Caught the bug

This campaigning stuff can be pretty moreish, can’t it? Don’t worry: unlike other addictions, the only side effects are good ones, like a better world. Here’s how to turn your hobbyhorse into a thoroughbred career.

Paul Miller started campaigning when he was a student, and everything he learnt then is still relevant now:

'The most important thing I learnt from campaigning was to 'Pitch and pitch and pitch again'. The need to be able to communicate what it is that you're trying to achieve in almost half a sentence or a sentence is a valuable skill.

"Pitch, pitch and pitch again"

When you're campaigning you keep on honing what it is you're trying to achieve until you get to the point where anybody would come round to your way of seeing the world and your approach in trying to change it. This skill is the most useful whatever you end up doing - whether it's coming up with campaigns, get your point across in a large organisation or do good stuff in your local community. The ability to hone and then communicate an idea is very, very useful.'

Paul reckons that campaigning teaches you that you can do almost anything on a budget, even if you’ve only got one piece of coal to rub together.

'Trying to do things with almost no resources - learning to leverage other people's network and other people's help - is a really useful thing to be able to do later in life. If you can make something from nothing  you're away - you don't need anybody's consent in order to get something going, you just have a go.

'For example, back at university I was really passionate about third world debt, I saw it as a completely stupid problem with a simple solution: it would be better if these debts were cancelled. There were campaigns and posters provided by jubilee 2000, but they didn't seem relevant to the people around me. 

'Then I heard a statistic: that the amount raised by Comic Relief that year was paid back in debt that day. 'So I got Pritt-stick and paper and made a poster with that stat. It wasn't a Saatchi and Saatchi number or anything. It stated the statistic, and said underneath 'that's not funny. jubilee 2000'. We photocopied about 1000 on red paper and put it all around university.

"The amount raised by Comic Relief that year was paid back in debt that day."

Suddenly with a simple piece of information and simple distribution we got loads of people interested in the issue and a couple of months later we got over a thousand people coming from the university to Birmingham to campaign about third world debt at the g8 summit of world leaders. This just shows that with a good idea and a bit of originality in your execution you can get something done.'

Young Woman of the Year (2008) Melody Hossaini on how she turned campaigning into a career:

I had been volunteering with the UK Youth Parliament for about 8 years. I was reading a law degree, and had always intended to follow a career in practicing Law-however changed my mind and followed my passion about working in the youth sector. I started work at the National Youth Agency. We deliver 'hear by right' training which is an organisational change tools. We work to build in young people's involvement at all aspects of decision making at every level. And through our 'act by right' training we develop young people's campaigning skills. They can have all the opportunities in the world but if young people do not have the necessary and support to achieve change then it’s futile. We also have a record 'what's changed' examples which are a set of stories of real change.

You should follow your passion. If that's what you want to do then the youth sector is growing all the time. You can explore different ways in which you can volunteer. And make the most of opportunities that come your way. I was offered the opportunity to work with Al Gore and from that I now work with young people in Canada, the US, and across the Asia Pacific, to help educate young people on climate change and to give them the necessary support to take forward their own projects. if you're interested in that and passionate then persevere and see what comes your way.

And about leaving law... I still feel as though I am practicing law in a way. I work with young people's rights, advocating those rights and finding ways to get them heard. I didn't want to be a person practicing what's set by politicians when I can be a person who supports young people in influencing those politicians.

Ecampaigner Duane Raymond’s practical tips on what to do if you've caught the campaigning bug and want to carry on:

  • First thing: find a local group that you like, or network or movement. That can be both plus and minus if run by old grannies and old men who want to maintain the status quo and drink tea then it's a turn off. But it's worth investigating because it might be really dynamic.
  • Find a number of organisations you’re interested in. Ask to volunteer and how you can help.
  • Many of the big ones will have an annual campaigner’s conference to talk about plans for next year eg Oxfam and Amnesty, so if you go along to those then you can see what other people are doing and how they’re doing it and find out plans and stuff.
  • In a city where an organisation has a presence then volunteer with them
  • Study a subject that relates to your passion and get professional qualifications – there a range of different issues eg economics or politics, environment issues. What you choose to study also depends on whether you want to go into policy or campaigning.
  • Helps to get a sense of what you’re interested in at an early stage.
  • You don’t need a qualification for campaigning but for the policy side it helps.
  • After volunteering for a while look for job opportunities.

