Branch Development – Sowing the Seeds of Growth

Case Study: Poole Conservative Future launched their branch on Thursday 12th August 2010 and I went along to support them. Ashley Fraser who has recently set up the branch and Area Chairman for Dorset, Will Burstow must be congratulated for their efforts in its creation and continued efforts to empower branches to grow. The Poole launch was branch development in action, and as a result I would like to dedicate this policy announcement to them and their hard work. As just one example of the continued growth of Conservative Future I want to help support, I am going to new CF branches that have emerged in recent months as examples of how we can continue to grow and support the future of our members. Poole in Dorset is not one of the youngest demographics in the country, but they showed at their launch that they have the enthusiasm and the will to actively grow their fledging CF branch and become a force to be reckoned with. The growth of branches will enable MPs, MEPs, PPCs, Mayor’s and AM’s to be elected. Recently formed branches of Brigg and Goole, Morley and Outwood in Yorkshire and the potential of branches in Newbury and Banbury show that even after the election, there’s an appetite and a willingness to get involved in activity. The best way to ensure that branches continue to be set up and grow is grass roots support and localism. The following ideas are again a mixture of my own ideas and those presented to me from members across the country during my consultation. Building Branches It can be surprisingly difficult to start up a Conservative Future branch. With the rigmarole and bureaucracy of politics sometimes it can seem there are a lot of party hoops to jump through, and so a key issue is working to maintain the enthusiasm throughout the creation of a branch. Having developed two CF branches over the last few years, I know it can be difficult, but once set up, a branch is incredibly rewarding. Under my leadership, I will fight to make sure CF is always a bottom-up, membership led organization. In common with our plans for the “Big Society”, this isn’t about the CF leadership dictating who and where branches should be set up, but empowering our members on the ground to start activity for themselves. Our regions and members must be confident setting up their own branches. If they see a gap in the market, my message is ‘Plug it’. If an association is on board, it is wise to work with them to get the maximum support for a fledgling branch, even if it’s just £50 behind the bar at a launch party – every little helps. At a recent relaunch of Ealing CF, the association kindly donated money to support the event and have offered to contact to all constituents that are under 30 and survey their views. Working to tap into the local population and scout for new membership using this data is crucial. As soon as we find a new Conservative Voter in our demographic, they should be invited along to CF social events, kept in the loop and every effort made to bring them into the fold. Toolkits

I will be working with the National Executive to create a toolkit for members who want to set up/build their branch. While there is one that can be accessed through CCHQ already, members have requested that the pack get’s updated, is more user friendly and can be easily accessible from a central source. The recently created CF National Constitution has now been published and is available for anyone to use as a template for his or her own local CF branch. I will review all material and compile these resources into easy to use packages that can at least take the fuss out of this stage of proceedings. Developing and Growing Branches The best way to encourage branch creation and growth is quite simply Activity. The more events you have, the more chances you have to grow and get more people to come along to events. If your first event only attracts a handful of people, branches mustn’t be disheartened. Get each of those to bring a friend to your next one and you’ve already doubled your membership! If starting from scratch, the first few events must be social and regular. We’re all familiar that with a social as first contact, people are more likely to come later to a social campaigning event. When campaigning, it’s vital that fun activities and social events are linked to the hard graft to reward the valuable time members give. This is especially true of new members, who need to be shown how much their joining is appreciated. Once branches are up and running and are seen to be active, we should look to a more diverse range of events and topics, from policy and debating, through to social action and community drives. Nationally we must deliver a membership growth that gives itself obtainable targets and ensures that we work effectively and creatively. Ensuring the Branch Continues While it is brilliant to see new branches being created across the country, we need to ensure that branches do not fade away once the founding members move on. Poole touched on this issue at their branch launch and it is the most important point of this entire policy article. If you elect me to lead CF, I am committed to the impact I make being sustainable even after I leave post. As CF Chairman I will not be able to grow every branch across the country, what I can do however is give you the tools on which to prosper. University & College Branches There are a number of branches currently being launched and relaunched in Universities and Colleges across the country. Two great examples are London Met and Queen Mary’s in London. I have been in contact with both branches to offer them any advice to help them grow. In order to keep the localist momentum, I will ensure that Regional Chairman have a target to create and maintain an active branch in every university and college in their region, whether that means going to a Freshers’ Fair or holding a ‘get to know you’ drinks event that is advertised around the University. We need to support our University branches, who frequently have to fight tooth and nail against left-wing monopolized Students’ Unions, trying to abolish freedom of speech and other policies we know don’t represent our members. CF and our branches should actively support our members in standing for office in Students’ Unions, Athletics’ Unions and all other branches of student politics in order to make sure the funds that ultimately come from Students aren’t wasted on socialist scheming.

