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Obstacles to effective campaigning

Much of my writing and training on campaigning over the last five years or so has been around the theme of successful campaigning and I have tried to use my time to encourage others on what is possible for them to campaign about.

But in recent months, I have begun to wonder if in fact by taking such a route I have ignored one of the biggest issues in ensuring effective campaigning – by which I mean spending time looking at the internal obstacles to effective campaigning.

So what are those obstacles? Why don’t more people and NGOs run campaigns? What do you think? On a long journey recently I tried to list the obstacles that I had either experienced or heard of.

I think that I could have stumbled upon a big issue here, and what I offer now is just work in progress – but what do you think? Have I missed any obstacles?

Lack of research

I have seen this happen so many times – people say we would love to campaign on an issue but we need more research. So the campaign stalls. While research is important, it can also be a huge reason for delay in starting a campaign.

Nervous leadership

Here the campaigners are ready, but the organisation’s leadership is nervous and the campaign stalls.


This is a classic. The argument goes – we would love to campaign but we need a full-time campaigns post. And that nothing is possible without such a post. Really?

Lack of shared values

This is a sad one. The obstacle to campaigning comes down to not having a shared value set within the organisation.

Lack of common understanding of advocacy campaigns

This is another classic. With almost all of the advocacy campaigns consultancy work that I have done over the past 5 years or so this issue comes up. The issue of a common definition within the organisation is so important. I often find myself saying I don’t care what your definition is, but I would like you to share the same one within the

Lack of a theory of change

Have you seen this one? I know I have been guilty of this. So much effort goes into producing the research report and maybe getting some media coverage and then you just collapse exhausted with little idea of all this action happening so that something else happens. But without your theory of change at least sketched out, there is a good chance that your report will just be filed or thrown away and all momentum lost.

Individual agendas taking over

Here campaigning is undermined because individuals have their own agendas and seek opportunities to develop their agendas.

Internal disharmony

This is another sad one. Here the team or organisation is undermined by internal conflict. Sadly this can be a problem specially in small NGOs and it does so undermine effective campaigning.

Lack of a common goal

What is the point of your campaigning? Is it policy change? To recruit new supporters? To raise your profile? To raise money? What is your goal – effective campaigning needs focus and a clear goal. And agreement on the goal is so important.

We are too busy to campaign

Have I left the best until last? I see this so often – we are so busy delivering services to meet the need that we can’t campaign. So that nothing ever changes so that you stay busy. I just get excited by those smaller NGOs who can both deliver services but also embed their campaigning into the soul of their organisation. They do both activities because they know they need to do both – but one fits seamlessly into the other – they see these actions as being on one continuum.

So that’s my initial list. I am sure that I have missed loads. What do you think? It would be great to hear from you with other obstacles and we could then publish them in a fresh blog. And I will try next time to tentatively suggest some answers to these obstacles.