A step-by-step guide to running a successful Fossil Free campaign. From building a group to winning your demands — learn how to pick a target, plan your strategy, and take action.
Pick your target
Every campaign must have a clear target – whether it’s an individual, a government, a company, or some other kind of institution.
A good target will:
Have the power to make the change you’re asking for – they are a decision-maker
Be relevant to your community, and accountable to you in some way
Be accessible: you can identify some avenues to influencing them.
In divestment campaigning, your target will be a local institution that you are connected to. That might be a university, faith group, local council, your MP, or something different!
In 2016, Southwark became the second council pension fund in the UK to commit to fully divest from fossil fuels. This victory was won by local campaign, Fossil Free Southwark, who chose to target the council’s Pensions Committee. They won the backing of the councillors and union reps that sat on the committee by demonstrating widespread community support, and directly lobbying the committee members.
In the Divest Parliament campaign, the goal is to get the pension fund for the UK Parliament to divest from fossil fuels. However, local groups working on this campaign aren’t targeting the pension fund directly – instead, they are targeting local MPs, and signing them up to support divestment.
As local campaigners with no direct connection to parliament, opportunities to have influence on the pension fund are limited. However, everyone has a local MP who is accountable to them; we can use this to build a groundswell of support for divestment in the halls of power where we don’t directly have a voice.
Divestment is simply the opposite of investment – it means getting rid of stocks, bonds or investment funds that are unethical.
We want public institutions like councils, universities, faith groups, charities and more to divest from fossil fuel companies within 5 years. 200 publicly-traded companies control the vast majority of coal, oil and gas reserves. Those are the companies we’re asking our institutions to divest from.
The aim of the fossil fuel divestment campaign is to weaken the political influence of the fossil fuel industry, which keeps holding back action on climate change. Every time an institution publicly breaks its ties with fossil fuel companies, we chip away at their power to carry out their immoral business plans.
If you’re not sure where to start, we recommend targeting your local council. Councils across the UK are investing over £16 billion in fossil fuel companies like Shell and BP through the pension funds they manage. There are already over 30 groups working for divestment, and anyone anywhere can get campaigning with their local community to kick fossil fuels out of our councils.
Not running a divestment campaign? That’s okay – this guide is useful for anyone wanting to build a campaign and fight for climate justice in their community. Read on…
Build a team
Campaigns are a team effort – you can’t do it alone. If you don’t already have a group, it’s time to build one.
To pull off a successful campaign, you’ll want a team of roughly 5-15 people actively involved in running it, with a wider group involved less intensively. So how do you find these people? The answer: recruit!
Recruitment is one of the most important and most challenging aspects of running a campaign. It’s like a heartbeat that brings life and energy into your organising. Without a heartbeat, your campaign can quickly fizzle out.
Every meeting, action, event, and conversation is an opportunity to recruit. Here are some ways you can recruit people to your team:
Ask most people how they got involved with a campaign group, and they’ll tell you that someone talked to them and asked them to get involved. It can be effective to do general call-outs, send notices on email lists and give out flyer, but really, to get most people involved, we have to ask them to help us!
The easiest way to do that? Have a conversation with them.Check out this guide on using ‘one-on-ones’ (otherwise known as conversations!) to recruit people.
Are there any existing networks or organisations that you are part of and who might be interested to join you? That could be a faith group, trade union branch, local club, political party, university society – or any other kind of social network (including the online kind).
Although it’s natural to rely on existing contacts at the beginning, it’s important to remember that if you just rely on your own networks to build your team, eventually you’ll stop growing. Tight knit social groups can start to become insular or unwelcoming to outsiders, making it harder to get new people involved. So, as much as you can, recruiting outside of your social circles is important too.
Some channels you could use to reach new people:
Host stalls or give our information at relevant local events – even better, do an action in a public place and give out information about your next meeting. You could use your petition to sign people up.
Get an opinion piece or letter published in the local paper, with a way people can get in touch with you.
Research groups, clubs and organisations that exist in your community already and might have an interest in your campaign. Reach out to them and see if there’s some way you could collaborate, or if they will advertise your group to their members.
Social media can be a great way to find new people. Try joining local Facebook groups, and getting other local organisations to advertise your event and meetings to their followers to build up a following of your own. See the section on ‘Growing your support’ for more on this.
Recruiting isn’t a one time thing – it should remain at the heart of your group and campaign plan. It’s also a skill that you can learn and improve with practice. Here’s a workshop you could run with your group to think more about recruitment and build your skills.
Meetings and group dynamics
Meetings are the core of all group organising and coming along to a meeting is often the first step a person takes to getting more involved in your campaign. When they’re done right, they can be efficient, empowering and fun. But bad meetings – ones which are boring, disorganised, or simply go round in circles – can suck energy out of your campaign.
