Charity campaigning – a watershed moment
Earlier this week we published our new report Charity campaigning – where next? IBT Director Mark Galloway chaired the launch event and reflects on a fascinating discussion.
The consensus amongst our panel of experts was that charity campaigning is at a watershed moment. What worked in the past no longer works. We need to find new ways of making our voices heard and build new relationships with the media. Above all, we need to create the space for a wider range of voices.
‘We need to do things differently’ said Dylan Mathews, CEO of Peace Direct. His organisation has been a leading advocate of the decolonisation agenda, which has wide implications for established ways of campaigning. ‘Right now, the most important thing that we need to do is unlearn what we’ve done and challenge our assumptions’ he told us.
‘Be bold, be brave, take risks’
Katie Tiffin, the report’s author, was clear on the way ahead. ‘Be bold, be brave, take risks, be more outspoken’ she said. Her recommendations suggested new ways of campaigning were essential – new partnerships, new faces fronting campaigns, a less top-down approach, embracing the decolonisation agenda.
The panellists concurred. ‘We always should be bolder and braver’ said Tom Baker, Director of Campaigns and Organising at Save the Children. Tom witnessed the successful Make Poverty History campaign but he said it was time to move on. So much has changed. ‘Much of our campaigning success has been built at a time when mobilising through centralised messaging has been the way that we have been able to deliver change.’ That old model of campaigning no longer works. Tom noted that change is now being achieved through organising, investing in relationships, building power and the capacity of others to take action. ‘We need to think about what a decentralised model of campaigning might look like.’
At Save the Children, they are trying to move towards a very different approach to campaigning. ‘We want to place children’s voices much more at the heart of both how we choose what we campaign on and how we shape our campaigns’ he said. But for a large organisation like Save the Children this is challenging, because it means giving away power and diluting the brand. ‘These aren’t things that come easily to our organisations and we should be honest about that.’
Narrowing of the campaigning space
Steph Draper, Chief Executive of Bond, reminded us that the campaigning space has become much narrower as a result of the Lobbying Act, the Police Bill and other restrictions. And the culture wars have become so much more overt. ‘This is difficult to navigate because our traditional response of opposing things is playing right into the strategies of divisiveness.’ Steph observes that Bond’s members are trying to become much more agile, place lived experience at the forefront of their campaigns and work more collaboratively. ‘We need to be able to show that we are making a difference so positive messaging about progress is critically important’ she added.
For Dylan, the decolonising agenda is ‘a watershed moment’ both for his organisation and for the sector as a whole. But he worries that a kind of paralysis has set in. Organisations are afraid of taking the first step because they don’t want to make a misstep. ‘When we’re talking about international issues we need to be brave enough to take ourselves out of the equation’ he told us. ‘And yet I’m not convinced that many INGOs see it that way.’ Many organisations do great work, but his view is that ‘problematic stereotypes’ still abound.
‘Eradicating poverty’ is the wrong message for our times
In answer to a question from Paddy Coulter from Oxford Global Media, Steph said that we had moved on from the ‘eradicate poverty’ message. This no longer worked for a number of reasons. ‘People are a bit tired of the bold ambition that is not necessarily realised’ she told us. It also goes against the decolonisation narrative as it promotes the idea that we in the west – through aid and charity – can determine events in the global south.
Claire Seaward, Campaigns Director at WaterAid, told us that they wanted to change their top-down approach to campaigning, but finding the way ahead was challenging. Dylan spoke about how his own organisation, Peace Direct, is working with peace campaigners by letting them determine the agenda and craft the messages – and providing them with the resources to do so. His vision is for a future where such campaigns are genuinely locally-led with INGOs being the support rather than the lead act.
In conclusion, Steph reminded us that ‘a lot of the change that we want to see is about system change’ rather than one off campaign wins – and we mustn’t lose sight of the need to build support for fundamental change.
Mark Galloway is Executive Director of IBT
Read the report here.
Watch the panel debate here.