I want to see a CF Fresher’s Stand at every Fair and most importantly they will have to be manned. We cannot simply have a table with a clipboard, we must be active in promoting our organization, ensuring more people join our societies. Everyone in CF should play a part in helping on these occasions, and indeed I am currently working with Dan Horrocks in Dudley to man a Freshers’ Stall at their college. Working with Nearby Branches New branches need to have the support of other local branches in order to grow and develop. In Poole for example, there were a couple of new local members, and they had the support of the whole area. Not only was this great at showing they were an active branch with lots of support, this looked great for new members who saw a highly active branch encouraging them to attend future meetings. Associate Memberships If the National Party can have an associate membership scheme, I do not see why CF can’t also look at ways to stay in touch with those who don’t want to be fully committed to joining up in the short term. While we must continue to ensure that CF member’s pay their membership fees, there are a great number of people we just have email addresses for, are on are social networks, and otherwise want to be involved without being an active member. We should actively use these contacts as targets for membership growth, donors to campaigns, and develop events with the intention of bringing them on board for full membership. Membership Data I want to see more branches knowing what to do with their membership data, rather than a scramble a few weeks before a CF election getting data onto Merlin or through to central office. In relation to membership data members will be encouraged to follow this easy 4 step plan: 1. Ask for name, address, mobile number, email address and D.O.B (For university branches – take home address and personal email addresses as well) 2. Send membership data gathered to your local association to upload onto Merlin (or equivalent system) 3. If a Branch, send email addresses to Area Chairman, if an Area, send email addresses to your Regional Chairman (for improved regional communication) 4. Ensure that the renewal date is marked and reminders are sent out accordingly Membership Cards It is an ongoing saga that CF members do not receive a CF membership card, only a national membership card. I will be working with the party to get one that is easily accessible for branches to access centrally. Local associations will be given the template and they can send out CF cards along with the national membership card. Failing Branches I am committed to putting fresh vigour into the democracy of CF, and that means accountability. If a branch is failing, members will have a chance to force through an enquiry held by the next level up from their branch. E.g. if a branch has problems, then their Area Chairman will intervene. If the review considers that the branch is not working they will then be put into supported status. New elections will be held quickly to ensure a continued branch presence in that area. Gaining Publicity If there is a new branch being set up, contact the local press and get your local MP to come along. Local press love stories about local youth achievement, and being politically active is

a great thing to showcase. As part of my toolkits for branches we’ll be preparing guidance for members on getting in touch with local media, how to work with editors and journalists, and to build a positive relationship with newspapers and other outlets to make use of during your campaign. As one example I am currently working with Stephen Smith, the new Branch Chairman of Morley and Outwood to ensure that CF has a presence in their local and regional media. Communicating with Members It may sound obvious these days, but social media is an increasingly vital and effective tool on which to regularly communicate to existing and potential members. All branches should set up a Facebook Group and have a Twitter Account, and experiment with any new networks – you never know what will be the next big thing and we can spread as good practice (4square powered campaign days perhaps!). New branch websites and other online work will be featured centrally to ensure the national membership can stay up to date, and learn from local activity. If you are an existing branch it is the responsibility of the region to feed contact information to the centre and ensure that all contact details on the CF website is kept up to date. This can then be updated regularly. The branch map is a brilliant way to ensure that new members can get in contact with someone, and we will continue to support this and other existing successful initiatives to stay in touch. Summary Conservative Future will struggle to grow and prosper if we just sit back and expect people to join us, especially whilst our Party leads this government. To succeed, we must all work together to build upon membership effectively and efficiently. Constituents have a great opportunity to join us and have greater influence over our Government. Let’s get out there and build CF.

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