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Charities’ guide to campaigning during a general election

25 June 2024

by Media Trust and Clare Laxton

Article

Article

We've delved into the complexities on campaigning during a general election so you don't have to. With expert advice and essential tips, read on to find out how your charity can engage supporters effectively and responsibly across the upcoming general election.

Is your charity thinking about campaigning during the general election, but unsure where to start? The rules and regulations around campaigning as a charity can seem overwhelming, but elections are a great opportunity for charities to connect with their supporters.  

With advice from election campaign expert Clare Laxton, we’ve put together key information and tips to help your charity campaign effectively and responsibly during the upcoming election. 

Understanding charity regulations 

Charities play a crucial role in advocating for social change and influencing public policy. In general election periods, it’s vital that charities follow the electoral campaigning laws when discussing political parties and general elections.  

The Charity Commission guidance states that campaigning and political activity can be legitimate and valuable activities for charities to undertake. The guidance tells us that, during elections, “charities must not support or oppose a political party or candidate. Charities must not donate funds to political parties.”  

The Lobbying Act 2014 created a set of rules to govern people and organisations that publicly campaign on issues in the run up to elections but are not standing as a political party or candidate. These people or organisations are referred to as ‘non-party campaigners’.

Registering with the electoral commission

Whether your charity must register with the Electoral Commission as a ‘non-party campaigner’ depends on the scale and cost of your electoral related campaigns. 

As per the Lobbying Act, if charities intend to spend more than £10,000 on regulated campaign activity during the regulated period, they must notify the Electoral Commission. If they spend more than £20,000 (£10,000 in Northern Ireland and Scotland) they must register with the Electoral Commission. 

Regulated campaign activity is judged by the below tests:   

  • The purpose test: If an activity can reasonably be regarded as intending to influence voters to vote in a particular way, then it meets the purpose test. 
  • The public test: If the activity is available or aimed at the public, then it meets the public test.  

You must notify and register with the Electoral Commission if your activity:  

  1. Meets the purpose test
  2. Meets the public test 
  3. Is in the regulated period (365 days before Polling Day)  
  4. Involves spending over £20,000 in England and Wales and £10,000 in Scotland and Northern Ireland 

 If met, then the charity is defined as non-party campaigners, and must register with the Electoral Commission 

Campaign costs could include paid advertising on social media, staff costs, graphic and/or design costs for content creation.  

For small and medium sized charities, there may be minimal expenditure for campaigns relating to the election. Regardless, it’s best to monitor spending on all campaign activities so that you’re aware if your charity exceeds the limit. 

Knowing the dos and don’ts 

When charity’s campaign in a general election period, it’s crucial to stay neutral. This mean focusing on the relevant issues to your cause, rather than specific political parties or candidates. Be transparent by clearly explaining your charity’s stance and activities and engage your supporters by mobilising them around your work without endorsing any parties.  

Examples of Charity Commission approved activities for charities include (but are not limited to):  

  • Creating a social media post on how key topics related to their mission feature across party manifestos 
  • Organise a hustings or public debate  
  • Publish manifestos of their own setting out actions your charity would like to see from the next elected government (Example: Trussell Trust’s 2024 general election manifesto).

Engaging audiences 

Campaigning during a general election can offer many benefits for charities. Effective campaigns can provide unbiased information on key issues, helping supporters make informed decisions without endorsing specific candidates. Engaging your audience through social media, public events, or website resources can lead to strong advocacy for your work, and better public awareness for your cause. For impactful results, planning ahead is crucial. Develop a clear strategy that aligns with your charity’s mission and complies with the legal guidelines mentioned. 

Final checklist 

Ready to start campaigning? Use Clare’s campaign ready checklist below to find out.

Have you: 

  • Read the relevant rules and regulations? 
  • Decided whether to notify or register with the Electoral Commission as non-party campaigner? 
  • Reviewed your campaign plans to see if they include or do not include regulated campaign activity? 
  • Supported your colleagues in understanding the key rules and the importance of the political independence of the charity?

If you’ve checked all of the points above, your charity is ready to get started! Remember: stay neutral, be transparent, and follow the legal limits.

Good luck!

Further reading: 

 

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