It’s party conference time. Many charities—including NPC—will be making the most of meetings and fringe events, using their latest campaigning plans to try and influence policy decisions now and in the future.
Which leads us onto two questions. How can charities know whether their campaigning is successful? And how can they start to measure the impact of this work with so little time and even less money?
My first answer to charities is always this: You have more data than you know—and your first priority should be to harness the potential of all the tacit knowledge your team possesses.
Experienced campaigners will understand how new policy develops, and make well-founded assumptions about how they expect policy to change. But if you never write any of this down, how are you ever going to test which were helpful and which weren’t? And how is this expertise going to be shared so organisations as a whole learn how you get an issue on the policy agenda?
Here are my six top tips for getting the learning started:
- Write down your strategy, and work out which bits you want to test.
Ask yourself key questions as you set the strategy: Who are you trying to influence and why? How are you expecting the change to happen—incrementally? Or suddenly, as a ‘policy window‘ opens that allows you to frame your issue in a favourable way? At NPC, we always recommend that you map out your theory of change ahead of a project or campaign. This does require some background knowledge, but doesn’t have to be very time consuming, and there are lots of free guides to help you. If you invest a bit of time up-front in this kind of planning, it will help you carry out measurement that is proportionate and helpful.
- Set up an activity and impact log from the start of your campaign.
This can be very basic. It should capture essential information such as the activities carried out and the feedback you have had on them. I often speak to charities who are surprised at how much you can do with a simple Excel sheet. Note down the quote every time a key contact tells you something important (was your conference event useful or challenging to them, for example?) and you’ll soon have a database helpful for both evaluation and communications work.
- Ensure you have a good CRM system, and use it.
Your work will be made much easier if you can systematically keep track of your key relationships. There is a lot of software that can help you manage your contacts, so choose something that can help you both plan and carry out your targeted lobbying, and which also allows you to note who you might return to for feedback later (companies such as Salesforce offer 10 free licenses for charities). For example, the software could help you easily keep track of which MPs have responded to your event invitations. Even if it’s just a polite no, this would be a ‘medium warm’ contact you might want to target in the future.
- Make time for regular de-briefings
A de-briefing session can be a couple of hours where your team discuss and note down what has worked and what hasn’t—whose minds have been changed as well as whose have not. It’s worth making time to sit and reflect: real-time evaluation can bring learning benefits in the short and long term which will make such an exercise worth it.
- Think about using your existing data.
If you are already collecting data—on how your issue is discussed on social media, for example—you should consider whether this relates to the outcomes you want to measure for your campaign. It may also be that, with just small tweaks, you can collect a bit of extra or new different information useful for your campaigning work.
- Ask what data other charities hold. A lot of big charities carry out regular collection of data on the topics they care about, from public surveys to accounts of meetings with policy-makers. If this data could be helpful for you, and use of it adheres to data protection regulations, it might be worth asking if they’ll share what they can with you. Other options include buying questions on existing surveys, such as nfpSynergy’s Charity Parliamentary Monitor.