Wonder why your charity’s campaign hasn’t worked? Susan Smith examines the six elements you need for a successful campaign
“Big charities can be the death knell of a good campaign,” someone who works for a major Scottish charity said at a recent event. It was after hearing Hillsborough Family Support Group chair Margaret Aspinall speak about why she has dedicated 28 years to getting justice for the victims of the football stadium disaster. At the same event, Friends of the Earth England’s head of campaigns, Andrew Pendleton, said that campaigners often leave a trail of disaster in their wake. A charity, he said, has to be brave to back single-minded campaigners.
It often feels like charities fail where individual campaigners like Aspinall succeed. Some say charity campaigns are too polite, too fearful of upsetting government or partners, or they simply miss the point – asking for something that doesn’t really make a difference to people’s lives.
The truth is there have been some fantastic campaigns run by charities in Scotland and across the UK over the last decade or so. The Equality Network, Stonewall, LGBT Youth Scotland and the Scottish Youth Parliament campaigned vigorously and successfully for equal marriage before a bill was presented to the Scottish Parliament in 2013. Stop Climate Chaos Scotland is made up of a coalition of charities and civil society organisations and helped shape Scotland’s 2009 world leading climate change laws. MND Scotland raised £450,000 from the ice-bucket challenge in 2014.
This article looks at the six elements that make up a great charity-run campaign to help ensure your next campaign is a winner.
1. Be passionate
People have to be motivated to take action. Unfortunately, that’s often because something bad has happened to them. Charities, however, sometimes campaign because they think they ought to. They spend hundreds of pounds on beautifully designed graphics, T-shirts and photo-shoots, but because they’ve not actually experienced the injustice themselves, they struggle to persuade others to care.
The Hillsborough Family Support Group is a key example of the importance of passion. The families of the 96 people who died came together to campaign for justice after their family members were blamed for their own death. Margaret Aspinall knew her 18-year-old son James wasn’t the drunken lout the media and establishment were saying he was. She remained angry for 28 years after his death until 2016, when a second inquest into the incident laid the blame firmly with South Yorkshire Police and Ambulance Service. All Scottish charities were set up by passionate people with the urge to overcome an injustice, so it shouldn’t be hard to muster enthusiasm for social change.
Top tip: If your charity feels like it’s campaigning just for the sake of it, talk to service users and their families. Find out what injustices they face and whether the charity can help them change that.
2. Have a clear vision and ambition
Charities often get confused about what they want to achieve. They say they want to campaign on climate change but aren’t clear about how to do that. They would be better campaigning for something more specific, such as better sustainable transport options, renewable energy solutions, the scrapping of unnecessary supermarket packaging, buying local and so on.
The See Me campaign, run by SAMH and the Mental Health Foundation, is a great example of an organisation with a clear vision and ambition. It was set up to challenge stigma towards those with mental health problems. It began by challenging the use of discriminatory language in the media, and continues today, with a budget of around £1.5 million a year, to run specific campaigns aimed at key groups. Its latest campaign targets young people with the simple message that it’s okay not to be okay.
Top tip: Make sure it’s obvious from you campaign name what you’re trying to achieve. Think Stop Climate Chaos.
3.Make sure people know what they have to do
In 2011, the Pears Foundation set up a £1.7m campaign called Give More in a bid to tap into the Big Society idea, where the public would step up to support each other following the recession and through the subsequent austerity period. It asked people to sign a pledge to give more – it could be time or money – and post it on social media. A stark evaluation of the campaign two years later found it failed on multiple levels, not least in its aim to get 500,000 people making pledges. In fact just 50,000 pledges were signed at a cost of £35 each. There was no way of knowing whether any of these people actually gave more. Give More failed because people didn’t know what they were supposed to do or who they were supposed to do it for.
