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Take a break: five reasons why it makes no sense for charities to campaign during elections!

It’s general election season. The candidates are out on the stump, stuffing letter boxes and meeting voters. The election debates are on TV. The opinion polls are flying out. And many charities are also gearing up to campaign. And to me that makes no sense. I realise that I may be in a minority of one on this, but here are my five reasons


1. In election campaigns, politicians are in broadcast mode.  They want to tell you why they are the best candidate and find out if you will vote for them. They aren’t in listening mode, let alone about the details of some complicated policy. During elections, politicians think headlines and soundbites and tweets, not the small print of a charity’s campaigning wishes.


2. And their policies are dictated by the manifestos. Even if a candidate does want to stop and listen, they have no power to change anything. The manifestos are their tablets of stone, and what they campaign on. They aren’t going to go, and change their manifestos because of what some charity says, mid-election. That boat sailed many months, even years, earlier. So why campaign for the ear of a candidate about something over which they have no control.


3. Most candidates don’t get elected. Election law dictates that charities are impartial. You can’t or shouldn’t talk to just the candidates of one party. So only 1 in 3 at best, and 1 in 10 at worst of any candidate chat, is going to be with somebody who will be elected. It’s a bit like buying a product, knowing that most of them aren’t going to work. Don’t do it!


4. Nobody is in the Houses of Commons. Normally finding politicians is pretty easy. They are in Westminster, better still for predictable periods of time during the week, and during the year. Charities can make appointments, and the geography of campaigning and lobbying is a doddle. Come general elections just finding candidates is a wild goose chase. On top of that civil servants are in purdah, and not able to work on party-political policy issues, or appear impartial. Once the election is complete, things return to some form of normality. Just wait!


5. Laws on charities and campaigning during an election get complicated. Charities need to walk a tightrope when it comes to elections. They need to be impartial. They may  need to register as ‘non-party campaigners’. They need to document how much money they have spent on campaigning. They are in the scrutiny of another regulator (the Electoral Commission). Given all the previous challenges for election campaigning, why do it when the regulation is higher and the rewards lower. Madness!!


The irony of all this frenetic campaigning during an election is the end is predictable. It’s called election day. After that, it all returns to normal. Come the day after election, MPs are elected, life become more predictable, government starts its’ work. Politicians return to (some sort of) listening mode. That is when to restart campaigning.


So my advice for charities during elections is take a break. Have a kit-kat. And wait for more effective campaigning opportunities to return in a few short weeks.





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