There are also lots of less traditional ways of getting involved.

  • Volunteer to run a social network on a particular issue or set it up yourself and attract support. Eg the guy who set up a Facebook group on the Burma campaign got really big, really fast independently and now he's working on the campaign!
  • Blog about the issues and make the organisations are aware of the blog and forge a relationship.
  • In the academic work you get published to get noticed and in new media world you need to do the same thing.
  • Attract people to the issue you’re interested in. and make sure the organizations are aware of you.
  • Could be video:  video blogging, creative pieces on youtube.
  • Creative use of audio: posted on itunes.
  • Build a supporter base, nurture it and get the attention for the relevant organization.
  • Don’t wait for them to find you – let them know. Regularly.  Let them know about you again and again and again. In the end they'll think: we have to hire them just to stop them irritating us.

We put this to Jane Powell:

As a lifelong campaigner, how you managed to turn a love for campaigning into a career? Do you have any advice for people who would like to do the same thing?

No. Don’t do it. You won’t make any money!

I find that campaigning takes a lot of emotional, mental and physical effort and eats away at your time.  And most of the time it is a hard slog.  And some of the time it is just awful.  And then there are those occasions when its fantastic.

I don’t think you end up making it as a career you just end up doing it.

For me my interests have always been to change the world and make it a fairer place. It’s not an academic interest – this lies at the heart of my life.  I don’t want to just do a job, and I think you either have that or you don’t.

My advice for people who are unfortunate enough to just want to change the world is to develop some skills along the way. And specialise in – so learn as much as you can about what can be achieved online, or learn to write well or undertake research.

"Learn some skills along the way"

Find a skill which will help you get into the world you want to enter.  And adapt and add to the skills along the way. Wherever you can - whether that’s about fundraising or marketing or communications.  I’ve ended up having a bit of experience at everything - a jack of all trades. 

It's more sensible to concentrate in one area and continue to specialize in that area. Whether that’s an area that’s close to your heart e.g. homelessness or it might be with a particular skill, stick with it.  Your forte might be communications.   My main skill is being an obsessive jerk ‘cos that’s the only thing I’m interested in doing – thinking about how I can physically bring about that particular change and who/what I need to get there.  You learn as much as you can from whatever you’re doing. Everything you do will teach you something. 

From each job I’ve gained experience in what will make a campaign work best.  And for me it’s got to be fun. It’s got to be upbeat.   If you make a campaign successful and make it feel fun and exciting, and if you can communicate clearly why it’s exciting and what that change might be, then others will want to join.  There’s nothing I do particularly well,  so I find the best people who can do that instead of me and see if I can get them to decide this is what they want to do. Somehow.

You have to be a sales person.  Running a campaign is in many ways like running a business. Instead of selling a product you’re selling an idea that life can be better; making a difference. Instead of giving over money, people give over effort and time, and then recruit more people. Campaigning is a sales job. You’re selling dreams or the idea that you can reduce the suicide rate and that there is or can be help out there. That life can be different.

"You're selling dreams"

If you have a successful campaign and know you’ve impacted upon people’s lives, that becomes compulsive and you want to continue doing that and make those changes. If you spend your whole life doing this you’re likely to be poor. Not always, because the skill’s you’ll have developed will be very helpful in the commercial world, but why would you do that.  But you have to campaign on something  is close to your heart, that you care about. You have to want to make those changes and you have to want to be involved in it.

Any of the things we’ve talked about in the handbook could become your job. If you have a talent or an interest you should message our mentors and check out some of these sites.

Any of the things we’ve talked about in the handbook could become your job. If you’ve got a talent for or an interest in one of them, find one of our mentors who works in a similar area and message them – that’s what they’re there for. No need to be shy: they’re very helpful and kindly sorts. Check out these sites, too: