How many charity emails do you receive every month? If you’re anything like me, it’s… quite a few. They’re causes I have signed up to because I care passionately about them, and have considered (at least when I signed up) giving my time, money, or energy to help them meet their goals faster. But unfortunately, time, money and energy are finite resources; Now I mostly just receive the emails, read the odd article, and occasionally sign a petition.
As this kind of passive supporter, it can be easy to think, ‘What am I really contributing?’
If you’ve spent any length of time involved in a charity, you’ll be familiar with the term theory of change. If not, don’t worry: In short, it’s a planning method that we in the third sector use to design campaigns. It’s all based around the notion of how social change happens, and a key part of that is the role of supporters.
A Shelter Scotland supporter is a member of the public who has decided they care about tackling and eradicating bad housing and homelessness, and would like to help us achieve our goal. These supporters make change happen, because the weight of their combined opinion puts pressure on those who can make long term change: the government and our politicians.
Here at Shelter Scotland, we could write the most impressive policy solution to homelessness the world has ever seen, but the chances of it being picked up by those in power are greatly reduced if there’s no public interest in the issue. However, if more people receive our emails, more people become aware of, and interested in, the issues around bad housing and homelessness. Newspapers start to write about it. Articles get traction on social media. Someone contacts their local councillor, and, in this way, the seeds of change are sown.
But is it really that simple? How does it work in practice? Well, let’s look at a couple of practical examples where this approach has worked for us here at Shelter Scotland.
In April 2014, we launched the ‘Age Factor’ campaign, urging the Scottish Government to get rid of a specific clause in the Housing (Scotland) Bill that would allow social landlords to discriminate based on age when allocating homes. It hardly needs saying that most people aren’t generally interested in the specific wording of government bills! But, by galvanising our supporters, more than 450 people signed up to the campaign in just 4 weeks, and emailed the Housing Minister to raise their concerns about this proposal.
And the clause was removed!
This is a clear example of how supporters – even those who can’t volunteer, or donate – can directly influence housing law: by using a petition to quantify the amount of people opposed to the proposal, we successfully put political pressure on the Housing Minister.
More recently, you’ve probably noticed that housing and homelessness have moved up the political agenda: The Government has announced a range of proposals to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over the past 6 months. This is as a direct consequence of the public having engaged with charities like Shelter Scotland and our campaigns. It really wouldn’t have happened without you.
If you receive our emails (or those of any charity!), but can’t donate time or money, you are still creating change. You are driving towards a better society by keeping up to date with the fight against homelessness; by reading blog posts, by talking about the issue with friends and family, by discussing it online. Of course, there’s always more you can do – share an article on social media, do some fundraising, visit our shops, or email your local MSP – any of these will help drive change even faster.
This is why, if you are a Shelter Scotland supporter, you’ll have received an email recently asking you to re-enter your details to confirm that we can contact you. There’s some new data protection legislation coming into force in May, that means we (and other charities) need very explicit permission to tell you about our work. So please, take a couple of minutes now to search your inbox for our latest email, and complete your details so you can keep fighting with us. And if you’re not already a supporter? Sign up now!
Do whatever you can, and together we can create a society in which no one is homeless.