NEWS ANALYSIS: Lobbying work brings charities front of mind

The lobbying work of the charity sector came under scrutiny last

week with the publication of a survey by think-tank The Future

Foundation. Chris Mahony examines the evidence.



Despite the frequent claim that Tony Blair's presidential style has

marginalised Parliament, getting MPs onside is still seen as a crucial

step in any lobbying campaign. Whether party leaders like it or not, MPs

retain the right to initiate and promote legislation, as well as the

potential to generate publicity through debates.



The Future Foundation research has found that lobbying efforts can bring

significant change in the prominence individual charities - and their

causes - enjoy in the minds of MPs.



When MPs were asked in July which charities had 'directly impressed'

them recently, their answers were very different from those given to the

same question in November 2000.



Macmillan Cancer Care was mentioned by twice as many MPs in July - 20

per cent - as eight months earlier. But the RSPCA, while mentioned by

fewer MPs than Macmillan (18 per cent), was an even more impressive

mover - improving its November 2000 showing of just five per cent by a

factor of nearly four.



Future head of not-for-profit Joe Saxton says some of the success

stories illustrate the value of having a central issue around which to

campaign.



In the RSPCA's case it was fox-hunting. Although the issue has been

high-profile since Labour's 1997 election victory, Saxton says it had

been in the news again before the second survey. That also explains the

League Against Cruel Sports' surge from four to nine per cent.



But the NSPCC topped both surveys. Although the 23 per cent rating in

July represented a fall from November's 26 per cent, Saxton says its

Full Stop campaign is an impressive example of how a charity can sustain

a long lobbying initiative without the focus of imminent

legislation.



'It is impressive that they've created a long campaign - with the goal

of ending child cruelty in a generation. Only a few organisations could

make that sort of campaign last and it takes huge resources and

commitment,' he says. 'The NSPCC adopted a new mission statement before

starting it so this is not lobbying as an add-on - it goes right to the

heart of what the organisation is about.'



Saxton suggests other campaigns, including some that did not make the

top ten but did well for their size, such as Amnesty International and

Friends of the Earth, were successful in linking their Westminster

lobbying to the activity of local campaigners.



This is also a tactic of Age Concern, fourth on the list moving from 14

to 17 per cent and with two parliamentary officers in its 17-strong

campaigns team.



Director of communications Neil Churchill says: 'Before the election

campaign we worked with the parties on their manifestos as well as

producing our own. In many constituencies, local groups organised

hustings.'



Saxton credits the charity with the announcement in last week's

pre-budget statement that pensions would increase by at least £100

a year in future, even in times of low inflation.



Homelessness charity Shelter saw its 'impressive contact' rating fall by

more than half (15 to seven per cent) between the two surveys but it

argues that this could simply reflect the success of the charity's work

last autumn around the Homelessness Bill now going through

Parliament.



Press officer Steve Ballinger says: 'We co-ordinate lobbying and media

work. For instance, we were concerned about reports that homeless

families could have their children taken into care under the

legislation.'



Shelter saw a feature run in The Observer on that theme three weeks ago,

while housing minister Lord Falconcer started his speech on the matter

during the House of Lords debate on the Bill.



For the NSPCC, it has been a rapid growth curve. A decade ago the

charity had no formal lobbying activity. Now it has two full-time

lobbyists and a team of officers shadowing government ministries.



A spokeswoman says the charity has embraced new technology in its

lobbying with mass e-mail campaigns and targeted lobbying to ensure

decision-makers are quickly informed of the body's views on any

development.



Other successful techniques include that followed by Macmillan of using

local groups to lobby on their behalf. The body has good links with MPs

in constituencies, despite not noticeably stepping up its Westminster

work this year - it has just one parliamentary officer in a comms team

of over 20.



A spokeswoman acknowledged that Macmillan's profile may have benefited

from the Government's prioritising improved cancer services in the

NHS.



Certainly, it is easy to imagine some of the more clone-like Labour

backbenchers genning up on the disease to show commitment.



Additional questions in the Future survey aiming to find out how charity

lobbyists can gain an MP's attention elicited fairly predictable

answers.



'What really annoys them are poor briefings, muddled objectives and

unco-ordinated approaches. They like groups to come with clear proposals

and points. Give them information they can use in debates - don't

overload them.'



The National Council for Voluntary Organisations is running a scheme for

charity officers and MPs to shadow each other for up to ten days - so

far 40 MPs have signed up.



As the UK's charitable sector shows, promoting this kind of mutual

understanding seems to be the key to successful lobbying.



TOP FIVE CHARITIES

The following charities were rated highly for their lobbying work,

having impressed MPs in the past six months:

NSPCC 26 to 23%

Macmillan Cancer Care 10 to 20%

RSPCA 5 to 18%

Age Concern 13 to 17 %

Oxfam 11 to 14%

The figures represent the percentage of MPs reporting being 'directly

impressed' by the lobbying of various charities between November 2000

and November 2001

Source: The Future Foundation



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