Policy, campaigns & research

Top tips for successful campaigns

Here are some tips from Jay Kennedy, DSC's Director of Policy and Research, on how to build a successful charity campaign.

The nature of charity campaigning can be as diverse as the charity sector itself. For example, there’s political campaigning, where you’re trying to influence ministers or MPs to change laws or policies, or awareness-raising campaigns where you’re trying to shift public attitudes, or even campaigns targeted at getting private companies to change their ways.

These efforts can be described as campaigning even though they all may differ depending on the target of the campaign and the charity carrying them out. The style of the organisation doing the work and the nature of what it is trying to achieve can have a big bearing on the campaign’s brand and the types of tactics used.

There are probably as many types of charity campaigns as there are charities! I explore these issues and more in DSC’s latest Speed Read on Campaigning. This short guide outlines the key skills and techniques that many people have which are useful for campaigning and is packed full of strategies, tactics, examples and even a few amusing anecdotes (I hope!) to help charity campaigns and campaigners to succeed.

The book gives more detail but here are some top tips that I’ve found to be effective:

1. Get organised

Campaigners often have a lot of passion and energy, and are fired up by injustice or the desire to improve people’s lives. They may have a lot of good ideas but be less interested in management and governance. The thing is, if you want to go far rather than just blazing out in a flash, it’s best to put systems in place from the beginning. This is especially true for charities, where the trustees are legally responsible for everything the organisation does. That doesn’t mean they need to sign off every detail, but you need to think carefully about who’s in charge, how decisions are made, and how trustees are informed. Make sure processes and accountabilities are clear. Make some plans and keep monitoring your progress, adapting them as conditions change.

2. Be creative

It’s easy to be outraged but I think the best campaigns which really catch the public’s attention involve creativity and even humour. This can take effort but equally it can also be fun! You might be working on very serious matters but that doesn’t mean you have to always be serious. Creative presentations even on serious subjects can grab the attention of your audience and help your message go viral. Campaigners have the freedom to juxtapose their creative messages against the bureaucratic and often antiquated procedures of politics, so take advantage of that. Satire is a centuries-old tradition which can help you skewer politicians’ duplicitous rhetoric and illogical decisions.

3. Communicate clearly

If your audience can’t understand what you’re talking about you’ll struggle to make any progress. Remember, you’re trying to get people’s attention and then convince them to support you or even to change their minds, so don’t speak a language they won’t understand. Dump the acronyms, insider jargon, and academic theory. Speak to your audience as if they’re normal people who don’t understand the million details and nuances of your issue (which is what they are!). This goes for communicating with politicians too. Figure out how to explain your cause and what you want to change in a few simple points, and then sense-check this with some people who aren’t familiar.

4. Persevere

A political advisor once said something that has always stuck with me: ‘perseverance is as important as being right’. Sometimes no matter the righteousness of your cause, the planets just haven’t yet aligned to provide the right conditions for change to happen. But the thing is, this can change overnight especially in politics, and if you give up too early, you’ll miss your window of opportunity! Even if things aren’t going your way and it feels like you’ve tried everything, try to stay in the conversation and keep alert for fresh opportunities. Few people or organisations can campaign 24/7 forever, so you may have to plan some periods to lower the intensity. But even then, be ready to reawaken your campaign if an opportunity suddenly arises.

5. Celebrate success

Lots of campaigns never achieve exactly what they wanted to in their campaign plan, and that’s ok. Having a plan is important because it helps get people organised and united around a common understanding and approach. But because campaigning is about creating change, it’s normal if the plan has to change along the way and if the change you eventually achieve looks different than what you first envisaged. You could even possibly achieve something greater than you imagined, or just a partial victory which is a stepping stone to more progress. In either case, it’s important to understand and celebrate your wins. This shows your supporters that their efforts made a difference, and keeps them motivated and wanting to continue to support you in the future.

For more tips, tricks and tactics about campaigning, packed into a short but punchy guide, get your copy of DSC’s Speed Read on Campaigning today!