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Charity Insight Contributor
Published 15 September 2011

Do we need to use a professional lobbying organisation?

Chloe Stables, parliamentary officer,

National Council for Voluntary Organisations
No. If you're unsure about right way to go about lobbying, support is available in many different forms. A lot can be done online with a bit of time and effort. You can find out about the workings of Parliament and the latest activity on parliament.uk or search for recent developments on a particular topic through theyworkforyou.com. Each Government department and the select committee which shadows them all have their own websites now. NCVO also provides a range of resources, from how-to guides through to bespoke strategic advice. Your own MP (or more likely their researcher) may also be able to offer advice on who to contact in particular circumstances.

George Pascoe-Watson, partner, Portland Communications
It really depends on your set-up. Professional lobbying organisations bring valuable contacts and experience with them. Agencies can also bring a useful outsider perspective to generate new ideas and run a critical eye over existing strategies and campaigns. Using an agency means you have extra resources available when a big push on a campaign comes. Our work with third sector clients is varied some bring us in purely for strategic advice and do the implementation themselves. Others use us to bolster their in-house team to make things happen at key media and political moments.

Gus Baldwin, public affairs manager, Macmillan Cancer Support
It is clearly very useful to understand how public affairs works and I've seen some charities go about campaigning activity in a really counter-productive way because they don't understand the process, can't commit the resource to do it properly or are too emotionally attached to the issue and forget that they need to compromise and make what they want fit with the governments agenda (as far as possible) rather than the other way around. But that said, alongside the fantastic public affairs consultancies there are some pretty average ones as well and often the campaigning style of a charity is as much about that charity's culture or the personality of the chief executive which a public affairs consultancy can't easily influence anyway.

Estelle McCartney, associate director, Champollion
Not necessarily. It depends on your teams experience, networks and capacity. If you already have all the requisite components, then spend any available budget on research, polling, a campaign website, and so on. Should you decide to appoint an agency to bring an outside strategic perspective or to provide additional skills or capacity, make sure that agency has a track record in achieving successful outcomes. Ideally, they should have a wider offer than just lobbying, for example media relations and digital. You may not need them to provide those services but you will get much better support and advice from them if they properly understand integrated campaigning.

A good indicator on the quality of an agency is their client and staff retention rates. If their clients and team are sticking around, they must be doing something right! Finally, don't overlook chemistry and fit with your team - you are going to be spending a lot of time together!

Joe Saxton, driver of ideas, nfpSynergy
Maybe - but they are expensive and most charities manage fine without them. A freelance public affairs consultant could be a better option (search on LinkedIn) or pick the brains of the parliamentary officers of some organisations you admire.

Camilla Williamson, public affairs adviser, Age UK
Not necessarily. If you have good advice and people who know what they're doing, it can be done without professionals. However, influencing takes time and persistence, it also necessitates a multi-pronged approach, so often having someone working full time on a cause will make a big difference; professional lobbyists also have good contacts which are often vital. Having said this, politicians will be much more receptive to real people, so there are definitely plusses to doing this without lobbying organisations and just working hard as part of an independent group.

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