Make sure to regularly open your organising meetings up to new people by advertising them publicly. It’s also a good idea (especially as your campaign progresses) for some meetings to only include people who are already involved.
Consciously balancing these two types of meetings – often called ‘open’ and ‘closed’ will allow you to continue to support new people to participate, while also making progress towards your campaign goals.
To get new people involved in your work, making your meetings, actions and events accessible and inclusive is key. One thing you could do is designate a group member as ‘meeter and greeter’, someone with specific responsibility for welcoming and getting to know new people.
Don’t hold meetings in places that are inaccessible to disabled people (e.g. no lift access) and always advertise the accessibility arrangements in a space.
Try to find places to meet that are in the community you’re organising with. If you’re organising in one suburb, but expect people to travel to the town centre, that might send signals to potential group members that you aren’t that committed to their community.
Are your meetings at a time that makes attending really hard for some people? Think about people with young children, or with work or care responsibilities. One solution is to alternate when meetings take place – perhaps between a weekday evening, and a weekend afternoon.
You could also consider providing childcare, or explicitly welcoming children to meetings.
Also consider other ways that spaces may be inaccessible – for example, pubs are not accessible spaces for under-18s or people who don’t drink for religious or cultural reasons, and generally places where you have to buy things to be welcome (cafes etc) may put off people with less disposable income.
Think about the language you are using in your meetings. Lots of jargon, acronyms and technical language is not a great way to include newer people in your campaign.
Plan your strategy
Strategy is knowing how to turn the resources you have (people, tools, skills, time) into the power you need to achieve the change you want.
Your strategy is like a pathway drawn on a map – an idea of how to get from where you are now, to a future where you win your campaign. This should act as a guide when deciding how to organise actions, prioritise your work, and allocate your resources.
As with all good plans, things are likely to change as you go, so you’ll need to revisit your strategy regularly (we suggest every 6 months at first). Here are some exercises that can help your group develop a great strategy and stick to it!
Power-mapping can help you to identify targets and focus your strategy. The idea is to map out your potential targets, and the institutions and individuals who influence your target, so you can begin to understand possible ways to impact them. A power map can be a useful visual tool to help your team understand power, and see possibilities for campaigning.
The ‘Spectrum of Allies’ is a tool to map out the range of individuals and groups, spread across a spectrum, from those who are the most dedicated opponents to those who are the most active supporters.
The key thing to understand about the spectrum of allies is that we don’t need to spend our time convincing our sworn enemies to support our campaign. If we can just move different groups one ‘segment’ towards being our allies, we will unlock campaign success.
After you’ve mapped out the spectrum, you can spend a bit of time brainstorming:
What tactics could we use to move each actor/group on the spectrum?
What arguments and messages would be most effective in reaching this actor?
Campaigns aren’t won all at once; instead, they are won through a series of actions. Yet, too often, we design only one action ahead of time. That can be a problem – when that action is over, people want to know what comes next. Right after the action they are energised and ready to do the next thing, and we lose that energy if we don’t have the next step.
It’s worth considering in this timeline whether there are any events or moments already happening that you could use in the campaign. That could be a key meeting of decision-makers, a local festival, a national day of action…
One way to think about your timeline is in terms of critical paths. Find out more about critical paths.
Tactics are the techniques that you use to move forward in your strategy. They are steps (or tools) in the journey between now, and winning. Campaigns are not made of one-time actions – we win by building pressure over time and escalating tactics until we win.
It’s a good idea to plan your strategy first before you start choosing your individual tactics and actions. That way, you can ensure that the tactics that you use tie in with your strategy and move your campaign along the path towards success.
Marches, occupations, street-parties, petitions, blockades, neighbourhood canvassing, press conferences, art installations, strikes, etc: these are just some tactics you can use.
A losing campaign
A winning campaign!
Deciding on what tactic to use at what point in your campaign can be difficult. Check out the ‘Take Action’ section for more advice on how to plan your tactics.
Looking for some new ideas for tactics? Check out these resources:
It might be around now that you want to start talking to decision-makers about your demands.
Starting to engage with politicians and other leaders doesn’t mean we think they’re going to give us what we want immediately. But if you don’t ask, you wont get – so ask regularly.
The best place to start is an email or a letter. Introduce yourself and ask to meet with your target to discuss your demands. Politicians get a huge amount of emails everyday – so you may have to chase up your email with a phone call to make sure it gets read.
Meet up with decision-makers individually to get them onside – finding and working with potential allies is crucial.
If you’re not getting through, try asking ‘influencers’ to approach decision makers on your behalf – this might be leaders in your community, or people that you know your target is interested in.
Try attending public meetings with decision-makers and asking questions. Find out their schedule and show up places they’re going to be.
As much as possible, provide short, simple and ‘neutrally-written’ briefings on your campaign for decision-makers to help them get up to speed quickly.
