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European citizens’ initiatives organisers came together in Brussels to share practical tips and tricks for a successful campaign

As part of the Take The Initiative campaign, the European Citizens’ Initiative team with the support of the European Commission Representation in Belgium organised a knowledge-sharing workshop in Brussels on 1 July 2019.  A platform for sharing experience and discussing challenges, the workshop focused on providing advice on how to carry out a successful campaign, find partners, get funds and collect 1 million signatures in 1 year.

Tips and tricks to a successful European citizens’ initiative

The workshop gathered NGOs, youth and student organisations, as well as other Belgian organisations that had the opportunity to meet and learn together how to successfully run a campaign for a European citizens’ initiative. The discussion was hosted by Philippe Van Parijs, Professor at Université catholique de Louvain, who was joined by Dénès András Nagy, Organiser of the “Minority SafePack” initiative; Thomas Huddleston, Research Director of Migration Policy Group and Partner of the initiative “We are a welcoming Europe!”; Marcell Hevesi, Representative of the “Stop Fraud” initiative; Silvia Kersemakers, Policy officer at the European Commission; and Elisa Lironi, Senior Manager European Democracy at the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS). They shared their good practices and personal experiences providing the audience with useful tips and tricks to carry out a successful campaign. The most relevant outcomes of the workshop are featured below.  

The three most relevant resources enabling you to find partners and run a fruitful campaign

The organisers of initiatives highlighted the importance of putting at least three crucial elements together to find allies and run a successful campaign all around Europe:

  • Establishing a strong online presence via an attractive website and dynamic social media pages. To make this happen, it is necessary to have a campaign team with expertise in storytelling and communication.
  • Mobilising a large number of volunteers across Europe to support the campaign through the organisation of events, flash mobs and other local activities.
  • Finding relevant partners such as NGOs or international organisations who can be involved in the promotion of the initiative from the beginning. They might help raise money, spread the message and expand the volunteer base (e.g. Transparency International is one of the partners of the “Stop Fraud” Initiative).

How to keep your partners’ motivation high during the whole campaign?

An important element discussed among the participants was the challenge of keeping motivation high among all the partners during the campaign year. Community and goal were the two keywords put forward by the initiative organisers to sustain motivation.

Keeping your partners motivated comes from inspiring them with a strong sense of community and reminding them that you all share the same goal. The organisers suggested to frequently organise physical meetings and skype calls with all partners involved in the initiative.

Furthermore, the campaign has to be driven by an effective goal. Denes András Nagy said that their technique was to set a higher goal than actually needed to avoid any bad surprises such as signatures being considered as invalid by the competent authority. In this regard, the partners can be encouraged to pledge to gather a certain number of signatures as this can be a powerful driver of their commitment.

Getting funding and finding the time for campaigning: challenging but feasible!

The participants pointed out that 1 million signatures is a tough goal to reach and there are two main challenges: finding funds and committing enough time for campaigning. The organisers suggested a number of financing opportunities that should be explored such as online crowdfunding, sponsorships and donations.

With respect to time, they reminded the participants that they have more than 500 million EU citizens at their disposal and what they need to focus on is creating commitment. A campaign needs a defined team working on the project on a full time basis, however it can be supported by a large number of volunteers and partners on a temporary basis and this pool of resources should not be underestimated.

A successful European citizens’ initiative needs to rely on powerful storytelling

The experienced initiative organisers provided the participants with many useful tips identifying them as key factors of effective storytelling:

  • Selecting your key messages in order to address the main concerns of your target audience and gain their support is crucial.
  • Giving your initiative a short, punchy and easily translated title (e.g. “Ban glyphosate”) and writing clearly and concisely across all your media channels and materials will certainly make it easier for the audience to comprehend and associate with your cause.
  • Adapting your story to the language and cultural background of your target countries is crucial to get your message across. In this regard, it is also advisable to translate effectively the initiative’s title by trying to find an equivalent expression in the respective language even though it does not correspond to the literal translation.

In conclusion, the participants emphasised that the success of an initiative is strongly related to an effective and targeted communication campaign based not only on expertise but also on strong commitment and team work.

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