Assess the pros and cons of trying to get public support for your campaign.
It seems intuitive to try to build public support for your campaign. And while it can be very useful in helping meet your campaign goals, you do need to step back and assess what benefit (and potential drawbacks) it could actually bring.
Some of the things you need to ask yourself are:
[Q] Will increased public support increase my influence on the decision-makers?
According to NCVO’s ‘The Good Campaigns Guide’ “...the extent of a positive correlation between mass opinion and institutional action can be hazy. The unprecedented size of the anti-war in Iraq march in February 2003 and the Government decision to act notwithstanding is just one, high profile...example”.
[Q] Are there other and more (cost) effective ways to achieve my goals?
For example, while the Campaign for Freedom of Information does try to mobilise support from the public (e.g. asking supporters to write to their MP), much more of their work goes on without any direct involvement from their supporters – for example, through lobby meetings and responding to Government consultations.
[Q] Could public support actually backfire against my campaign?
If the government (or your target) is sympathetic to your cause but the public mood is not, the media and public opposition which a high profile campaign would attract may go against you. If your target needs persuading and you only get a small amount of support, it might be worse than having none at all! A handful of people on a demo, or a petition with only a few signatures might just evidence to others how little support there is for your position.
[Q] Do I have the time and resources to mobilise effectively?
Building public support can be time consuming and expensive, so do bear this in mind. Thankfully, many successful campaigns have been run on a shoe string through clever use of social media.
Remember that, even if you do manage to mobilise public opinion, there is a question about quality vs quantity. As with online petitions, getting 5,000 people to send pre-printed postcards to an MP in support of your campaign, might not be as effective as getting 50 people to write a letter in their own words to that same MP.