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What Makes a Good Parliamentary Campaign Email?

Parliamentary campaign emails allow charities to harness the power of constituents to gain valuable support from MPs, but crowded inboxes make it difficult to make an impression.

Parliamentary campaign emails allow charities to harness the power of constituents to gain valuable support from MPs, but crowded inboxes make it difficult to make an impression. Former parliamentary assistant Jonathan Harper explores what charities can do to make their emails stand out. 

It is now easier than ever for members of the public to contact their local MP. What once required a pen, paper and a trip to the post office is now achievable with the click of a mouse, or indeed the tap of a screen.

This development has been hugely beneficial for charities – supporters can be encouraged to email their local MP in large numbers, encouraging them to support a particular campaign in order to represent the views of their constituents. With more campaign teams launching digital operations, however, MPs’ inboxes have become increasingly crowded with competing demands for attention, meaning it is difficult for any single initiative to stand out and garner support in Westminster.

In an attempt to understand what can be done to overcome these barriers, I sought the opinion of parliamentary staff from a range of parties. Parliamentary assistants and researchers act as metaphorical ‘gatekeepers’ for MP inboxes, and this gives them a unique level of insight into how a charity campaign can secure the support it needs in Westminster. It quickly became clear that there are three things that charities can do to make their parliamentary email campaigns more effective:

 

  1. Appeal to mutual self-interest

Campaign emails should appeal to the self-interest of MPs as much as possible. “MPs are keen to support good causes, and there are plenty of them around”, contends former Lib Dem researcher William Pett, “but busy parliamentary schedules mean that they are forced to pick and choose. Ultimately, this means that worthwhile campaigns that are also able to offer something in return are prioritised”.

Busy schedules mean that MPs are inclined to support campaigns that can boost their profile, popularity and electoral prospects. Successful emails will therefore offer a clear and easy opportunity for MPs to secure positive media coverage – whether this means sending a draft press release containing constituency statistics, an invite to attend an event covered by local press, or simply an offer to retweet a message of support. This also translates into a positive outcome for the campaign, as appearing in the media alongside a supportive MP is likely to boost its profile and chances of further success.

 

  1. Be specific

Campaign emails should make a clear request for a specific action. “It sounds obvious, but it is very important that you explicitly identify the problem that you are trying to solve and how to solve it” argues Edith Bond, parliamentary assistant to a Conservative MP. “You would be surprised how often we receive emails asking to prioritise a broad issue, which makes it impractical and unappealing to offer any meaningful support”.

Edith’s views echo what we see in our research with MPs. Our Charity Parliamentary Monitor shows that MPs like to support campaigns that offer well-specified, practical solutions to singular problems, and similarly dislike campaigns with sprawling, ill-defined objectives. In our research conducted in May this year, MPs were keen to support a prominent disability campaign because of the clarity of its message, describing it as ‘sensible’, ‘simple’ and ‘practical’. On the other hand, campaigns asking for broader support for unspecified conservation issues were described as ‘vague’, ‘misleading’ and ‘pointless’.

Similarly, emails that make it clear how an MP can offer support tend to be well received. Direct links to petitions, details about an EDM or requests to write to the relevant minister make it quick and easy for busy parliamentarians to participate.

 

  1. Encourage a personal touch

Try to encourage personal emails from supporters. In the age of copy-and-paste templates, MPs and their staff are more likely to read and take meaningful action in response to bespoke messages. “Standard messages will receive standard responses”, Lib Dem assistant Nicholas Trower informs me. “Six hundred identical emails about fracking send a clear message, but it is unreasonable to expect an MP to send a personalised response to each constituent”.

There are two problems with mass templates. Firstly, as Nicholas points out, a group of identical messages is effectively treated as a single item. Personalised requests demand personalised action, meaning that an MP and their staff will spend more time thinking about how to respond, and thus considering the issue at the heart of the campaign. Secondly, mass templates remove the personal, human element of an appeal, which can be highly persuasive.

On the other hand, the need to maximise the number of emails sent clearly conflicts with the need to ensure that constituents spend valuable free time composing heartfelt personal messages. A balance can be struck, however, by asking supporters to add a small personal element to a pre-prepared template. The Climate Coalition’s recent ‘For the Love of…” campaign asked participants to write a sentence about the things they wish to protect from climate change into an otherwise pre-prepared message. This ensured that MPs received a high volume of well-prepared, easily identifiable, and personalised correspondence that also appealed to their caring sides.

MPs’ inboxes are a churning sea of competing demands from constituents, and many charities struggle to stay afloat. The humble email has the potential to kick-start a successful parliamentary campaign – but charities must learn how to play the game, or risk being drowned out.

If you want to increase your charity campaigning success, check out what our research can do for you. Download the briefing pack below and get in touch now.

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