Opinion: Help, I’ve got lots of new members. What do I do? #libdemfightback

It’s a nice problem to have. It’s an unexpected problem to have. But it’s still a problem: quite what should local parties do with all the new members flooding in since polling day, the vast majority of whom are new to political parties.

Party HQ itself is getting much right that it hasn’t with previous bursts of new members: prompt member surveys, new member packs, welcome calls and getting people signed up to direct debit (much easier to renew) are all things done a bit in the past but now happening much more systematically.

Yet that isn’t a substitute for local embrace of new members and the record of local parties – as my mystery shopper showed – has been rather variable. So here are my five top tips:

  1. Speak to your new members as soon as possible. Aside from being useful, it’s also frankly a great pick-me-up from the election result to talk to new and eager people. (Top tip: all the new members go straight into Salesforce as they join the party so your local party can see the new lists in real time.)
  2. Put on a welcome social event, do it soon – and make it positive. There’s need for post-election angst sharing, more tears and remorse. That’s not the welcome for new members, however.
  3. Put on a campaigning event, do it soon – and make it easy. Don’t drown every new member in leaflets to deliver – but don’t over-react and think there’s no new member who wants to campaign. Go for two easy option – a group delivery session and a street stall. Both are easy to organise and give new members a chance to take part and to meet and chat to people.
  4. Get new members on your local email lists– both those for members and also those for voters. As the two are often run off different systems, it’s easy to forget to ensure that new members also start getting those emails from the local council group / devolved Assembly member and so on.
  5. Encourage new members to get more linked into the party online– whether it’s the Alliance of Liberal Democrats group on Facebook, the /libdems subreddit on Reddit, the @LibDems account on Twitter or even, ahem, my Liberal Democrat Newswire email list, the more closely new members become part of our online communities, the more likely they are to stay and to be involved.

And when doing this all remember: don’t assume you know how much members want to do or what their motivations are. Ask and be led by their answers – and have fun!

* Mark Pack is Party President and is the editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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  • When I first joined in the 1970’s in Crosby, there were no Ward organisations and perhaps only a dozen members in the constituency. There were more new joiners then than there were pre-existing members.

    At least that’s not likely now. If there are these constituencies with a couple of hundred new members, there may also be those with NO new joiners.

    Let’s hope that before the flow staunches that there are enough to float all boats…

  • All good stuff, but we should go further. This massive boost to our numbers should not be just a chance to mobilise more people to do what we are doing anyway, but to involve people in re-setting what we do.

    I was lucky that the local chair of the party when I joined quickly asked me about local issues I was aware of. I was given responsibility for writing street letters in certain areas and in turn involving others in this. I never even thought I would be a candidate, thought I was a wallflower who’d never do that sort of thing, but after a year of being involved and encouraged, Everybody will have intelligence on different issues depending on where they live and who they are, whether it’s dumping in the local park or excessive use of stop-and-search. We can also ask them if they know others who might be interested in particular campaigns, if not in joining the party itself.

    If we treat people as equals, encourage them to take on greater responsibility, we can further increase our knowledge, networks, and our ability to act in communities. It’s the difference between community organising, and simply mobilising members.

  • So many people in my little circle have said that they were furious with the outgoing leader and about fees and do didn’t voteLD (odd quirk, most won’t say, but I think largely they went Tory or Green) and they now feel very sad, or sorry, or concerned. I don’t think they should feel remorseful, the party didn’t appeal. This might mean though that the membership surge continues as people come to remember exactly what an unbridled Tory govt means.
    And, anyway, we’ve been here before …

  • Ruth Bright 15th May '15 - 8:23am

    Why shouldn’t new members be part of a post-election discussion? If you choose to join a team at its’ lowest ebb you might just have a view on its’ relegation!

