Have you ever contacted your local MP and wondered why you never got a formal reply? It might be worth checking that you didn’t accidentally make one of the three simple mistakes listed below. They’re very easy to make – especially if you’re in a rush or a rage; and the world of public affairs is notoriously difficult to navigate, if you’re new to it.
1: Have you sent your request in the right way, to the right person and to the right address? A good place to start if you’re looking for an MP is the www.parliament.uk/website. If you put in your home postcode, then your constituency and MPs details will come up. The best way of contacting your local MP is by letter (almost always the House of Commons rather than the constituency address). If you need some help, you can always call the House of Commons Information Office on 020 7219 4272.
2: Have you double-checked that the MP can do what you’re asking him/her to do? An MP (without ministerial responsibilities) can do various things to help you move your issue forward:
- Write a letter to the relevant department or official
- Write to the Minister involved
- Have a meeting with the right Minister
Public – parlimentary actions
- ask an oral question at Question Time
- put forward an early day motion
- ask to lead a debate in the House of Commons
- raise an issue in the Adjournment debate
- put forward a Private Members Bill
If you’ve contacted an MP with ministerial responsibilities (eg parliamentary private secretaries or Secretary of States) s/he can’t question Government policy through Parliament (eg ask questions). Opposition spokespeople may also be restricted by internal party rules.
3: Is parliament in recess? This could be slowing the response time. Parliament doesn’t sit all year round. During recess, MPs can carry out their other duties. The recess calendar is not set in stone – it changes; and it’s normally slightly different for the two Houses (Commons/Lords). Again the parliament.uk website details recess dates.
Please do add a comment. I’d be interested to hear if other people have come across simple, practical reasons as to why their MP letters didn’t get a formal response.
Excellent article by Ekow Eshun on the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei on how to use simple participatory art movement campaign tactics to reach out and connect with “real” people affected by “real” social issues.
- Have a provocative key message. In Ai Weiwei’s Sichuan campaign the allegation was that 1000s of children had died needlessly because of shoddy, building work fuelled by corruption.
- Organise people to get to real people with real lives affected by real social issues. In the Sichuan campaign 200 volunteers went door-to-door to collect information and record the bereaved families’ stories about the children they’d lost.
- Share these stories on blog posts quickly.
Is it art? I think it is because it’s making people see the world differently, making them aware of something that they perhaps hadn’t seen before. Look through the prism at a different angle. Change starts with a change in perception.
“This investigation [Sichuan campaign] will be remembered for generations as the first civil rights activity in China. It directly affects people’s feelings and their living conditions, their freedom and how they look at the world. To me, that is art.” (Ai Weiwei)
When you first start writing blogs it can be difficult to know where to begin. Here’s a few questions to ask yourself to get yourself started.
Who’s your audience? Be as specific as possible. What issues have they got? How can you help them?
What are you going to put in the blog?
- Tips around your business?
- Answers to frequently asked questions?
- A success story about someone you’ve helped?
- Personal stories eg why you got interested in doing what you’re doing?
- Lists: Do you have one you can share?
What tone are you going to use? A supportive, encouraging, friendly and open one tends to work best eg:
- invite feedback
- promote a conversation/discussion
- engage others in talking about your area of expertise
- offer to answer their questions online
- have a clear ask at the end for feedback and
- canvass people’s opinion
It’s probably best to avoid shouting out your opinions, being closed so that people feel scared to share and being overly-controlling.
Why bother with blogs? They help people understand what you do; raise your expert status; add value to your brand (as they can be put on other social networking sites like LinkedIn and Twitter); and they heighten your online presence (search engines love blogs).
A big thank you to
for helping me understand what I’ve shared with you today.
Charities can get a lot out of going to local, face-to-face (F2F) business networking events; and yet – it seems to me – that very few do so on a regular basis.
Let’s look at the benefits:
- Raising awareness of what your charity does.
- Building a stronger profile in your local community.
- Promoting your brand to people who are interested to know more.
- Expanding your volunteer base so that your charity can keep running its services.
- Increasing fund-raising, sales leads.
Some advice for budding charity business networkers*
- Don’t think about it as just money – sponsorship means more than money.
- Ask for practical support: volunteer marshalls on a sponsored walk eg
- Believe that people want an opportunity to get to know the charity well (what it does, who and how it helps people).
- View it as a chance to build lasting, sustainable relationships – not just a one-off event.
- Go with some specific stories up your sleeve about how businesses can benefit by working with you eg how it has helped in team building.
And a few tips from me:
- Be open, optimistic and supportive: How can you help the person you’re talking to? Building relationships takes time. Perhaps there’s an issue that you can resolve together?
- Set your objectives. What do you want to achieve? Be as specific, measurable and realistic as possible eg share 3 human stories (some people call them case studies) about the benefit of your services/products? give out 6 business cards; ask 5 people to visit your website?
- Be prepared: Have the answers to the following questions along with a stash of business cards: what you do; who you work with, what service and products your charity offers, and how it helps people.
Finally, two actions to set the ball rolling:
- Choose your event. Find out what F2F business networking events are happening in your local area. Some like Business Biscotti and First Friday – in my local area of Reading, Berkshire – are free. Others charge. Be careful.
- Double-check when they’re on: normally early mornings or late afternoons. Timings can be a barrier for some – but this shouldn’t put you off – it’s worth it!
I’d love to hear from any charities about the things that have worked for you n F2F business networking. Please do write a comment.
* Thanks to Jacqui Dunne of Business Biscotti and Juliette Smith of the Athena Network for their expert advice.
People sometimes ask me what an elevator pitch is. My understanding is that it’s a way of letting people know what you can do for them in about 30 seconds – the time you’d have if you were sharing an elevator/lift with them.
My experience in public affairs is that you’re lucky if you have 30 seconds with – say – a key business leader at a public event to exchange ideas about how you could work together.
So, here’s the challenge: you’re in a lift with Lord Alan Sugar, you introduce your business/organisation, he doesn’t know about it, and you have just 15 seconds left to talk to just three of the five key elevator pitch points – which three would you pick?
- Who you work with
- What the problem is you’re helping to solve
- What service and products you offer
- What difference you’re making
- What the benefits are
I don’t think there’s a right answer to this -but I’d really like to hear your thoughts.
What do you think? Is it possible to develop a new market – what some people call a social impact market – where the pro-profit, non-profit, and government sectors work together to make social innovation (social good/positive social change) happen?
Here’s some pointers to frame thinking:
- Roles: How would roles have to change in each of the sectors?
- Mindsets: How would each sector have to change its thinking?
- Dialogue: How could a dialogue for collaborative cross-sector working at the local, single issue level be promoted?
- Metrics/measures: How could we capture volunteer input/in kind contributions; and continuous improvement?
I’d be glad of any thoughts you may have to start this debate rolling.
Zach Frechette, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of GOOD Magazine, believes that you can. That we can reach a point where people think it’s cool to be good. That good can be a mainstream thing. That we can care about the world and the people in it.
Click here and hear what Zach has to say. I’d love to know what you think: can the idea of good be re-branded?