Working at a charity, we all want (and are expected) to get our organisation’s name out there. Brand recognition is something every team benefits from, whether you’re bringing money in or trying to gain support for your latest campaign. Crucially, it allows you to reach new audiences and do more for the people you are there to support.
However, there are times where it is necessary, albeit not always easy, to put an individual cause above your brand. Why? Because the fact is, sometimes, you can help more by not being the face of the campaign but, instead, taking a backseat and providing the platform and guidance to get an individual or groups voice heard. Importantly, in doing so, you can help achieve real change.
Handing over the microphone
We have been trying to do this more and more at Mencap. An example is our 2015 General election campaign, Hear my voice. The thrust of the campaign was for us to give people with a learning disability and their families the microphone, but not the script. We gave campaigners complete freedom to raise the issues that mattered to them (from benefits to bins), which weren’t always the issues that were priorities for us as an organisation. The result was a richer and more genuine form of engagement with local prospective MP’s. It also created a pool of more actively engaged campaigners who do not shy away from speaking their minds and holding decision makers to account.
We have also supported individuals or families petitions, lending our resources to help them get their message out there to as many people as possible in the hope of achieving the change they wanted to see. Whether it’s support with starting a petition, help navigating the press or bringing the right decision makers round a table. Importantly, we have seen lives transformed through these petitions; families reunited and long fought battles won. There is no greater feeling in a job than that.
The tricky bits
Campaigns truly fronted by individuals can gain the sort of large scale public, political and media support that most organisations dream of. But, if your organisation is in the background, you may not benefit directly from this. Convincing people that this is the right course of action can therefore be difficult; luckily, I’ve been very fortunate on this front.
The key is to step back and look at the bigger picture. What is your ultimate goal as an organisation? Is it your mission to bring about real and lasting change or is it to get more mentions of your organisation? Obviously, it’s great when you can do both, but this often isn’t the case.
Another challenge of this approach is deciding which causes you support in this manner. It is tricky! There will always be more causes that you could support than those that you can. Campaigns teams are often passion rich and capacity poor meaning you can’t help everyone, even though you wish you could. As a result, the sad fact is that there will always be a limit in how many people or groups you can help in this way. This makes deciding which causes to throw your support behind difficult, to say the least. Decisions will largely be reactive but it is also worthwhile having some form of protocol in place so you can explain your rationale, particularly for those who you are unable to support.
These challenges deserve serious consideration. However, I strongly believe that the benefits of handing over the microphone are worth the risks. This approach should be seen as an investment for the future. These are individuals and groups with shared aims and goals to your own, but who can say and do things differently. Although your organisation may miss out on the spotlight, they will ultimately be rewarded by the invigoration of grassroots activists and increased awareness amongst new audiences.
I am the Community Engagement Executive for CharityConnect; so chat to all you lovely charity people about our new community site. I am passionate about women’s rights, love documentaries and drink excessive amounts of tea!