In comparison, the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) launched Giving Tuesday in the UK in 2014 on the back of an already successful. Giving Tuesday is the November Tuesday directly after Black Friday and Cyber Monday. CAF works with its existing charity partners, such as Cancer Research UK, to get them to make the ask. It’s clear what you have to do: give money (or volunteering time) to a particular charity on this particular day (see Project Scotland’s Paul Reddich above). On Tuesday, 29 November 2016 PayPal offered a global matching campaign for donations – in the UK this equated to an additional £1 for every £10 donated via PayPal. Globally, PayPal broke the Guinness World Record for the most amount of money donated online to charity in 24 hours – $48m globally. Virgin Money Giving saw donations up 92% on same day in the previous year.
Top tip: help your supporters back your campaign with easy asks, such as signing a petition or sharing an infographic. Followed that up with more challenging asks, such as promoting the campaign on social media, giving money, writing to a politician or joining a demonstration.
4. Be creative
There’s nothing duller than a line-up of politicians and charity staff members in front of the Scottish Parliament. Bringing a bit of creativity to Holyrood with props such as inflatable elephants or well-designed placards can help get a picture in a newspaper, but if you want the public to notice, you’re going to need to do a bit more. Creativity doesn’t have to be expensive though.
In 2014 the British Red Cross wanted to take advantage of the Commonwealth Games buzz to persuade more Glaswegians to get first aid training. It had a £134,000 budget for an advertising campaign, which was mostly going towards paying for outdoor and transport advertising including, bus interior and exterior adverts, underground and station adverts, digital boards and roadside adverts. It wanted the campaign to have a strong visual identity and humour at its heart so it used the Duke of Wellington statue in Glasgow, with the ever-present traffic cone on his head, faced with a number of first aid scenarios. “Banged yer heid? Nae bother, learn first aid” had the Duke with a pack of peas on his head, with his traffic cone under his arm. “Burnt yer hand? Nae bother, learn first aid” had the Duke with his hand in a pint of cold beer, to cool a burn. These proved to be highly successful and instantly recognisable with the people of Glasgow and beyond.
Top tip: you’ll be surprised by how creative people in your team can be, but if you’re really small and struggling, consider approaching creative agencies for pro bono work. Edinburgh and Glasgow are full of really strong creative agencies, many of which are happy to take on a project for a good cause.
5.Put heart and humanity at the centre
Campaigning is about changing lives for the better – that’s people’s lives (and sometimes animal lives). Good campaigns are not about digital technology or social media. Campaigns that revolve around creative rather than people will fail. There’s no point in producing beautiful infographics if they don’t touch people’s hearts.
In 2011, the Scottish Refugee Council wanted to celebrate and stress the importance of the 60th anniversary of the UN Refguee Convention. It got refugees to Scotland to work with the Media Coop to make a powerful short film that highlighted the similarities between the plight of refugees 60 years ago and today. When the voices of Rosa Sacharin, an elderly Jewish lady who came to Scotland as a child refugee during the Second World War, and Christian Kasabandi, a young man who came to Scotland as a child refugee from war-torn Congo, merge into the same story, it is an emotional reminder of the importance of Britain continuing to welcome refugees. The video was used again in 2016, on the 65th anniversary of the convention, and continues to be relevant today.
Top tip: put the people who are experiencing the injustice you’re trying to overcome central to your campaign. It’s their story, let them tell it.
6. Make sure you’ve got lots of partners
Many of Scotland’s most successful campaigns of recent years have been done in partnership, remember the Equal Marriage campaign, which was supported by a range of LGBT and equalities organisations. The truth is, change happens when there is a swell of public opinion backing it – politicians are only motivated to make a change when they know lots of people care about it. If your charity has done everything else right but hasn’t found anyone else to support your cause, then the campaign is likely to fail.
WWF runs Earth Hour, the world’s largest demonstration of support for action on climate change. In 2015, millions around the world across 178 countries came together to show support for Earth Hour, and it enjoyed celebrity backing from the likes of tennis ace Andy Murray. In Scotland in 2016, 115 landmarks, including the Kelpies, Edinburgh Castle, Glasgow Cathedral and Clickimin Broch were involved. It was also supported by 25 public bodies, 32 local authorities and 1,000 schools.
Top tip: create a list of potential partners to get involved in your campaign before, during and after its launch. The list should include your staff, board members, celebrities and patrons, other charities with similar aims, your volunteers, supportive politicians and businesses.