Opinion: Third Voice - Campaigning should remain at our heart and soul

Jessica Morris is chair of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, named after the former director of the Consumers' Association, who died last year.

The British people gave politicians the thumbs-down on 5 May. But they are not the only ones who should be worried. How many in the voluntary sector can say they influenced the parties' manifestoes? And how many can demonstrate that they have public support? The point about the low turnout at the General Election is not simply that politicians are failing to strike a chord with the electorate, but that all of us disengage with people at our peril.

Most charities are involved in campaigning, advocacy, public affairs or media relations. Call it what you will - and we like to call it campaigning, in memory of a woman who was defined by the term - this is the business of changing attitudes, generating support and making a difference. Time-consuming and difficult, it can also be very rewarding.

By some measures, we live in a golden age for the sector. Never before have there been so many charities with such resources, sophistication and knowledge. But there is a growing chorus of people concerned that the increased strength of the sector is not translating into increased clout in the area that many would argue matters most of all - campaigning for long-term change.

Perhaps the rise in funding for service delivery has led us to a focus on that at the exclusion of campaigning. With government funding on the rise, perhaps we are nervous of criticising our funders - of biting the hand that feeds us. Or perhaps we've become so large that we're now more interested in how to run ourselves professionally than in what the people might think of our organisations and our views.

These days, everyone talks about stakeholders. For the sector, there is only one that really matters - the people we are there to help. How we influence their lives is what drives us, and what should also drive politicians. Both groups are in the business of representing people's concerns and of dreaming up solutions to the problems of those at the bottom of the ladder. But perhaps we are as guilty of failing to take people with us as those who put themselves up for election.

At the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, we want to encourage people to see campaigning as a worthwhile and invigorating pursuit. Thousands of people campaign tirelessly at a local level, often on tight budgets. The sector owes it to these people, and to the rest of the country, to put its heart and soul into changing society for the better.

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