Mirella von Lindenfels: Local charities will have their day in the run-up to the 2010 election

They can have a big impact at constituency level, says the director of Communications Inc

Mirella von Lindenfels
Mirella von Lindenfels

It's election time, and many charities have stepped up their communications in the hope of making their causes 'election issues' and gaining coverage for them.

One such organisation is Oxfam, which is running an advertisement that says: "You're right. People dying thanks to climate change is a long way off. About 5,000 miles, give or take."

It goes on to say that the Government can help secure a climate deal to tackle this, and that I can help to make it an election issue.

In my case, the advert is preaching to the converted. But even so, my reaction is: "Yes, I know; no it probably can't; and I doubt it."

To the unconverted - the majority of people who might see the advert on the London Underground - the reaction is likely to be rather less positive. If you don't already know about the impact of climate change in the southern hemisphere, this one sentence isn't going to convince you. Yet it relies on that knowledge and engagement to get you to expend your election capital accordingly.

I fear this kind of approach won't make much difference in this environment at this time, and I wonder if Oxfam might have done better by saving its money for a better time or a more appropriately targeted advert.

The advert does work better on the Oxfam website, where visitors can email their concerns to the party leaders and make donations.

But I still suspect that groups with more obviously domestic concerns are more likely to gain support during the 2010 election. It's an opportunity for smaller organisations to have a big impact by harnessing their resources and being highly targeted in what they do, particularly at a constituency level, where they can produce greater movement with less pressure. But that means communicating with people in appropriate ways about relevant matters and through relevant channels.

Smaller organisations are often prevented by their lack of resources from advertising or running mass mobilisation campaigns, but as the election approaches they have the opportunity to achieve a much greater impact by being highly focused on local dynamics.

This means identifying what aspect of their causes will resonate with the immediate electorate, developing a way of communicating that is appropriate for who they are and what they believe and deciding where best to focus that support to leverage the greatest change.

The more targeted and focused you can be, the more effective the result - it's a lesson the ad buyers sometimes need to remember.

- Mirella von Lindenfels is director of Communications Inc

FACT FILE - The general election

This year's general election will take place on 6 May.

The NCVO, the Institute of Fundraising and Age UK are among the voluntary sector organisations to have published election manifestos.

Several prominent campaigners from the voluntary sector, including ChildLine founder Esther Rantzen, are standing for election.

Charity Commission guidance says candidates from charities must declare whether they are standing so that trustees can decide if there is a conflict of interest.

Oliver Letwin, author of the Tories' election manifesto, said earlier this year that some charities put too much effort into campaigning.

Labour says campaigning is a valuable role for the sector. The Lib Dems say that it enhances the political process.

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