Cllr Jake Slee, Regional Development Officer for Devon and Cornwall, tells us how they have used petitions to great effect in recruiting volunteers.
Conservatives in Cornwall are looking to close four leisure centres which are well used by their communities. When the news broke of the consultation there was significant outcry and it was an issue which was, and still is, being well covered by the local press. As Liberal Democrat campaigners we are there to listen to our communities, and campaign effectively on the issues that are important to our residents.
All good campaigns to save a building or a public service start with a petition. To get the petition out to as many people as possible we first need a digital petition that can be set up on the local party website. Prater Raines and Nationbuilder both have effective tools to create one. It is important that we use our own party websites to do this as provided you have made it GDPR compliant, you can keep their details and any data you gather to keep people up to date with your campaign. (Guidance on GDPR can be found at https://www.libdems.org.uk/gdpr.) You are going to need this data, such as email addresses to build relationships with your residents if you want to turn them into volunteer prospects. This isn’t the case with 3rd party websites such as Change.org or 35Degrees.
Another top tip to turn signatures into volunteers is to make sure that everyone who signs it is taken to the volunteer sign-up page once they have signed the petition. In one area where we are campaigning to save the leisure centre, we succeeded in recruiting over 40 people to sign up to volunteer for the Liberal Democrats.
When people sign up to volunteer, they will often leave a telephone number along with other contact information. Make sure you call them back, and thank them for wanting to get involved in the campaign. It’s worth designating this task to a small team to make sure it gets completed. It’s key that you have some campaigning activities planned so you can give them something to do quickly. This is important because as time goes on, people’s interest in getting involved may fade.
It is worth being mindful that they are perhaps only interested in campaigning on this single issue but it is a great start to being able to cement a relationship with these individuals. It is also very important to act quickly while they are engaged and interested. Make sure you have something for them to get on with. In Cornwall we produced a Focus leaflet that focused entirely on saving leisure centres. It is likely these individuals share a lot of our values but some people can be apprehensive or shy to begin with so it’s best to start with the single issue that they have engaged with and build from there.
We also set up a street stall in the town centre of one of the threatened sites where the issue particularly resonated. This is a great way to show that you are on the side of your local residents in a highly visible way. It’s also a good opportunity to invite your volunteer prospects. It can be a good social experience and gives them a chance to meet your local party team. As a predominantly volunteer organisation, we rely on people having a good and sociable time. Just make sure you have a physical copy of your petition for residents to sign.
While running a successful campaign it is important to regularly keep people up to date and informed with action you are taking and developments that are taking place. Make sure you are sending regular emails to people who have signed the petition. In these emails you can tell people what progress is being made, you can share local press articles or news pieces that your local team have written but make sure you continue to ask and give people the option to volunteer on your campaign. It is also really worth asking if they want to be kept up to date with our campaigns that your local team is running. This gives you the opportunity to show that you have other values in common and increases the chances of people thinking that campaigning for the Liberal Democrats is the right thing for them to do.
There are single issues like this throughout the country, so pick something that has captured the attention of people in your local area and get campaigning. If there isn’t anything obvious on local social media and press, there are a number of ways to find an issue. Get out on the doorsteps or get asking on your surveys and Focus leaflets.