It’s a problem the party now has a bit of a run of running into, hooray. It can also be a frustratingly paradoxical problem. That’s because those local parties most in need of some new hands to make light work are often also those local parties who struggle the most to involve them. Local parties can get trapped in the cycle of not having enough people to do things, and so not getting new people in, and so… Even bigger local parties, however, can sometimes slip into thinking that a quick email is all that needs doing.
It’s a nice problem for a local party to have: what to do with a surge of new Liberal Democrat members.
As with my mystery shopper survey a few years back into what happens when someone tries to join the party, knowing the right thing to do and actually doing it are not quite the same thing.
So here’s a series of tips, from the very quick and easy to the more time-consuming. If you work through the list to figure out what to add in to your own local party’s activities, I’d add one small warning: the more time-consuming ways of involving new members, such as one-to-one face-to-face chats, also tend to be the most effective.
With that, here are some ideas:
- Communicate, communicate, communicate: regular newsletters to members and supporters should be a must. Alas, there are some places where sending out closely typed minutes of the AGM once a year counts as member communication. You know better than that, don’t you? In particular…
- Speak to your new members as soon as possible. Whether it’s for a coffee, on the doorstep or elsewhere, if you can make this a personal face-to-face chat, it’ll pay much more dividends than one where technology communicates remotely. (Top tip: all the new members go straight into the party’s Salesforce membership database as they join the party so your local party can see the new lists in real time.)
- Make sure new members have access to key basic information about the party – such as how best to get involved, what we stand for and the party’s most important email address.
- Invite them to a social event, do it soon – and make it positive. Make sure longer-standing members remember to talk to new members and find out more about how they might want to get involved.
- Invite them to a campaigning event, do it soon – and make it easy. Don’t drown every new member in leaflets to deliver – but don’t over-react and think there’s no new member who wants to deliver either. For many members, it’s an enjoyable way to contribute; just not for all members. So go for two easy options – such as a group delivery session and a street stall. Both are easy to organise and give new members a chance to take part and to meet and chat to people. Whatever you do, DON’T CALL IT CAMPAIGNING.
- Make use of events held by neighbouring local parties: Your own local party does not have to do all the work in making the previous two points happen. Many regions and party bodies organise good events and, in all but the most geographically sparse parts of the country, events held by neighbouring local parties are often as easy or easier for people to get to as your own. I live right on the border of my local party, so there is not only the neighbouring local party but also the local party that covers my place of work whose events I can get to as easily (in fact, often more easily) than my own local party. Get on the mailing lists for your neighbouring local parties and pass on news about their events.
- Make sure you update your records used to email members and supporters about what is going on – and if they are not also signed up for emails to voters from the party, ask them about that too. Members are interested in our public communications too.
- Make sure the party’s membership records have an email address for them (if they have one, and with their consent, of course) – that way they will get things such as the party’s free monthly email newsletter for party members.
- Encourage new members to get more linked into the party online– whether it’s the Lib Dem Newbies group on Facebook, the /libdems subreddit on Reddit, the @LibDems account on Twitter or even, ahem, my Liberal Democrat Newswire email list, the more closely new members become part of our online communities, the more likely they are to stay and to be involved.
- Get training: when was the last time your local party ran a training event, whether it was in canvassing, how to be a local council candidate or learning the ropes of Connect? Whatever the topic, there’s plenty of scope to share skills and get a bigger team. So get training. (And do get in touch if you’d like me to come and do a training session locally.)
- More candidates please: at each round of local elections there are many wards where we do not put up a candidate, often not for want of trying but for want of understanding the importance of standing a full slate. So if your party doesn’t have a record of 100% coverage, start sounding up people soon with the aim of a record number of candidates next time. Keep a particular eye out for encouraging a more diverse set of candidates too as standing for the council is often the first step towards getting more diverse local party executives and candidates at higher levels.
- Encourage them to come to conference: whether it’s regional, state or federal conference, encourage new members to make their first visit. Often the easy steps that are all that’s needed to get more people more involved. It may be as simple as telling people more about what’s involved or as practical as organising some car sharing.
- And of course, keep on recruiting: there are still plenty more people out there who will join the party if only someone asks them.
And when doing this all remember: don’t assume you know how much members want to do or what their motivations are.
Ask and be led by their answers – and have fun!