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
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
'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
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
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
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
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
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
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
'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
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