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How to influence locally

It's easy to dismiss campaigning as a luxury, when voluntary organisations all over the country are facing increased demand on their services and increased pressures on funding and staff time. And sometimes it’s true that launching a big-scale attack is not the best strategy. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still motivate change. For some, campaigning and influencing might seem irrelevant, opaque or hopeless. But small charities can be successful influencers, and with a bit of know-how you can make a big difference.


Identify the issue

Firstly you need to identify the problem you are trying to solve and who it is a problem for. Be clear about why you are challenging the policy or local plans and evidence the impact it will have. Offer alternative solutions and be clear in what you are asking to happen.


Do your research

Small charities may not have a rolling programme of campaigns in the way a national charity might, but threats or opportunities can arise that necessitate a response.

Being aware of political developments will help. As a general rule, the earlier you act the easier it is to win changes. This does not mean paying for an extensive monitoring service. Local voluntary infrastructure organisations, otherwise known as CVSs, are often a good source of knowledge on what’s happening locally. Simply signing up to their newsletter can get you a monthly update straight to your inbox.

Short on time but still interested in what’s happening nationally? The NCVO’s policy team provides a short 5-minute policy manager blog every month to give you the headlines


Identify the decision makers

Who takes the decisions in this policy area? It may be that responsibility for an issue or service area has changed in recent years. For example, where you once dealt with the Local Authority, decision-making has now shifted to the local enterprise partnership or clinical commissioning group.

Knowing which public body or bodies are responsible will help you identify their wider priorities. It also ensures you’re talking to everyone who has decision-making powers on your issue and build strong relationships with those who have the power to affect change on your behalf.

Think beyond the usual suspects - who might the lead Councillor or commissioner be influenced by? They will be taking advice from their council officers, Cabinet members and wider partners. These are your stakeholders. Persuading them of your arguments will help build the case for change. Understanding how they interact with each other can help you to identify pressure points.



The old adage - “the early bird catches the worm” - couldn’t be truer for influencing. Opportunities for consultation and open dialogue often occur much earlier than the scheduled date for final decisions, when decision-makers are still in “thinking mode”, assessing the problem and seeking solutions.

You can make the most of each opportunity to influence by being aware of this timetable. Find out what stage of their thinking they’re at through existing contacts or new relationships with relevant departments and officials. By engaging early and consistently throughout the process your ideas can become rooted into the assessment of the issue and raise your profile as a serious and important stakeholder.



  • Supporters – your supporters can be your most valuable asset. Spending a little time equipping them to campaign can reap plentiful rewards. Think creatively of how they can support your message and become another voice for your issue. 
  • Local MP – building a good relationship with your local MP can be invaluable for smaller charities. MPs are usually keen to visit local organisations and can champion your cause, attracting media attention and raising your profile in the local community. 
  • Collaborate – are there other organisations who share your concerns? You can create a bigger impact by working together and pooling resources. Demonstrating unity on an issue can be a powerful argument in itself.
  • Media – some MPs and journalists now use Twitter and it can be a good way of engaging with them and raising awareness with a wider audience. Joint letters to newspapers are also a useful way to publicise your concerns. Learn more about getting your story covered by the local media
  • Pitching effectively – Who your target is should affect how you communicate with them. Councillors or senior decision-makers are often “big picture” thinkers and are more interested in the objective business case for your proposed solutions. The figures and rationale for your ideas will be as important as the impact it will have on improving people’s lives.

Council officers and planners on the other hand seek the details. Comprehensive briefings with supporting evidence and a focus on the relevant issues would be more appropriate in this instance. This helps them to assess how well your proposals will work operationally as a service or programme, and draw up robust plans for your vision.


Campaign success

Finally, it can be tempting for campaigners to enjoy the fight more than the victory. But offering a solution to the problem, presenting well-informed and rational arguments, and entering discussions in the spirit of partnership-working can be more effective to further your position and create the foundations for sustainable relationships with those in charge of funding and planning.

Remember, your objective is to achieve change for your beneficiaries, not to be seen to win.

Further information

Learn more about NCVO's work on local campaigning


Page last edited Aug 12, 2014 History

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