Welcome new members – here’s some leaflets to deliver

by James Noakes

20,000 new members since the election is something the Labour Party should be pleased about but we also shouldn’t squander this opportunity. Aside from updating the introductory email as the current one from Ed asks them to work for a Labour victory in 2015, there are some things we can do to make the membership experience better.

Ask not only why they join but what they want

We live in an age where membership experience of any organisation is increasingly driven by expectations. Except in political parties. Some people are driven to become very engaged and want to be out there flying the flag and canvassing, others want to be part of the policy process whilst there are some who just want to make a donation and receive some literature every now and then. It may come as a shock but not everyone joined to deliver leaflets or attend meetings akin to those of the People’s Front of Judea.

The party can save time, effort and annoyance if we just focus more on this crucial area. Imagine being a CLP secretary who is told that 200 new members have joined. That’s a lot of (somewhat enjoyable) work. Imagine though if the secretary was told 180 of them have no interest in meetings, leaflets or canvassing. It makes for a better directed approach.

Find out who they are

Even as an elected councillor there have been few occasions when I have been asked about my profession and what I could add. People come to the party with skills – life and work skills we can really make use of but invariably fail to do so. I’m not just talking about ‘professional’ skills or in depth knowledge of a particular subject field – though that is important to tap into. Sometimes it is a bit more straightforward. A colleague of mine worked in the pools industry and was used to stuffing envelopes at a ridiculously fast pace (and had friends who could help too). It was silly it took to so long to ask her to coordinate that!

Remember that they need help too

The benefit of being a member shouldn’t just be satisfaction of belonging. Labour has some great training support for constituencies but we can take that further. It is no use campaigning for investment on some issues if we as a party do not deliver it for our own members. For example, if a member says they do not have an email address (and it is my experience this still happens a lot) it should immediately be flagged up locally as something the party can help with if need be. We can point them towards training, facilities and other support should they want it. There are a range of issues we can help with and our colleagues in trade unions and elsewhere can help – we just need to be smarter.

Stop spamming

Constituency emails, regional emails, national email and “special” emails from whatever celebrity has decided to endorse us all add up to a clogged up inbox. And don’t try to filter the emails so you can keep them orderly. No; the Labour Party has a knack of changing who the email is from, the email address or the format just when you thought you were on top of it.

The party is not the only culprit. One allied organisation used to have a choice – either receive emails about everything that has happened in the world of politics every day or never be spoken to again. Like signing an online petition you invariably regret signing up the moment the emails begin flooding in. And flood they do. I know opt outs are provided but the vast amount of emails are unnecessary and invariably ignored. I don’t know anyone who reads all the emails the party sends.

And the worst spam of all? Asking people who have been Labour members for years whether they will consider voting Labour and have they considered membership. Even elected members get those emails which is frankly bizarre. So let’s have a new approach to email – make it useful and not harassment.

Stop constantly asking for money

Yes we know the party needs money to challenge. Yes we know there are issues with the finances. Yes we know we are fighting against deep pockets. But please, stop with the desperate emails asking for more and more and more money. If someone joined the party because they wanted to make that one-off donation then imagine how they feel when they are bombarded with a stream of emails asking for yet more cash. There will be arguments that it works but I have yet to find anyone who isn’t equally annoyed by it.

Be more imaginative about how people can donate and how they can get engaged in giving. It is annoying when you pay a membership fee, when you turn up for expensive Labour functions, pay into your union political fund, and, for councillors, when the party mandates deductions, to then be pestered by the regional or national party to donate more. Yes some of us may do so – we are part of a very generous collective – but it doesn’t make the constant requests right.

Be better at asking for opinion

Yes we have an approach to policy engagement and a policy forum but in an age of technology gauging opinion and receiving feedback can be so much easier. We are heading towards online voting for elections so as a party we need to be engaged by using our own party as a test ground. We already use online voting for some ballots, we have even had online conversations before – there is no reason we cannot use it for collecting opinion from members regularly (though be careful not to spam!). This is not a call for hashtag activism – that seems to have only had a minor impact on the recent election – but is a call for smarter engagement on issues and opinions.

I suspect what I am ultimately saying is that our member engagement needs to grow up. I recognise the serious challenges my own local party faces in recruiting and retaining members but at least we are beginning to face up them and look at how we engage. The Labour Party as a whole needs to do so too. This is not the 1990s or even the 2000s. Email can be done differently and we can connect to people in a very different, more individual manner. We can tailor the experience so that people get the best out of being a member for them whilst contributing to the collective.

My final point is that Labour needs a head of member experience. It isn’t something I have seen so far. Not just someone who manages membership but someone approachable and innovative tasked with making membership personal to everyone. There are so many great things going on around the country in CLPs that engage, enthuse and excite members that such a person has a ready-made selection of actions they can promote. Technology is also rapidly changing to make engagement different. If we don’t tackle this then far too many of those new members will fall by the wayside as time goes by. We will need them come the next election and we will need every member to feel they are in a party that doesn’t take them for granted. We need to be an organisation that values, stimulates and supports them in the same way they can do all that for us.

There is actually a final (final) suggestion. Make things shorter and snappier when communicating – so clearly never ask me to write those emails.

James is a City Councillor in Liverpool and the Mayoral Lead for Energy and Smart City.

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3 Responses to “Welcome new members – here’s some leaflets to deliver”

  1. John P Reid says:

    Imagine a new email from a local branch membership secretary

    It’s ironic, that I’m emailing you too tell you that we should stop emailing you, to tell you about how well we’re doing, when we’re not doing so well.

    Great article,
    In all fairness many local CLPs have so few members all we could achieve was the occasional quiz night, writing to new members, having branch meetings discussing ideas, and getting leaflets delivered once every 3 months, in a couple of our council wards, some councillors in other parts of the country,have being a councillor as their job, they can afford both financially and commitment to spend hours canvassing.

  2. London Boy says:

    My perspective on this is that I think there is a real problem with the CLP model.

    A large part of this is driven by the electoral system. I have never lived in a constituency where my vote has made any difference. It is very difficult to become enthusiastic about getting engaged locally if it is either an ultra safe seat (e.g. parts of London, Liverpool, etc), or the party has no chance whatsoever. What is the point? Your efforts to engage will make no real marginal difference.

    I also get the impression that the CLP / branch network is very closed. I’ve never attended a branch meeting because I’ve never really understood what they are for. It seems like they are dominated by those in the know obsessing over arcane party procedural points. My impression is they are only really attended by councillors and pensioners. Everybody else is too busy working, looking after kids, etc.

    Until this system is changed the party can do more to engage people on a deeper level. In the old days we had working mens’ clubs and conservative clubs. Clearly these days are past us but I do feel like there should be more effort to keep people engaged socially, so that when election time comes around everybody feels they are helping out a friend.

  3. Good piece. I was determined to get young people involved in our campaign in Hazel Grove and put their talents to good use – but it’s a lot to ask a teenage kid to knock on doors and get told to sod off. This is an area we still need to work on. Politics is a contact sport, but there are so many ways of engaging we could do much better at in the future.
    I was delighted, for instance, that Joe Barratt of the Stockport Teenage Market offered to help and produced a film of us talking through the issues. – Anyway, there’s more of this soul searching at: http://themarpleleaf.blogspot.co.uk/#sthash.m0uq9I2l.dpuf

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