Home > Grassroots Liberal Democracy, Party Internals > Helping Local Lib Dem Parties to Engage, Recruit and Develop Members

Helping Local Lib Dem Parties to Engage, Recruit and Develop Members

November 3, 2011

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice The other night, I caught the tail end of a discussion on Twitter, wherein Andy Emmerson had decided to leave the party, seemingly because his local party were inactive and unresponsive. Fortunately, by the time I looked, he’d decided to transfer membership to a more active local party instead. I was pleased to see Tim Farron taking part in the discussion, which spurred a lot of debate and raised some important considerations, such as the disconnect between online Lib Dem communities and the real world, particularly for members in geographically distant or less active constituencies. However, the point I wanted to talk about today was the one raised about Liberal Democrat HQ providing training to local party membership secretaries and membership development officers.

The party’s emphasis during the Chris Rennard years was on winning elections to the near exclusion of all else, but that was never going to be sustainable in the long term. Party membership is by no means in the terrible state that Polly Toynbee would like us to believe, but fewer people are joining us unprompted, or staying with us without good reason, given the relentless negative media coverage of the last 18 months. Still, local parties which are putting some of their energy into recruitment and retention are getting good results at all levels, and we need to promote and create resources to help them to do that.

As readers of this blog will know, my experience on joining the party was pretty awful. I had no contact from my local party for years until I moved away, other than the local MP coming round to ask me to deliver Focus. My main motivation in starting this blog was to share good practice and information to save other people from the same fate.  I’ve put my money where my mouth is and been a local party membership development officer. So I know first-hand that it’s bloody hard. Like most positions, there’s very little idea before the fact of what the roles entail or how best to carry them out. There exists a guide to local party exec roles which has some ideas, which should be available on Huddle, but it’s not widely known.

I’m not keen on suggestions that as a party we should be reliant on LDHQ to do things on behalf of local parties. In this particular instance there’s actually already quite a lot that the party at all levels can provide to help local parties help themselves. The first thing to consider also is lines of communication – there are membership officers in your nearby local parties whom you can contact for advice and support, along with your region’s membership officers, and the Membership Department at LDHQ. Of course, there are plenty of other membership officers online, using Facebook, LDV fora and other communications outside the party hierarchies.

On the national level, the Department for Campaigns and Skills has realised the need to improve training in membership engagement, development and recruitment, and the last couple of Federal Conferences have seen more modules and sessions in this area alongside the ones on campaign skills etc. Of course, not every local party membership officer, or potential, is going to be able to make Federal Conference. Regional Conferences usually have small training programmes, and regions run training days – particularly if a local party, or group of them, request training in membership activities.

Formal training might not work for everybody. While rewarding, it involves organisation, travel, and volunteer party-accredited training. So resources to help membership officers engage, recruit and develop members are needed, which can be distributed more easily. I’m working on a membership engagement pack, which I’ll be distributing to local parties in my region in the New Year. It contains template letters and artwork, some good practice and FAQs, but most importantly a series of checklists, starting from the very basics that every local party should do regardless of size, to the sort of thing a party with plenty of volunteers and activists can achieve to expand further.

This post is designed to give local party membership officers some hints as to where they might go to get advice, training and information about how to develop their membership. It’s not intended to provide specific details on engagement and recruitment – I’m not going to put those on the Internet where activists of all parties can read them! But please do circulate this to membership officers and officers-elect, and let’s see what we can do to make sure that membership of the Liberal Democrats is fun, engaging, rewarding and inspiring for all our members.

  1. November 3, 2011 at 8:05 am

    I’m in that local party that Andrew Emmerson has left. I must say the going is slow to get people motivated and get out promoting good stuff the Lib Dems are doing. They are trying, but I do find some things somewhat frustrating.

    • November 3, 2011 at 8:44 am

      Tracy, do any of the suggestions here help? What other advice and support could help your local party?

  2. Nonconformistradical
    November 3, 2011 at 8:58 am

    There is an implication here that training is the main prerequisite. It may be essential but it isn’t the only one. The Chris Rennard targetting strategy has had the non-beneficial side effect of leaving other local parties to wither on the vine to the point where they don’t have the resources (people and/or funds) to do the actual work on the ground. Especially in more rural areas.

    • November 3, 2011 at 7:13 pm

      I certainly didn’t mean to imply that training was the main prerequisite. However, it’s the most obvious resource already available to local party officers, and still not that widely known.

      As mentioned towards the end of the article, the material I’m working on is aimed at all sizes of local party, including those with very limited resources.

  3. November 4, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    I attended good training some years ago, yet could not put it into practice as the local “old guard” could nether accept that they had failed to recruit and retain effectively, nor that if we applied what I had learned we may do better? 5 years on we seem no further on? sighs… We also have to be realistic that this area is hugely time consuming and needs a committed team working on this (not a lone activist), and in addition to the campaign team. This has never really been made a priority here.

    • November 5, 2011 at 12:27 pm

      I suspect that part of the rationale behind splitting local party membership roles into two positions (Membership Data Officer and Membership Development Officer) was to have two people collaborating on slightly different areas of the membership process. I’m very familiar with being the lone voice calling for engagement with the membership in the face of a know-it-all “old guard”.

  4. Sandra Taylor
    November 5, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    Fingers crossed! 🙂

  5. November 14, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    I’d appreciate any help yopu can provide in this respect.

  1. November 13, 2011 at 5:18 pm
  2. November 24, 2011 at 2:30 pm
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