Why the Social Sector Should Tap into People’s ‘Enormous Capacity for Empathy’
Thursday, 14th June 2018 at 8:39 am
The social sector should tap into people’s “enormous capacity for empathy” when looking to build an effective campaign, according to one of the key figures behind Australia’s successful marriage equality campaign.
Sally Rugg is the executive director of Change.org and was previously a campaign director at GetUp, where she led their successful marriage equality campaign for five years.
Rugg spoke on a panel at the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) 2018 Summit on Wednesday, discussing “The Art of Persuasion”, along with Obesity Policy Coalition executive manger Jane Martin and Australian Education Union campaigns director Tony Milne.
The panel looked at how organisations can build an effective campaign and shift the public’s understanding of social issues to drive action.
Rugg told Pro Bono News that major change – like with the legalisation of same-sex marriage – was only possible through the work of thousands of people over many years.
“Change doesn’t happen from just one person or one small group of people. You need people to pick up your cause and stand with you if you’re going to make change,” Rugg said.
Looking at what the social sector could learn from the success of the marriage equality campaign, Rugg said it was important for campaigns to harness the empathy and goodwill of everyday Australians.
“Australians have an enormous capacity for empathy. I really do think that we are a caring people and we are a generous people,” she said.
“And so I think a lesson that can be used in all campaigns is that people don’t like problems, they don’t want to pick up somebody else’s problem and then have it be their own problem.
“But people do want to support other people if they care about them. So I think effective campaigning doesn’t make somebody else’s problem yours, effective campaigning makes you care about the person seeking justice.”
She said that she learned many lessons from the marriage equality campaign, which resulted in 61.6 per cent of Australians voting “yes” for same-sex marriage.
“[I learnt] that you’re not going to persuade everybody and you’re not going to please everybody and that’s okay,” she said.
“But to make change you need to think about who you’re trying to persuade and speak to them directly.”
When discussing effective campaigning during the VCOSS Summit panel, Milne said “the facts shall not set you free”.
“It’s so important to have facts and figures and research. But it should not be the main act in terms of persuasion,” Milne said.
“When have you ever been persuaded by a fact?”
Milne said what was much more important was stories.
“Stories are how we learn. It’s how we end up actually shifting our view and changing our mind.”
Martin added that partnerships were also important to campaigning.
“It helps break down the silos,” Martin said.
“I think it’s also important to present a united front, to politicians, bureaucrats and media.
“It simplifies what you’re asking for and it’s important to have very simple messaging around what you want done. What change do you want to see?”
When questioned by an Indigenous audience member – Eddie Moore – about how to convince the federal government to hold a referendum to establish an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, Rugg warned that change could be a slow process.
“We had majority support for marriage equality for a decade before [it was legalised]. Sometimes change is slow,” she said.