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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Charities urged to ensure engagement with politicians is targeted

This news post is almost 2 years old

A new study found blanket communications were unpopular with MPs and councillors in Britain.

Charities should focus on one-to-one meetings with politicians in Britain, new research has warned, urging groups to avoid blanket mass emails. 

A new study for the Law Family Commission on Civil Society found that MPs and councillors across the UK prefer personalised communications from charities that are tailored to their areas of interest.

Civil servants and MPs who took part in the study also pointed to a lack of knowledge about how government works as a key area of improvement for charities trying to influence them.

Despite this, there is significant appetite among policymakers for a closer relationship with charities. 

Nearly six in 10 MPs (59 per cent) surveyed would like to see more engagement, while close to two-thirds (65 per cent) of councillors would like to see their local authority more engaged and 60 per cent of civil servants think the government should do more to engage with civil society.

The new report, carried out by Pro Bono Economics for the two-year Commission, titled A Shared Interest: The relationships between policymakers and charities, is the most comprehensive review of the social sector’s interactions with policymakers ever conducted.

Drawing on the findings of a survey of more than 700 councillors, MPs and civil servants, as well as interviews and a roundtable with policymakers, academics and charity figures, the report found a “good bedrock of mutual respect and appreciation” between charities and policymakers.

But it also identifies a number of areas where the relationships can be improved through changes in approach from both charities and policymakers.

The report says charities would benefit from improving their knowledge of how local and national policy making works, while noting that policymakers too should extend their understanding of the charity sector and the work it does.

The Commission makes a number of recommendations to help solve the challenges. These include the introduction of a civil service campaign across departments promoting greater take up of volunteering and secondments in the charity sector.

The report points to a number of prominent charity campaigns as ‘best practice’ examples that should be used in training to demonstrate effective, strategic communications. These include the Shelter-led campaign on the eviction ban, The Children’s Society campaigning on free school meals and the campaigning of medical charities such as the UK Acquired Brain Injury Forum.

Over half of civil servants (55 per cent) and more than seven in ten MPs (71 per cent) and councillors (74%) say that charities and community groups will be important to help the country level up, with strong agreement across political parties.

The survey found that a majority of MPs (61 per cent) believe the most important improvement charities could make to their communications is tailoring it to the MP’s area of work. 

The report found that MPs, councillors and civil servants have a high level of trust in charities to bring people together to address social issues in their communities.

But both civil servants and Conservative MPs and councillors are more sceptical about whether charities provide services reliably and on budget and about the accuracy of their evidence.

Helen Barnard, research and policy director at Pro Bono Economics, said: “This groundbreaking study of the relationships between policymakers and civil society in the UK has found a wealth of common ground and mutual respect. Every day, policymakers and charities on a local and national level interact in the shared interests of the communities they serve.

“But the study also shows that a stronger partnership is both possible and readily available. The levels of engagement between policymakers and charities and their experiences of these interactions vary considerably. There is clearly an appetite from many charities and policymakers for clearer and more collaborative relationships.

“This requires work from charities in improving their knowledge of policymaking and the way they campaign and communicate with policymakers. But it also requires better support and understanding from councils, MPs, Whitehall and charity funders who all help to shape the environment in which charities work.

“The Commission has made various recommendations that can help to build on the positive links already apparent throughout the country and harness the full potential of these relationships. A stronger partnership between civil society and policymakers means better policymaking, more vibrant communities and ultimately improvements to lives around the UK.”