Focus: Policy and Politics - How to get action from the Commons

Nathalie Thomas,

NfpSynergy provides advice on the best way to get MPs onside, writes Nathalie Thomas.

Practical advice for third sector organisations planning to lobby MPs has been issued by research consultancy nfpSynergy in time for the new parliamentary term.

The guide is aimed primarily at charities with limited experience of lobbying.

"Those who are new to lobbying often find themselves in at the deep end," explains author Karina Flatt.

NfpSynergy advises charities to be precise about what they want their campaigns to achieve. "You must be specific and focused about what the issues are and how you want MPs to take action," Flatt writes.

Timing of campaigns is also crucial, she says, and charities should keep a watchful eye on parliamentary schedules.

"While your lobbying may be an attempt to get certain issues on to the agenda in Parliament, it should work most concertedly the other way, whereby ongoing issues in Parliament are relevant to your campaigns," she adds.

MPs involved in the research advise charities to provide advance notice of major lobbying projects. Follow-up case studies after speeches on relevant legislation can also be effective, they say.

Westminster may be the obvious channel through which to contact MPs, but nfpSynergy says charities can sometimes get more success by taking the constituency route - a view echoed by Sophie Livingstone, head of policy at the Foyer Federation.

"You need to find routes to particular MPs," she advises. "This could be through the constituency."

The guide adds that using local supporters to lobby is also crucial.

However, charities should co-ordinate such support carefully and ensure it is 'organic', because some MPs warn that charities risk appearing "as if you are putting words into the mouths of your supporters".

NfpSynergy emphasises that, although pressure should be sustained, it should be direct, personal and aim to secure long- as well as short-term support.

"If MPs think the same mailout has been sent to a lot of MPs, they won't necessarily feel ownership of that correspondence," Flatt explains.

She suggests MPs are most amenable to concise correspondence by mail, and charities should consider in-cluding draft press releases to be used by MPs' staff.

Working in co-operation with other charities can be a powerful method, concludes Flatt, although she warns organisations not to put all their eggs into one basket.

However, Pete Moorey, parliamentary and campaigns officer at the NCVO, adds that lobbying is not the only option. "It is important not to look at lobbying as the only way to campaign," he says. "It is one element of a broader idea of what campaigning is."

The NCVO, which also offers a Good Campaigns Guide, will be holding a series of seminars for third-sector organisations on how to lobby and campaign at its annual political conference in December.

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