A sideways look at a Liberal Democrat institution

Chances are, if you’ve been to a Liberal Democrat event, you’ve bought a raffle ticket or two. Now don’t get me wrong. I like raffles. Some of my best friends run raffles. I’ve even won two raffle prizes in the last year. But for such a popular Liberal Democrat activity, we are often surprisingly poor at running them.

In perhaps three raffles out of five, by the time you get to the final few prizes, just about everyone in the room (if they are still paying attention) is impatient for the raffle to end, with too many prizes then exacerbated by the habit of someone saying “oh not me; put it back and draw another one”. Somewhere there is a group of Liberal Democrats trapped in a never-ending raffle that started in 1989.

There are some wonderfully run raffles – hats off to Putney for their lovely tickets and clever system. Yet far too often it is as if we are happy to do things the way we always have, without really stopping to think whether they work well.

Imaging a raffle where the prizes are limited to five, no-one is allowed to say no to a prize and the seller of the tickets personally asks each person in the room making eye-contact with them. It is not exactly raffle science, but it would revolutionise the quality of Liberal Democrat raffling, raising more money and making them more enjoyable.

The failure to exploit this double boost opportunity is not in itself exactly cataclysmic, but it is symptomatic of a wider problem – that of missing simple steps to improvement.

Take the example of the way Liberal Democrat events are frequently kept secret from anyone living the wrong side of one of our organisational boundaries. Of course, the people running the event do not deliberately set out to keep them secret… but if you do not list the event on Flock Together, do not put it up on Facebook, do not sent it to Liberal Democrat News and do not tell even the chairs of the neighbouring parties you end up with in effect keeping it secret from those outside your own party’s magic circle.

Yet in London and other large urban areas above all, the compact geography means people living just over the border – or living further way but working in the area – will often find it as easy, if not easier, to come to the event as those who are actually told about it.

Again some local parties do this extremely well – hats off in London to Bermondsey & Old Southwark and Camden for example. But not all. So what is the reason for this secrecy? Is that secret take-over bids for neighbouring local parties are discussed from which outsiders must be excluded? Of course not.

Having recently topped 100 local party visits in the last year – a mix of campaigning, speaking, providing training and socialising – I’ve seen these patterns across many local parties. There are many very positive patterns too, including the increasing frequency with which local events have a diverse group of people in terms of age, gender and ethnicity.

Yet it is often a matter of well intentioned habits being repeated as hard-working volunteers pressed for time have not paused to question them. As a result standards gradually slip over time and other new opportunities, especially those thrown up by technological developments, are passed up.

I certainly would not claim that any event I have organised has hit the magic perfection of getting everything maximised and right. But striving to improve each time brings benefits each time, however near or far that final destination may be. So next time you are involved in organising an event why not pick one thing to try to do better this time than last?

Just think of the extra raffle tickets that could be sold, not to mention the more prosaic benefits of giving more members and supporters the opportunities, for example, to hear and question Liberal Democrats talking about policies, beliefs and what we’re doing in government.

A shorter version of this piece first appeared in Liberal Democrat News, the party’s newspaper. You can get a subscription to Liberal Democrat News here.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters.


  • Liberal Neil 6th Jul '11 - 12:05pm

    Definitely limit the number of prizes (ideally to 3) and only have prizes actually worth winning.

    Smaller prizes should kept for the next tombola stall at a local event or similar.

  • Hmmm… This article should have gone out in the all members newsletter and should be compulsory reading. But you overestimate the willingness of people to open up their events. Our events are secret on purpose – we book venues that only have room for 20 people. If our keen neighbours came along we’d have people standing up!

  • Jonathan Webber 7th Jul '11 - 7:48am

    Wolverhampton SW took its annual stand at the Womborne Carnival last Saturday. Our Tombola, run and managed by Bryan Lewis who could give masterclasses on organisation and profitability, was located beside the Tory pitch – a tawdry and meretricious affair involving darts – but, significantly, we were doing at least 4 – 1 business over them. Modesty forbids me from revealing our takings but it was quite clear that there’s life in the British economy still.

    Next Saturday the Albrighton Carnival – just outside Wolverhampton. Four goes for a pound – eight for two quid. Tickets ending in 5 or 0 win…Roll up, roll up

  • No doubt this an important fundraising issue for local parties. However I’m not sure that having this story as the top article on the website sends out a good message about our credibility!

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