The essentials: Lobbying - Seven habits of effective lobbyists

Sacha Deshmukh and Jonathan Lomax give an experts' guide to running a third sector campaign with a political edge.

Glenys Kinnock is right. "Without the efforts of campaigners willing to speak out for those denied rights and opportunities, the world of politics would be a far poorer place," she said at a recent Sheila McKechnie Foundation event.

Without the efforts of campaigners, many of them from the third sector, the world of politics in the UK would certainly be less interesting. More importantly, public policy would in many cases be less well developed.

Lobbying has always been an important activity in the sector. Today, as more campaigners recognise the potential of lobbying, more and more charitable voices clamour for the attention of decision-makers and opinion-formers. The public, other supporters and funders are also starting to expect the charities they support to have a sophisticated understanding of the law and exactly how it can be changed.

But charities cannot campaign in any way they like: their activities are regulated by the Charity Commission. The commission has said its revised CC9 guidance on political campaigning by charities has been designed to be more permissive. Commission chair Geraldine Peacock has spoken forcefully on the importance of political campaigning in demonstrating to the world the purpose and value of the sector.

Some in the sector still want greater clarity on the commission's interpretation of "acceptable" political campaigning. Nevertheless, there is still a great deal that falls clearly within the acceptable boundaries.

But how should charities communicate their case in a crowded political arena, and can they maintain the strength of their arguments once they have entered the complex insider world of government policy making?

The answer to these questions can be "yes". But there are certain key points to bear in mind.

1Be clear from the start about what you are trying to achieve This is vital, because it will shape everything you try to do. Are you trying to raise the profile of an issue, cause a public stir, secure funding or push for legislative change? Each will require a different approach.

Make sure you set clear goals at the outset. This will keep your campaign focused and aid evaluation. If you are campaigning for something difficult to achieve, such as a change in the law, it may be useful to set yourself achievable sub-goals. The defined goals should be communicated clearly to members, volunteers and funders.

2Target the right people The next step is to work out who can give you what you are asking for. Targeting the wrong people will waste your resources and dissipate the effectiveness of your campaign. Is it the Government that needs to change the law or do you want a company to change its policies?

You also need to decide who can put the most pressure on the group that can give you what you want.

Remember to be realistic - find people who are natural supporters before you set about converting the rest of the world to your cause. Identify helpful supporters: politicians who are interested in your issue, journalists who may be supportive and high-profile supporters who share your view and are willing to help you.

If you are running a parliamentary campaign, make sure you identify the ministers who are responsible for your area. But don't forget other key people - select committee chairs, opposition spokespeople, senior backbenchers, special advisers and, of course, civil servants. They may be willing to take up your case and, eventually, take your arguments to the ultimate decision-maker.

3Identify the right channels of communication Many communication channels are available to the modern campaigner. Choosing the right ones will depend on you having identified the people who can help you achieve your aim. Choosing the wrong ones will waste your time and resources.

If your campaign is heavily dependent on political audiences, the full range of parliamentary techniques is open to you. Working with interested parliamentarians could open up the option for written questions to help you gauge the Government's position. Early Day Motions are useful for assessing and showing support.

Personal contact and relationship building is vital in a parliamentary campaign. Face-to-face meetings and briefings with MPs and government officials will be invaluable in demonstrating your credibility as a representative of your members or supporters.

If you are looking for wider social or political change, the mass media should be your vehicle. In this arena you will be competing for the attention of busy and sometimes uninterested journalists. You need to be honest with yourself about how newsworthy your issue is and then decide which journalist you should pitch it to.

If your campaign is about something that directly affects your beneficiaries, consider using them in your campaign. Personal stories are powerful, both in a political and a media context. In journalism, the case study is king.

"Campaigns by charities can be a good source of news and can offer a fresh way into a politics story, but it always helps if you approach the right journalist and the right paper," says Jason Beattie, political correspondent at the London Evening Standard. "Send your press release to the wrong person on the wrong desk and it is likely to go straight in the bin."

4Be aware of your opposition Much of the voluntary sector is uneasy with talk of 'opposition', but in a campaign it usually exists. It may not always seem black and white, but the very nature of campaigning implies you are looking for change from someone, whether that is an arm of government, a company or a group of individuals. They may be resistant to making that change, so it is important that you analyse your campaign from their point of view before you start.

