Comment: What's wrong with professionalism?

I was on the Question Time-style panel at last week's NCVO campaigning effectiveness annual conference, Campaigning in a Challenging Environment.

My team contributes to the NCVO's work and I'm a co-opted trustee. The conference looked at issues such as e-campaigning and beneficiary participation; it was oversubscribed, with many delegates from smaller organisations. 

I joined fellow panellists Julia Unwin from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and former education minister Stephen Twigg, alongside panel chair Nick Higham, a BBC correspondent. The questions ranged from how to get access to a minister to government consultations and the professionalisation of charity campaigning.

The last question exercised me. The suggestion was that charity campaigning was now too professionalised, dominated by brand and distanced from beneficiaries. I could understand the charge, but I didn't agree. Let me explain.

The sector has a natural instinct to shy away from the concept of professionalism. Why? It was suggested that student activism, ruled by passion, had been subjugated to the current charity campaigning parameters of caution and restraint. I learnt a lot from my student union activism, but I am now accountable to my trustees for the money I spend and the messages I disseminate.

Brand awareness and campaigning activity are increasingly interdependent. We must pay attention to branding - even if we see it as a necessary evil.

But my starting point when considering any campaign (apart from cost and whether the trustees will buy it) is whether the beneficiaries really want what we are campaigning for. Our local campaigning model at Leonard Cheshire Disability effectively addresses this question - our independent Campaign Action Groups make all our local campaigning accountable to our beneficiaries.

Without this accountability, don't bother. Except, perhaps, if you're an anti-whaling campaigner.

- John Knight is head of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability:

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