As the party of government for more than 12 years now, Conservative Members of Parliament are a vital group of policymakers for charities when it comes to engagement. In total, the party has more than 350 elected MPs from across Great Britain in Westminster. Within the party, there are many different factions and groupings, which can make it tricky to navigate as a charity trying to get your messages across. However, charities have an opportunity to build consensus if they manage to find a champion in a powerful group. 

Pro Bono Economics is dedicated to helping the social sector build a UK with higher wellbeing for all and, through the Law Family Commission on Civil Society, has been speaking with and surveying policymakers on their perceptions of the charity sector. This research is designed to help charities ensure they get the most out of their interactions with policymakers today and into the future. Here are five key things for charities to consider when trying to influence and build relationships with Conservative MPs: 

1. Charities will stand a far better chance of receiving a positive response if they personalise their communications and tailor them to an MP’s specific area of work.

Nearly seven in 10 Conservative MPs (69%) told the Commission that they favour communications from charities which are tailored to their area of work. Emails that are clearly personalised are welcomed and read. It is important to make a good first impression, showing that a charity is enterprising, capable and understands the MP’s interests. This information can be gleaned from exploring any committees or all-party parliamentary groups an MP sits on, as well as checking their social media, MP website and the TheyWorkForYou website. One Conservative MP said: “Targeted lobbying is very effective – you work out who on the Health Select Committee might be sympathetic to your cause and speak directly to them [with] very carefully-worded letters, etc. PPSs [Parliamentary Private Secretaries] and Select Committees are where to start. But the mass of shrapnel landing on my desk? I just press delete.” 

2. Charities should make sure their communications are supported by rigorous evidence wherever possible, including constituency-level data and real-life case studies if available.

Conservative MPs value the specialist insights which charities can provide on multiple issues. More than six in 10 (62%) surveyed by the Commission said they had used the evidence or insights provided by a charity they know. However, 65% of Conservative MPs said they found charity evidence can be partial or flaky. Charities looking to make their work as robust as possible should look to voluntarily apply the UK Statistics Authority’s code of practice, which is full of good advice to help make evidence more rigorous. The Commission research found that individual MPs will respond well to constituency-level data that gives them a chance to talk about a particular issue. One Conservative MP also spoke about the importance of hearing first-hand personal experience of an issue. She told the Commission: “The most effective lobbying is [the charity] sending teenage asylum seekers, hunting me down, the most articulate kids with A-Levels who don’t have status in the UK.” 

3. Conservative MPs prefer in-person meetings with charities.

The Commission research found that a preferred means of communication with charities for Conservative MPs is attending an event they have been invited to by a charity. Nearly seven in 10 (68%) Conservative MPs said this was important. Similarly, 65% of Conservative MPs surveyed said they considered one-to-one meetings with representatives of a charity as important. Just over half of the Conservative MPs (54%) surveyed said they considered a letter or email as an important method of communication from a charity. 

4. Sending blanket emails campaigning on a particular issue or showing political bias puts people off.

Conservative MPs are particularly wary of charities which campaign to change policy if they are in receipt of public money through contracts or grants, with nearly six in 10 (58%) telling the Commission they disagreed with charities doing this. Similarly, more than half of Conservative MPs (53%) think charities have a tendency towards political bias in their communications. One Conservative MP told the Commission: “[Charities] often use campaign emails, all identical – ‘dear brackets’ and ‘insert name here’, which does nothing other than to turn the MP against whichever organisation. What it does do is it enables the public affairs director [of the charity] to say, ‘We have spoken to 650 MPs, we are effective lobbyists.’” 

5. Engagement with Conservative MPs would be more effective if the sector improved its understanding of the role of MPs and the mechanics of government.

According to the Commission research, MPs of all stripes feel that charities are held back by a lack of understanding about the mechanics of government and the role of MPs. One Conservative MP said: “What I get fed up with is someone representing the charity who doesn’t look like they have experienced puberty and doesn’t know the first thing about Parliament, yet they are lobbying – I find myself educating them as many of them don’t have any idea about how you influence policy or get things on the statute books. These people know all about TikTok, but this is about making relationships with humans. The best lobbyists are not aggressive – they are persuasive, and they need to make their alliances strategically.” However, some parliamentarians also acknowledged that MPs generally lack sufficient understanding of the variety of organisations which make up the charity sector.  

Charities and community groups looking to improve their understanding of government structures and the role of MPs should keep an eye on resources from organisations like the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, as well as monitoring the work and events that the Institute for Government offers. Surveys of MPs are another resource that would be very useful to those looking to engage with MPs.