The general election series: Goal 1 – Using digital to build your base

The UK general election will be a huge opportunity for charities and campaigning organisations. So how can you make the most of it?

In our February webinar, Forward Action’s CEO, Berry Cochrane, and Strategy Director, Helen Hector, explored how you can use digital mobilisation and organising to rally support and build a mandate for policy change under the next government (watch the replay here).

Whether you’ve registered for ‘non-party campaigning’ in the build-up to the election, or just want to hit the ground running once it’s over – now’s the time to get planning.

This is the first blog in an info-packed four-part series sharing the strategies, tools and tactics covered in the webinar. We’ll look at four key goals partners have told us they’re focusing on:

So grab a cuppa, get comfortable, and let’s get started…

What’s the opportunity?

Whatever your cause, almost all campaigning organisations are looking to change government policy.

But our current government has refused to budge on huge issues – from the Rwanda policy to taxes on energy companies – even in the face of unprecedented public pressure. The election is a chance to change that.

Right now, Labour is projected to win by a landslide (although, of course, that’s not guaranteed). We need to make sure they have a public mandate to drive the change we want to see.

A general election gives us an opportunity to:

  • make change happen faster – parties want to win votes, so they’re more focused on what people think. This means campaigning at scale can really drive change.
  • create a focal point for action – a deadline motivates people to act, and they have a clear role: vote for what you want to see and get others to do the same.
  • change people’s attitudes – the run-up to an election provides a heightened moment of conversation, creating the space to influence opinions on key issues.

So, let’s look at how digital can help you maximise your impact…

Building your base

Signing up lots of people who are ready to take meaningful action is the foundation you need to achieve all your other goals.

It’s about both building a movement for change ahead of the election, and making sure you’re ready to go as soon as the new government is in place.

The best approach to building your base combines mobilising and organising approaches to maximise the reach of your asks, and includes these four key elements:

1. Clear theory of change

Develop a movement story drawn from your strategy.

It should give people a really tangible role to play in achieving your goal, and explain how you’ll make change happen together.

If you use this story as the basis for all your communications, people will be more likely to join in.

2. The right tech

Make sure you have clean UX and clear journeys that make it easy for people to take action with you. The smoother the process, the better the results you’ll see.

A/B test to find the right proposition and optimise your UX, and keep testing so you’re learning and improving all the time.

Once you’ve got the essentials right to recruit supporters, work out what tech you need to maximise your organising power and empower your volunteers. For example:

  • WhatsApp and Slack can be really useful ways of communicating.
  • You can use peer-to-peer texting and phone banks to mobilise people around hustings.
  • Webinars are great for onboarding, and you can use Zoom calls and virtual lobbying events to engage supporters and build your volunteer base.
  • Tools like Movement can enable volunteer groups to manage their own communications across email, WhatsApp, SMS, calling and more. (NEU used it very effectively to mobilise around a recent teachers strike – and they won!)

3. Easy entry point

Simple, accessible actions are key to growing your list. We’ve found that classic digital mobilisation tactics such as petitions, open letters, handraisers and quizzes that appeal to people’s values can bring in people at scale.

The easiest entry point for people is the one that resonates most. So it’s all about making the right ask at the right time.

When you’re deciding on tactics, channels and messaging, make sure you’re meeting people where they are and drive action from there. Work out who you’re trying to reach and which spaces they’re most active in. Then think about what content cuts through in these places. Reach out to influencers who share your values too.

Once you’ve recruited supporters, you’ll need a strong programme of weekly (or more) emails full of varied, meaningful actions to keep them engaged.

4. Bigger asks

During an election period the campaigning culture changes. With political parties asking people to canvas for them, people are more ready to do something big.

What’s more, the election provides a compelling proposition to motivate volunteers and reach out to new audiences. So don’t be scared of asking people to step up.

Here’s a great example from Greenpeace…

Case study: Greenpeace’s Project Climate Vote

This campaign from Greenpeace aims to mobilise volunteers to bring out the climate vote.

