Oxfam's Polar Bears protested in support of humans who are also losing their habitat and natural resources due to Climate Change at the UN Climate Change Conference on Thursday 6 December, 2007. Photo Ng Swan Ti.
Oxfam's Polar Bears protested in support of humans who are also losing their habitat and natural resources due to Climate Change at the UN Climate Change Conference on Thursday 6 December, 2007. Photo Ng Swan Ti.

Charity campaigning – where next?

Charity campaigners face challenging times. Fast-moving news cycles and the cacophony of social media make it increasingly difficult to be heard.

The impact of Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, Government cuts to UK aid and the decolonisation agenda have all presented new challenges. But with these also comes the opportunity to become more effective campaigners.

In our new report, Charity campaigning – where next? we look at the changing campaigning landscape and consider what steps charities can take to become more effective. We look in particular at the role the media can play in helping to connect campaigners with key audiences. The report concludes that charities need to be braver, more agile and less transactional in their campaigning.

In the war in Ukraine, UK charities have found their voice and have demonstrated that when they do connect with audiences, they can make a real difference. We need to build on that success and learn from past mistakes.

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After examining a number of charity campaigns in detail and talking to experts from inside and outside the charity sector, our report makes seven recommendations:

Be bold in your messaging

News cycles are fast-moving and social media is a noisy place for campaigners. Messaging needs to stand out to achieve cut-through. Save the Children successfully captured the media’s attention with its #stopthewaronchildren campaign, and when they later revealed that there were more than 60 British children trapped in northeast Syria, it generated widespread coverage.

Form new partnerships

Look for unusual partners and coalitions to work with andguide your campaigning strategy, so that you can reach audiences outside your usual supporter base. Plan UK’s collaboration with the grassroots group, Our Streets Now, for their Crime not Compliment campaign is a good example of this. Charities should also look at ways in which they can make their campaigning less top-down and more bottom-up. This is happening at Save the Children as Tom Baker, their Director of Campaigns and Organising, told us: “I think 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.”

Promote fresh faces

Big charities don’t need to be at the forefront of every campaign. Allowing celebrities or partners with lived experience to take centre stage can be an effective way to attract media attention. Plan’s Crime not Compliment campaign gave the media access to Gemma and Maya Tutton, the two young women who founded the Our Streets Now group.

Have clear campaign goals

Your campaign’s goals and how you expect them to be achieved should be both clear and tangible to your audience. Campaigns with single, achievable goals are more likely to succeed, like Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign and Shelter’s campaign to ban evictions at the height of the pandemic.

Support the decolonisation agenda

Don’t be left behind as the sector works to decolonise both its ways of working and its campaigning activities. The experiences and work of local actors should be at the forefront of any future campaigns. This will, of course, be challenging because charities need to take their supporters with them. Some older and more traditional audiences may not understand or empathise with the language of decolonisation.

Don’t neglect offline campaigning

Just as important as social media and digital campaigns. Big stunts and lobbying politicians capture the public’s attention and have the potential to bring about real change. At Cop26, Oxfam sent a band of bagpipe-playing big heads, representing world leaders, which they called the “hot air band”. This helped to reinforce the message that it was vital for world leaders to come up with actions, not just hot air, to tackle climate change.

Work with authentic celebrities

Audiences are looking for authenticity as well as celebrity campaigns that empower and celebrate people at the heart of the campaigning issue. The use of celebrities has come under sustained attack for reinforcing outdated stereotypes of lower-income countries and perpetuate the white saviour complex which portrays communities in these countries as in need of rescuing by white “saviours” from higher-income countries. This persistent criticism has led charities like Comic Relief to rethink their approach. The way that the ONE Campaign works with celebrities has changed too. Their #passthemic campaign, in which celebrities handed over their social media accounts to scientific experts to explain the urgent need for a global response to the pandemic, successfully demonstrated that celebrities can help charities to reach mainstream audiences.

We hope you find our Charity Campaigning – where next? report useful and, if this is the first time that you have come across the International Broadcasting Trust, do consider becoming members.

Charity Campaigning – where next? will be published on 26 April. If youwould like to attend the launch event please email [email protected]