  • Enlight_Bystand 15th May '15 - 10:39am

    Ruth – I don’t think that Mark was saying that new members shouldn’t be involved in the post election process, what he was saying is that your social to eet them should be slanted more positively than that – it should be about how great it is that these people are coming to us and all the good they and we can do together, rather than bemoaning what has just happened and worrying about what we’ve lost

  • Excellent stuff as always Mark. I’d make just 2 amendments to your list:
    “1. Speak to your new members as soon as possible.”
    Yes. But this means SPEAK to them. Not just emails, letters and tweets, but actual words, coming out of your mouth! Go knock on their door, or pick up the phone. Talk to them in person. This will impress them so much. Share the job out between your current activists, so that you make this personal contact within the next few days.
    “3. Put on a campaigning event, do it soon – and make it easy.”
    Absolutely. But after the event has finished, make sure you go to the pub, and INSIST on the newbies joining you.
    Personal contact, eye-ball to eye-ball, is so vital here. It will really impress them. And it will also help you get the right messages across to them about how the party works and how they can best fit in and get involved.

  • I wanted to write something about this so am glad somebody has done so. However, Mark P’s comments are all current best practice and I wanted to think more broadly about how membership could be more rewarding. My three ideas are:

    1. Let’s try to recover the fun in being a Lib Dem. Whatever your view of the coalition, the last 5 years have been miserable in terms of being a plucky insurgent. With UKIP falling apart before our eyes, we can recapture that – more cakes, parties, laughter and a variety of social events….

    2. Making things family-friendly. As the parent of two young children, I have come to realise how family unfriendly most political parties are. We seem to be stuck in the era when men left their families behind and did other activities, whether that was golf or a spot of politics. Lots of the new members are young, many probably have demanding jobs and if they have families, they want to spend time with them at the weekends rather than manning street stalls. How can we manage events where families are welcome? Well, what about a family day at conference with events aimed at children and teenagers as well? Local parties can think about social events where children will be welcome (somewhat surprisingly my children went to a “thank you” party and after the recent election, asked if they can go to another one).
    3. Engaging our members in relation to “values” and history of the party. One thing that the party is not short of is academics. It would be great if the party could develop some Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in relation to liberal thought or liberal history and present them to members.

  • Yes, the pub is vital !.

  • Good points Tony!

    Ruth / Enlight – that’s right. My point is about a welcoming rather than downbeat initial experience and in most places election post-mortems are going to be relatively downbeat affairs.

  • I think the family friendly events ideas are brilliant Mark G. Let’s get them taken up by local parties and conference

  • Mark I was going to tease you about shamelessly plugging your book but then my eight year old asked for “101 Ways to win an Election” as his bedtime reading (yes he really did) so now I am shamelessly plugging your book too!

  • Hah 🙂

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 16th May '15 - 9:59am

    @Mark G, I like this idea: “3. Engaging our members in relation to “values” and history of the party. One thing that the party is not short of is academics. It would be great if the party could develop some Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in relation to liberal thought or liberal history and present them to members.” Thank you for sharing this new idea regarding new members.

  • Donald Fraser 19th May '15 - 11:02am

    I am uncomfortable with any decision to use the term “fightback” post-election in the way you are doing. Are others?

    This term “fightback” was OK during the campaign period. It was clear the Liberal Democrats were going to lose seats. Therefore “fightback” sounded heroic and smacked of “resistance”. Yet not now!

    For policy makers to deploy this phrase “fightback” post-election comes across as opportunistic, dumb and at worst hints of cowardice. You use it in resistance to what? The election is over, what are you resisting save cuts in your own advisory numbers? It is risky to confuse our need to rebuild as a party with a collective “fightback”. If there is no moral courage implicit in a fightback, be warned of championing it.

    New members are joining in large numbers but I doubt they are attracted by “fightback” branding. If we need to “fightback”, I suggest, it is now against those who are calling for a “fightback” in print.

    Does championing “fightback” not demonstrate what is wrong? Slogans over substance, coupled with the false hope Twitter reaches out. Is this simplistic attempt to hi-jack the slogan of those students, whose anger caused so much damage, not worthy of a desperate marketing award?

    Any “fightback” is best reserved as a focus in the future, not now! Expanding the use of this label only alienates those with whom the hardest work now begins. We risk a permanent loss of faith of students and all those against tuition fees if we simply usurp their old slogan for new ends.

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