People Management: Good campaigners are like gold dust

Lack of training and greater demand have created a skills gap. Indira Das-Gupta reports.

You would be forgiven for thinking that campaigning comes naturally to people who work in charities, but nothing could be further from the truth, according to voluntary sector experts.

The reality is that the ability to campaign effectively is a skill that has to be learned and is in short supply in the sector, says Blake Lee-Harwood, campaigns director at Greenpeace. The shortage has worsened since regulations were relaxed and more charities are campaigning, he adds.

"We have massive problems trying to recruit campaigners," Lee-Harwood explains. "We only manage to recruit at a junior level on the grounds of personality and values, and then train people up. Nearly all the training is on the job and it's almost unheard these days to recruit a honed and effective campaigner."

One problem is a lack of training opportunities for would-be campaigners.

The NCVO has responded to fears of a skill shortage by producing The Good Campaigns Guide: Campaigning For Impact, which will be published in early March.

Another company trying to fill the gap is Epolitix, which covers campaigning in its Westminster Explained course. Robin Hutchinson, managing director of the firm that owns Epolitix, says: "Although there has been a huge rise in advocacy work in the sector, there's very little appropriate training beyond standard media and political training.

"What's amazing is that the sector runs some of the most effective campaigns, but while a handful of people are terribly good at it, there are some who wouldn't even know where to start."

However, Meena Varma, deputy chief executive of the Directory for Social Change, which runs annual masterclasses in campaigning, feels this is an over-negative assessment. "There are some good campaigners out there, you just need to find them," she says. "Sometimes a charity will reject someone who has good campaigning experience because they haven't dealt with the specific issues that affect the organisation. There's not enough recognition of transferable skills and this is a mindset that needs to change. People can always learn about the issues once they have joined."

MPs and members of the House of Lords, at whom many campaigns are targeted, decided that Macmillan Cancer Relief ran the most successful campaign in the Epolitix Charity Champion awards last year. But what makes a successful campaigner?

"A good campaigner should be able to make sense of complex policy decisions, have good presentation skills and the ability to be articulate, both verbally and on paper," says Lee-Harwood. "There are some tremendous policy heads out there who are terrible public speakers and vice versa. It's hard to find someone who embodies both."

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