better to write one letter with lots of names instead of sending lots of individual letters.

“He prefers that because there's less work for his constituency to open up all the envelopes,” she said.

“But I can absolutely promise you, those individual letters in volume might piss them off, but they get the message over.

“So don't be fooled by what people say they want.

“The reality is, you're gonna ruffle feathers, you're gonna cause disruption.

“You don't achieve these things without some level of disruption.

“So don't be fooled and think that you can do this stuff without disruption and without people criticising and complaining about it, because you absolutely can't.”

Tyler acknowledged that it was difficult to cut though at a national level, but encouraged charities to reach out to those influential people in their communities, local authorities and parish councils.

Moving on to data, she said: “You never ever win an argument with data, ever. It just doesn't happen. I love data. I'm a data freak. But you have to capture people's hearts first, then the data backs it up.”

Striking a more optimistic note for those in a state of despair, she said politicians come and go, but having vision and staying in the debate are what’s important.

“There's no shame in saying let's take a big breath, because we're not getting anywhere with this. Let's hang on and see what changes and come back again.” Or, as Roosevelt said: “The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly[...] because there is no effort without error or shortcoming.”

At the same event, the chief executive of Children England warned that the official channels between civil society and government had crumbled, resulting in less transparency over how policy is made.

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