Their theory of change is very clear: get a million voters to commit to prioritise climate change to show political parties the issue is a vote winner. They also give supporters tangible roles: pledge to be a climate voter (sign up), tell others (share) and help recruit more people (volunteer).

Greenpeace are using their email list and content on social media (like this and this) to put the word out, and offering Zoom welcome calls to brief new supporters. And local volunteer teams are organising days of action.

It’s working: when a recent byelection was held in Bristol, Climate Vote volunteers knocked on over 1,000 doors, according to a Greenpeace social post.

On a smaller scale, there are lots of other ways you can engage volunteers in specific asks, for example:

  • Build networks of people ready to act at key moments. HopeNotHate has launched a rapid response WhatsApp group, while UNICEF has created a broadcast channel on Instagram.
  • Ask people to create and share content about your key issues, acting as ambassadors to help get your message out. By creating toolkits, you can help them do this easily and with confidence.
  • Create a group who are ready to be disruptive on social media, priming them to act fast at key responsive moments.
  • Use phone banking to call people and ask them to act or give to your cause.
  • Engage volunteers locally through the Nextdoor app. Explore using this platform to enable people to organise campaigning in their area.

Case study: Planned Parenthood

The easiest entry point for people is the one that resonates most. It’s all about making the right ask at the right time, and here’s a great example of Planned Parenthood working with the agency M+R to do just that. 

Ahead of the Supreme Court vote on abortion rights, they needed to mobilise volunteers quickly. But using a two-step model of recruiting people through a petition and then convincing them to give their time was costing $300 a volunteer. 

So, they tested direct-to-volunteer asks – and brought the cost down to $6.60

An incredible result, which was also driven by the presence of the issue in the national conversation, and the fact that the need was so tangible and urgent. 

The lesson? Don’t be afraid of inviting people to step up. You need to make big asks when you have a battle on your hands – and people who care will be ready and willing to get involved.

Next: Read blog 2 – Using digital to raise the profile of your cause >>

Get in touch

These are some of the key digital strategies, tools and tactics we think can help you achieve your goals around the general election.

We’re already working with partners right now to make this happen for them, and we can help you work out what to prioritise, and how much time and budget you might need.

So if you’re keen to hear more about anything, do reach out for a chat.


During our live webinar, we had loads of insightful questions about developing your strategy and building your base during a general election. Here’s a quick overview of answers from Forward Action’s CEO, Berry Cochrane, and Strategy Director, Helen Hector.

Q: Given that we don’t know the date of the election, how would you suggest we create supporter mobilisation strategies to factor this in?

Berry: We know the window for a spring election is closing fast, and it will need to be called by 26 March at the latest. Lots of organisations are planning for both spring and autumn election scenarios, knowing their activities may need to differ in both scale and remit. We suggest focusing on what you can control, keeping core goals front of mind and being ready to flex on the tactics you use to hit them.

Q: When you’re building up your base, where’s the balance between targeting people who look like your existing audience versus trying to diversify?

Berry: It comes back to working out what your organisational strategy is and where your priorities lie. My feeling is that if we aim to reach out to people that we’re not already speaking to, we’re going to build stronger bases. If our base is made up of the expected people only, then we’re really limiting our reach and impact. So, a combination of the two is always really valuable.

But have appropriate targets and metrics you’re following, and KPIs you’re setting to measure success. You’re obviously much more likely to be able to bring in people that are more immediately aligned with your organisation for less money at a bigger scale. So when you’re trying to reach new audiences, set different kinds of benchmarks and different ways of assessing how you’re achieving your goals.

Q: What is virtual lobbying and how do you do it?

Berry: We were talking about local hustings that are happening online, and coaching volunteers to feel confident in asking questions and engaging with their representatives. So that means mapping where those events are happening, then going out to your list to find people who are willing to join them, then supporting them to prepare. It’s very similar to working with someone who’s going to meet their MP, but it just means that they can do it in an online space, which makes for a bigger opportunity for participation.