Ask Nicely, Ask Often, Ask Well by Mark Pack & Edward Maxfield

By at July 29, 2013 | 1:09 pm | Print

Ask Nicely, Ask Often, Ask Well by Mark Pack & Edward Maxfield

Edward Maxfield 2013

A boy was struggling to lift a heavy stone when his father called out to him: ‘Are you using all your strength?’ ‘Yes, I am,’ the child said impatiently. ‘No, you are not,’ replied the father. ‘For I am right here just waiting, and you haven’t asked me to help you.’

Knowing you need a team to get things done is the easy bit. Actually having such a team is rather harder. How, then, do you get people to join the team and do things? By asking, and by asking well. Human beings are often remarkably reluctant to ask others for help, afraid of receiving a ‘no’ – or a ruder response. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Indeed, we would go further: you need to ask regularly or you risk people drifting away.

Ed got involved with a single-issue pressure group a few years back. It was campaigning against a move to change the law on an issue he felt strongly about. He heard their spokesperson on the radio and signed up as a supporter via their website. There was an initial contact with a simple campaign ask, an update or two and then silence. The legislative initiative had been defeated but the issue remained. Three years later the issue burst to life again. An email arrived (to an email address that had been retired for months). Then silence once more. Your campaigning author did not bother to get involved again.

 This is a simple story but one that is almost sure to be too common to people who get involved with political parties. They make contact in a burst of enthusiasm (we hear many stories of the hardships people endure even finding someone in their community to make contact with!). Then there is silence. Investigate further and often you will find well-meaning (overstretched) activists who ‘planned to get in touch but didn’t like to bother them’. You need to meet enthusiasm with enthusiasm and to give volunteers a sense of a dynamic organisation that is determined to achieve its goals. Keeping in touch and asking for help regularly is a key part of that.

When asking for help, remember to ask nicely – often you are asking people to give up their own time voluntarily so that you can win political power. They need to like you in order to be happy with that exchange! That is not only a matter of good manners and polite vocabulary; it is also a matter of giving people proper attention when asking for help. Even if your approach is not face-to-face, people can still tell the difference between an off-hand, quick email, phone call or letter asking for help and one that has some care and attention given to it.

And ask often. Even if someone has declined to help once, it does not mean you should never ask them again. A different question at a different time can still get a yes. Even the same question may also get a yes second time round. Make the most of the opportunities you have: Mark has an obsession about sign-in sheets for meetings and rallies, for example. Always have one – and make sure there is one on every chair – and always give people the chance to offer help by ticking a box on the sheet.

Think about the nature of the opportunity, too. UK politician Ed Davey pioneered asking friends and family who are not politically active to help with his election campaign on its final weekend. The urgency and specific nature of the request makes it something people are willing to respond to, even if they normally have no interest in politics.

 When asking, you need to frame the question well, make it clear what you are asking for, why you are asking, how it can be done and when it needs doing.

The easier it is for someone to envisage themselves carrying out the task, the more likely they are to say yes.

That also means it is best to ask for something that is only a small step up from what they currently are doing – or a small, concrete and finite task if they are not yet doing anything.

 Above all, just ask.

This lesson was taken from our book, 101 Ways To Win An Election which in addition to the 10 in this series has another 91 for you to learn from! Buy the book

Dr Mark Pack is the co-author of 101 Ways To Win an Election and former Head of Innovations for the UK’s Liberal Democrat party, where he ran the party’s 2001 and 2005 online general election campaigns. His internet campaigning firsts include arranging the first British political party leader on Facebook and the first British election candidate website to take online donations.

@markpack on Twitter

Dr Edward Maxfield has worked as a campaigns and communications professional for over a decade. He currently runs the constituency office of Norman Lamb, UK Member of Parliament and Health Minister in the Coalition Government. Ed was a member of the Liberal Democrats’ national campaigns team from 2001 to 2006 and has also worked as a lecturer, a lobbyist and for some of the world’s biggest business consultancy firms.

Management & Strategy

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