Achieving Change Through The General Election

Just a few short weeks ago, we joined forces with our friends at Rally to bring over sixty amazing people from across the sector together to think about how we can maximise our impact through this general election.

Rishi somewhat scuppered our planned event by announcing an election months earlier than any of us expected, but we were lucky enough to have a host of incredible speakers sharing their insights so there was plenty of inspiration to focus our minds on how to use the first 100 days of a new government to ensure we can build power and bring about the change we so desperately need.

Here are our top five takeaways:

ONE: Be prepared

We know that there’s change coming, and while we don’t know exactly what that change will look like, we do know that our work with them will have only just begun – and we need to hit the ground running. Time and again we see responsive work generating the biggest impact, and the post-election period is no different. We need to make sure we are quick to establish what progress we’re looking for and to create the public mandate for that change.

Be ready to get your asks out as soon as the result is clear. Have your comms ready to go across email, social and all other channels, so that all you have to do when we know the result is hit send. If you’re the first in people’s inboxes they will be more likely to act with you and support your work.

Go through all manifestos and build your messaging for all scenarios. Polls have been wrong before, and you don’t want to be caught off guard. Think about how your tone and approach would change depending on which government you are campaigning under. If you’re writing the same message for each scenario, you probably need to revisit your approach.

TWO: Put your values first and involve people with lived experience in defining your asks 

We’ll be asking people to share their time, money and voice with us in the context of considerable political disengagement across the UK. If people are important to your theory of change, it is important to go back to basics and connect with them through your shared values.

Craft your story about what the next four years of government need to look like. Be clear on what it is that you stand for, and make sure you can articulate the role that people play in helping you deliver your vision for the world. Then communicate that with them, and provide an easy way for them to say they are with you.

Shape the discussion around these priorities, rather than react to others. Make sure you are ready to celebrate the policies that do align with your values and long term vision, and find ways to maximise their exposure across all key channels

This will let you to mobilise at scale in a challenging environment – and help you showcase the public mandate for change that will be key in bringing the new government on board.

This will be all the more effective if you involve affected communities in answering these questions. We heard amazing case studies from Give an X who are working with young people to design their campaigns, as well as JCWI and Freedom From Torture who always work with refugees and torture survivors to shape their campaigns. Doing this should not be lip service – it will help you build powerful campaigns that resonate and have integrity.

THREE: Understand your audience – and don’t be afraid to ask them to do something big 

Knowing who can help you achieve impact is vital. Make your campaign personal to them and understand their existing environments—both digital and physical. We saw a case study of this being delivered so brilliantly through the School Cuts campaign, where the focus on the primary school gate has been key to achieving impact.

Identify who is going to help you win. What cohort of people are engaged, interested and influential? Sometimes this is about driving action at scale and you want everyone on board, at other times, it is about specific groups of people who will do more with you and disrupt the status quo in different ways. Be clear on your angle and develop a strategy designed for these people.

Meet them where they are – whether that’s understanding the channels they use digitally or the physical spaces they’re already in, ensure that you are there too and offering opportunities to engage with your cause.

Make sure you have thought about ongoing journeys for the people you engage. What is their next step? What are the meaningful ways in which they can share their time, money and voice to help achieve your shared values? Then make it as easy as possible for them to do this.

FOUR: Work together

With a new government there will be new foundations to lay. We will be more effective if we do this together and draw on our individual strengths to build collective power rather than compete for time and space.

As Ewelina Kycia showed us through her amazing case study of campaigning ahead of and after the Polish election, this doesn’t necessarily mean working in coalition. It can instead be about tuning into the unique contribution that we can make to the movement, and putting our energy behind that.

What can this look like in practice? It’s about mapping the movement and understanding all of the players in our space. Recognising where we are best placed to contribute – and ensuring we’re uplifting the work of others. It is about attending and organising more events like ours, to ensure that we are sharing our learnings, building a collective understanding of best practice – and building our strength together.

FIVE: Diversify your channels and be clear on the role ads can play 

We all know that in order to reach our audiences effectively, we need to be where they are. And where they are is changing.

To ensure we’re still maximising our reach and opportunity to connect, we need to broaden the channels on which we are present and through which we are speaking to our audiences.

Aidan Hughes from Electica took us through an amazing case study from their work on the mayoral election, showcasing how smart ad strategies can ensure you hit your audiences with the right message at the right time.

Using geofencing around major hubs in the capital enabled them to target ads at commuters as they were using the TFL network, with messages showcasing Sadiq’s positive policies around fares. Thinking about the physical spaces we might want to target with digital ads to have impact in the first 100 days would be a very smart strategy.

Equally important is thinking about how we’re using paid search – it provides us with an opportunity to control the narrative, and as we try to create the space for progressive change in the first 100 days it should be a key part of our strategies.

While email remains a vital channel for effective digital mobilisation, it is important to explore other 1-1 channels out there. Despite being an old technology, much of the sector has not yet capitalised on the potential of SMS for building relationships, driving donations and increasing actions. It’s more contemporary sister WhatsApp is also unexplored territory for many in the sector but broadcast and channel functionalities provide a great opportunity for mobilising, as well as allowing for peer to peer organising that can help drive movements on the ground.

James Rees from Movement took us through some case studies of organisations using this technology to achieve significant impact, and we also saw how the School Cuts campaign used SMS really effectively to build movements at the school gates, using the technology to follow up with people who volunteered to display posters, organise leafleting or otherwise get involved. This approach meant they had sustained presence at school gates across the country and built an impactful movement that MPs couldn’t ignore, ultimately resulting in a commitment to £20+ billion for schools. They’re re-starting the campaign again this year, and SMS will remain a key channel.

There were so many more take homes from the day, but this feels like quite enough to be getting on with.

Our main learning is that it is so valuable to come together to build relationships, share space and improve our campaigning capabilities. However you feel about the general election it is clear that it won’t solve all of the problems that we want to address in this country or the wider world. Forward Action and Rally will be continuing to bring people together online, and in person – so let’s come together, build our power and make change happen!

UPDATE: Now that the election is all but over, we’re focusing on the first 100 days of Government. Download our free guide on what non-profits should be doing to make the most of this important moment. And as ever, if there’s anything you think we might be able to help you with please do get in touch with us.