What will be the response to your lines of attack? It is important to consider who is thinking what in parliament (or wherever your target group of decision-makers may be). If you can work this out, you can pre-empt their rebuttals before they've even had a chance to make them, which will keep you on the front foot. Work out the weak points in your opposition's arguments and exploit them.

Obviously, some campaigns will be significantly more consensual and less confrontational than this and constructive dialogue may replace 'opposition'.

Even then, it is still vital to understand the position of the other side - this will allow you to find common ground.

5Keep your campaign going and follow it up Credibility for you and your campaign comes with consistent messages over a period of time (as long as they are backed up with evidence). You will rarely achieve anything if you launch a campaign in a blaze of publicity and then let it slip away.

A campaign to change the law might take years, so you need to be prepared for the long haul. You need to be aware of all the different events that will give you a chance to push your message - the preparation of briefings for different stages of a Bill, for example, or an announcement by another body on which you might be able to piggy-back.

Once you have achieved some of your sub-goals, or even your main one, you must keep up the pressure to ensure you don't lose what you have won.

Remember that if your 'opponents' are making money from the thing you are campaigning against, they will keep pushing long after you have stopped.

It may be difficult, because your resources will be limited, but you need to maintain political intelligence to ensure the things you have won are not chipped away over time.

6Do not be afraid of evaluation For smaller charities, spending precious resources on campaign evaluation can be a difficult decision, but it is possible to do worthwhile evaluation internally if resources make external evaluation impossible. Larger charities may find it useful to engage someone to conduct professional evaluation, particularly if there has been a high-profile media element to the campaign. On the political side, some of the largest charities have their work rated by parliamentarians by survey.

Work out if you have achieved your main goal and, if not, how many of your sub-goals you attained. Be positive but realistic. If your campaign set out to achieve political change, be brutally honest about your goals - excellent media coverage may have felt good, but did you actually achieve your policy goals? Remember that the best political lobbying - the one-to-one briefings and off-the-record chats - is difficult to evaluate but can also be the most successful.

Try not to do your evaluation in a vacuum. Talk to the people you worked with on the campaign to get their perspective and ensure lessons are learned.

Focus on what worked well and use that approach again.

7Ask for professional help As with all complex issues, there are experts who can help. But before you engage assistance from either legal, PR or lobbying professionals, do not be afraid to interrogate them on their proposed approach, experience and skill-set. Bills can rack up for activity you do not want if you haven't clearly agreed the scope and aims of their work in advance.

Sacha Deshmukh is a political campaigner with expertise in the legislative process and amending parliamentary Bills. He is currently a consultant at AS Biss & Co, having previously worked as director of parliamentary affairs at Stonewall.

Jonathan Lomax joined AS Biss in 2005 following three years heading public affairs for the Salvation Army. He has extensive experience of dealing with senior political figures, departmental officials and the media.


The Prostate Cancer Charter for Action was launched in 2003 by 22 leading charities and professional groups with an interest in tackling the disease.

The main objective of the coalition's lobbying campaign was to raise political awareness of prostate cancer with the intention of pushing the Government into action.

The charter was launched at a parliamentary reception attended by health minister Rosie Winterton. MPs were asked to speak out at the launch and record their own brief statements on the importance of tackling prostate cancer - in effect, to form the first ever 'Audio Day Motion'. The campaign secured video messages of support from Tony Blair, Michael Howard, Charles Kennedy and John Humphrys. Overall, more than 200 parliamentarians of various parties recorded their support for the campaign.

An Early Day Motion welcoming the charter was also tabled and was signed by more than 100 MPs. The launch received significant media coverage, including BBC Breakfast News, ITN and national press.

On the back of the political and media campaign, Winterton announced £100,000 of Department of Health funding for a pilot public awareness campaign. She also confirmed that the Government would work closely with the charter to take forward its other aims.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Follow us on:
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Google +

Latest Jobs

RSS Feed

Third Sector Insight

Sponsored webcasts, surveys and expert reports from Third Sector partners


Expert Hub

Insurance advice from Markel

Guide: What insurance does your charity need?

Guide: What insurance does your charity need?

Partner Content: Presented By Markel

Third Sector Logo

Get our bulletins. Read more articles. Join a growing community of Third Sector professionals

Register now