Charity campaigners need to be bolder and braver
For IBT’s new report Charity campaigning – where next? Katie Tiffin talked to campaigners and social media experts about how charity campaigners can build on past successes and be more effective in the future.
Make Poverty History was a high point for charity campaigning. It mobilised thousands of people in the UK, including 225,000 demonstrators who marched in Edinburgh in the run up to the 2005 G8 summit. Although the campaign failed to eradicate poverty, leaders at the G8 made a series of important pledges, including increasing aid to Africa and writing off billions of pounds worth of debts.
Since then charity campaigners have struggled to capture the public’s attention on the same scale. A recent campaign by international development charities failed to persuade the government to maintain its commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income on UK aid. Crack the Crises, a campaign by a diverse coalition of organisations calling for G7 leaders to tackle Covid, injustice and climate change, also struggled to make an impact.
Despite these setbacks, other recent campaigns illustrate that campaigning can make a difference and the public is still receptive to charity campaigns. In 2020, a campaign publicly led by footballer Marcus Rashford and backed by a coalition of organisations forced the government to make a U-turn on its decision to stop providing free school meal vouchers to children during the summer holidays. There was an outpouring of public support for the campaign and thanks to the efforts of campaigners 1.3 million school children received free school meal vouchers. More recently, UK charities have responded quickly to the Ukraine crisis and found messages that resonate with the public.
Find the right message
Campaigns that present a clear and tangible goal, like the free school meals campaign, are more likely to succeed. A campaign by Shelter, one of the UK’s biggest housing charities, succeeded with its straightforward goal of pressuring the government to instate a complete ban on eviction proceedings so that renters would not become homeless during the pandemic.
During the pandemic the public have responded well to messages of unity that highlight the need for a collective solution to a common problem. The People’s Vaccine Alliance’s message that ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe’ has gained traction across a range of media outlets and led to over 13 million signatures on the campaign’s petition. Research by Climate Outreach, a charity specialising in public engagement on climate change, suggests that this type of messaging during the pandemic has led to a shift in public attitudes and is likely to work well for campaigns on other issues, particularly climate change.
Social and protest movements like Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion and #MeToo have shaken up the campaigning landscape. These bold and impactful movements have dominated the headlines, gained cut-through on social media and captured the public’s attention. Charity campaigners can learn a lot from what they have achieved. To stand out in this new campaigning landscape and achieve cut-through in a world of fast-moving news cycles and quickly changing social media trends charities need to be braver and less transactional in their campaigning.
Prioritise the decolonisation agenda
International development charities have faced criticism for campaign messaging and imagery that reinforces negative stereotypes of lower income countries. Although many charities have already started discussing the decolonisation agenda internally, there’s still much work to be done on this.
Going forward, charities should challenge themselves to ensure the principles of the decolonisation agenda are embedded in their campaigns. Time to Decolonise Aid, a report by Peace Direct, is a great resource for organisations and individuals wishing to decolonise their work.
On the surface, social media platforms seem like a simple way to potentially influence millions of people in just a few hours. But few campaigns achieve genuine cut-through on crowded social media platforms. To succeed, charity campaigners need to understand what kind of content works best for different platforms, choose the right platform to reach their target audience as well as adopt new platforms and approaches more quickly.
Charities have sometimes been slow to take up new platforms like Tik-Tok and test new strategies for improving reach and engagement on social media, such as working with micro-influencers. Charity campaigners can follow the examples of British Red Cross and Citizen’s Advice, two organisations using TikTok to connect with new audiences.
Our report Charity Campaigning – where next? will be published on April 26th. If you are not a member of IBT and would like to attend the launch event please email firstname.lastname@example.org.