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After the local elections… a “what next?” for small charities

Now that the dust has settled on the 2022 local elections, now is the time for small charities to reach out and build relations with local government representatives, says Dr Clare Mills.

 

Much of the UK had the fun and excitement (bear with me) of local elections last week. As I wrote the bulk of this piece last Friday, the results were still coming in – there’s a distinct split these days between overnight counts, and next day counts.

I’ve always preferred a next day count because I don’t think a few hours makes much difference to the operation of local government (or the UK Parliament); it doesn’t make sense to have council staff up all night doing the count; and the candidates and activists have likely been up since dawn on Polling Day.

In 2017, as an election agent for about 20 council candidates, I was awake from 4am on Polling Day to the end of the count at 10:30am the following morning – and then, because of the rural nature of my county, I had to drive an hour home before I could take my trainers off and crawl into bed.

But I digress. The ballot boxes are being returned to the councils’ storage units, the new and re-elected councillors are signing their acceptance of office forms and in many places, councils have changed their political alignment, from one party to another or into/out of the grey zone of no overall control.

This is the perfect time for charities, voluntary organisations and community groups to refresh or begin to build relationships with their elected representatives.

New councillors will be keen to strengthen their links with the community, and re-elected councillors will be energised at securing enough support from residents to carry on in their role. There’s a relatively short window before people start to drift away for summer breaks, so plan and start your engagement now.

For the finance team – or the person that has to do everything finance-y in smaller organisations – you can play a crucial role in developing the resources and data needed for effective relationship building, even if you are not directly involved in that.

The first step to think about is how your organisation’s activities affect the area the councillors represent. If you provide services from a specific location, start with the councillors who represent the ward you are in.

If you cover a whole council area, then there’s potentially a reason for every councillor to learn more about what you do, how you support their residents, and how they can help you in the future.

Finance can do a lot to help here: you understand how much income your organisation needs to generate to meet current and planned activities, and what the barriers are to keeping to the plan.

If you can gather that data into a simple to understand document – ideally one side of A4, using charts or infographics to help tell the story – that’s going to be invaluable to the people opening the conversations and having the meetings.

Use this chance to show your organisation’s professional and financial credibility.

The second step is to assess each relationship – existing and potential, and then prioritise your list.

If you already have a relationship between your organisation and a councillor, you can use their election or re-election to contact them, asking for their support.

It’s far better to ask for something specific, so why not invite them to one of your forthcoming events or to visit you, meet your team and some of your beneficiaries, to learn more about your recent impact and future plans.

If they have no previous involvement with or contact from your organisation, it’s a great time to send them some information about the work you do, the parts of the community you work with, your aims and objectives and how you make an impact.

Again, suggesting they come and visit your organisation, especially if you have a planned event coming up before the summer, can be really effective.

You might also want to do some desktop research into your new councillors. A bit of internet searching can help you find out if they have a personal or family reason to be interested in the work you do. What has their career history covered – and can you link that to the work you do? Have they been a community fundraiser – if they’ve run a marathon for a charity before (or even if they just seem to love running) can you ask them to run for your cause at a future event?

Your research and understanding of any existing relationship will help you prioritise who to contact first.

Finally, look at the allocation of portfolios and committee places – this may be a few weeks after the election. Depending on your organisation’s issue area, there may be one or two people whose council roles are of particular relevance.

A note on asking for support: does it have to be financial support? Well, we all love to see the money rolling in, but don’t hesitate to ask your local councillors for their time, talents and influence if that’s going to help you achieve your objectives. And check out the data gathered by Pro Bono Economics on what’s been pledged for the social sector in your area and across the country in a useful interactive map.

This post was last reviewed on 11 May 2022 at 16:38
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