street protest

Campaigning in a tougher environment

By Cecilie Hestbaek 26 June 2014 2 minute read

Campaigning is often the best way to create lasting social change, with many charities battling to change behaviour or influence policy.

Time to Change, led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, for example, aims to address mental health stigma and improve policy practices to end discrimination. Or there’s Living Wage Foundation’s campaign to fight poverty by encouraging employers to pay staff wages calculated according to the cost of living in the UK.

Both are already having an impact: Time to Change has turned around a negative tendency in the public attitude towards people with mental illnesses and has registered a decrease in levels of reported discrimination, and the Living Wage Campaign has secured the backing of a number of politicians and hundreds of large employers.

But we must remember the context in which this is happening—one in which campaigning charities are being squeezed from all angles.

  • Firstly, the much-debated ‘Lobbying Act’ has now put a limit on how much charities can spend on campaigning before they have to register. Many charities fear that it will weaken civil society’s ability to campaign on the environmental and social issues we face; others say it won’t make much difference. Either way, charities will need to learn to navigate the new rules.
  • Secondly, the government has proposed changes to the judicial review process. Judicial review gives individuals and organisations the opportunity to hold public decision-makers to account and prevent abuses of power—but with the large administration fees the proposed change would impose on those who bring a claim, many fear that smaller charities will be effectively barred from using this tactic as part of their campaigning.
  • Thirdly, charities are operating in a changing political environment. Austerity increases the fight for resources, and for charities that deliver services, criticising government policy in a campaign can feel like biting the hand that feeds you. Furthermore, the current government’s devolvement policy is shifting power from central to local bodies, and many charities therefore need to adapt their strategies to a much more complex and decentralised power landscape.

All of this means that now, more than ever, the leaders and trustees charities need to be crystal clear around what they want to achieve with their campaigning, and how they expect change to happen.

On 14 July, NPC and Clothworkers’ Company are holding a seminar to explore what this means, with speakers—including Philippa Lowe from the Changing Minds campaign and Catherine Howarth from the Living Wage campaigndiscussing the roles and responsibilities of trustees in particular. Sign up now to join the debate, or leave your comment below—we’d love to get the conversation started.