Developing your 'super-activists'

Concern Worldwide's Natasha Adams talked to a number of UK organisations about how they support and develop their keenest and most active campaigners.

At Concern Worldwide UK, we are looking to deepen engagement with a small group of campaigners. Our Unheard Voices campaign currently only engages through e-actions and sporadic invitations to attend events, but we’d like people to be more involved. This will be a big challenge as we have limited resources.

Planning will be a long process and won’t begin until 2012, but to inform our thinking, we did a small survey to look at how other UK organisations engage their campaigners. A big thank you to staff from ActionAid UK, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), Cancer Research UK, CARE International UK, Greenpeace UK and Results UK who gave up time to help us out. Here is some of what we learned from them.

Concern staff at the ‘Put People First’ march in 2009, at the time of the G20 summit.
Concern staff at the ‘Put People First’ march in 2009, at the time of the G20 summit.


Most of the organisations surveyed engaged campaigners in quick campaigning activities, as well as offering deeper engagement to more dedicated activists. Generally they all try to keep focused by only pushing on one campaign at a time.


Organisations all aspired to segment their campaigner into different  categories but none did this as well as they would like. Organisations defined 'active' in different ways. For example, one divided campaigners into Level 1 (taking 1-2 campaign actions a year), Level 2 (more active, plus on email) and Level 3 (most engaged). Another organisation’s ‘least engaged’ campaigners don't take actions regularly at all.

Of the four organisations that did have existing ‘super-activist networks’ of engaged campaigners, two began these through training and preparation in the run up to a large event. Several organisations acknowledged that it would be desirable to recruit engaged campaigners in relevant Ministerial constituencies, but have had very little success – targeting to this extent is obviously very difficult!


Those with higher brand awareness amongst the general public are regularly approached by campaigners asking for ways to get more involved. Several organisations commonly email their supporter base to ask campaigners to become more engaged, or they ask their existing groups to recruit through stalls at appropriate events.

Organisations had emailed the supporter base specifically about becoming more involved, had offered this in place of a campaign action, or included it as a question in a survey. The ask was generally something along the lines of ‘do you want to become more involved in our campaigns?’

Staffing and support

Looking after more engaged campaigners in a structured way took up a lot of staff time for those organisations that did this. All had at least the equivalent of 1 full time staff member looking after these campaigners, and some had several.

Most staff support is provided by phone calls and emails, but one organisation holds regular monthly teleconferences with their groups to discuss that month’s action.

All organisations with more engaged campaigners provide some form of training. This varies from just providing training materials to organising training events and national or regional gatherings which include training.

Inside or out?

It is generally seen as good practice for campaigns to adopt a mixture of insider and outsider tactics, analogous to a ‘carrot and stick’ strategic approach. Insider lobbying meetings, which seek to build relationships, offer ‘carrot’ incentives to decision makers, while large scale protest and direct action seek less to persuade and more to try and force, hence the ‘stick’ analogy.

All the organisations we spoke to supported their campaigners to engage directly with their MPs, ranging from sending emails to organising mass parliamentary lobbies. Some complement this approach with demonstrations, stunts and/or direct action.

Thanks again to all those who helped with the survey. I hope this information is useful to other organisations in a similar position.

Natasha Adams is Campaigns and Parliamentary Officer at Concern Worldwide, UK

by Natasha Adams published Dec 01, 2011,
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