The secret, accidental registered supporters scheme
By Mark Pack Author, 101 Ways To Win An Election in Liberal Democrat Newswire
There's also another reason to create a proper registered supporters scheme. The party has unintentionally created one already, and it's large: it has around 200,000 people in it, double the party's current membership.
This creation wasn't a deliberate plan. No conference motion was passed. No party committee gave it the green light. What's more, most people in the party don't even know it exists.
Its data is kept mostly secret from the party's frontline campaigners - and in turn, the party's grassroots campaigning is neither harnessed to recruit people to it nor is it directly aided by the current scheme's incarnation.
Accidental, top-down, divorced from our grassroots and in effect secret. That doesn't sound ideal and - as I'll go on to detail - it isn't.
It also means the default, what happens if we do nothing, isn't not to have a registered supporters scheme. It's to carry on with the one we've got.
The existing list of 200,000 plus people is the incidental side-effect of the very successful efforts to grow the party's membership. A large part of that has been running online campaigns to get people signed up with their email addresses and into a funnel of activity which aims to raise money and turn them into members. The overwhelming focus is on generating members and money - and given that's the remit the different staff working on this over the years were tasked with, it's worth emphasising that it's no criticism that this is just what they did - and did very successfully.
But the incidental side-effect was to build up this large database of people who have signed up to support at least one campaign (registered their support, one could say) and who don't become members. They get some servicing from party HQ: but it's from a small team whose main priority is money and members.
What's more, having the whole system reliant on a small number of people in one place greatly reduces its potential benefits. It means that the huge volunteer capacity in local parties and party bodies across the country isn't tapped to help involve and motivate registered supporters - or to recruit more.
The rest of the party doesn't get to know who they all are, unless you sort of engineer it backwards by looking for petition data added to Connect that you know hasn't come from your own local party. But even then, you don't get to see their email addresses, and it's nothing like as convenient or helpful or complete as having an actual list.
It also means that this pool of registered supporters is not integrated with the mini-pools that exist all around the party, such as the collections of non-member supporters who different local parties have in their leaflet delivery networks or on their social event invite lists.
The ability to tell registered supporters about what is happening locally and how they can get involved locally is massively curtailed by this HQ-only approach.
It is an approach whose roots are understandable. When I've asked HQ staff before about being able to access email addresses for the registered supporters for regional or local campaigning the answer has been that they don't want just anyone in the party contacting these people in case that undermines the effectiveness of the money and membership sells people are taken through.
Not without logic, for sure, but also a long way short of optimal given the way it pans out: not integrated with the other lists of supporters in the party, not available to directly help grassroots campaigning, only able to be serviced by a small number of over-worked staff and focused overwhelmingly on being a money-raising operation rather than the creation of a grassroots campaigning movement.
Again, there's a leaf that can be taken from the Canadian Liberal Party's book: they too didn't let just anyone in the party access their new supporters data. But what they did was set a quality standard for their equivalent of local parties: if you demonstrate the ability to run high-quality communications then you get access to the supporter data. That can even be turned into a positive incentive to train, learn and improve - as there's a benefit available to your local party if you do so.
So how can we take the existing de facto scheme and make it into one that maximises the benefits for the party and fits our organisational priorities:
- Communicating our values
- Increasing our capacity
- Improving our diversity
- Digitising the party
- Local campaigning