To work effectively with decision-makers, you don’t need to be an issue expert! You’re not there to give advice on legal resources, financial investments, nor to build a comprehensive renewable plan – there are plenty of places they can turn to for that, once you’ve convinced them it’s necessary. Your role is to voice a demand in public, and build visible power so that your demand becomes an easy choice for decision-makers to make.
Backroom negotiations work best when you’ve got a loud and visible campaign which demonstrates public support for action, so don’t get too bogged down in negotiations – and don’t start or stop there.
Increase the pressure
Winning your campaign may not come easily, and at certain points you will need to escalate your campaign to put the heat on decision-makers.
This is your chance to show your target that your campaign is powerful and popular, and that you’ll keep fighting until you win!
Action is at the centre of all good campaigns – pushing your message out into the world, building your support, and putting pressure on your target. But planning good actions isn’t always as easy as it looks.
Here’s a checklist of things to think about when planning an action:
What is the goal of the action? How does it fit your strategy?
Who is the target? What is the location? What timing? How will you ensure that your target sees, or is made aware of, your action?
What is your message? What is the tone (angry, calm, funny etc)?
What resources do you need (people, time, skills, stuff)?
What impact will the action have on your group?
How will you debrief and celebrate afterwards?
What is your follow-up plan?
Here are some resources to help you plan your next action:
If you’re thinking about taking direct action, or using tactics that involve civil disobedience, we recommend you take extra steps to be prepared. Check out Seeds for Change’s Action Planning Guide. And head to the Green & Black Cross website to find out about your legal rights in protest. Getting some training for your group is also a good idea – contact [email protected] to hear more about options.
Using art and creativity can transform your actions from good to great. Art, music, theatre and performance can all be tools to get our message across, and to engage more people in our campaigns.
Art is also a great way to get people involved. Hosting an art-making session before your action can pull new people into your group who might not like coming to meetings but who have lots to contribute. Here’s a guide to hosting a good ‘art build’.
Check out the Tactics section for advice and resources on choosing the right tactic to build participation in your actions.
Get media coverage
Getting media coverage of your actions and campaign can be a really useful way to increase the pressure on your target. As you’re running a local campaign, local media can be really influential on decision makers and the community – don’t underestimate its power!
The first step to getting media coverage is giving the press something to cover. While your campaign might seem to you like the most interesting thing happening in your community, a journalist who isn’t involved might not agree.
Some ways to make your campaign, action or event newsworthy:
Uncover something new (e.g. some research)
Make something the ‘biggest / longest / oldest / …est’
Highlight unusual alliances or participants, make stories personal
Link to current events – for example, by timing your action to coincide with a big local or national event that is relevant to your campaign
Make sure your action is visually eye-catching and take good pictures
If you want to get your story covered by local media, there are some key things to remember:
If you have any trusted local contacts, you might want to contact them ahead of the release date to let them know about the story – you could also send them the press release ahead of time under embargo (agreement they won’t publish until a certain date/time).
Research and compile a list of local media contacts ahead of time – don’t forget to include different types of media; radio, newspapers, even local TV.
Where relevant, find out what day your local papers go to print, and make sure to get them the release before the deadline. Send your press release in the morning for the best chance of coverage.
Once you’ve sent your press release, follow it up with phone calls to key press contacts – rehearse your pitch and keep it clear and concise.
Doing an action or planning a photo opportunity?
You might want to send a media advisory to key local press contacts ahead of time, to encourage them to attend. View a template media advisory here.
Journalists are much more likely to cover a story if they have one or two high-quality, interesting photos.
A useful resource for your campaign will be a media contacts list. Here’s how to compile one:
Brainstorm all the different media outlets in your area – think newspapers, radio stations, TV news, magazines, blogs etc.
You can usually find contact details for the ‘news desk’, ‘newsroom’ or even individual editors/journalists on outlets’ websites – it might just take a bit of detective work.
For newspapers it’s worth looking at a couple of issues or going on their website and figuring out which particular journalists write about your issue or might be sympathetic to your campaign. Find their individual contact details.
Keep this all in a spreadsheet so whenever you do an action or have a story to tell, you know who to reach out to.
Generally, getting media coverage is down to a mixture of good planning and good luck. Sometimes things just don’t work out and it can be frustrating, but there are always other ways to boost your campaign – check out these tips on how to do your own media for some ideas.
As your campaign is growing in profile and making progress, you need to think about how you can continue to build your support and power.
Social media and digital campaigning
Everyone has the power to tell their own stories and the stories of their community — especially given the growth of new digital technologies and social media. If we utilise digital tools well, they can be an important source of power in our campaigns.
Whether we like it or not, Facebook is the most widely used social media platform. It is intended to be an online network – where people can connect with friends and family. It is also a leading provider of news. These functions can make it very useful for campaigning.
Facebook best practices:
Leave a few hours between posts, try to post at least once a day
Keep it snappy! A few sentences of text.
Video content is the most engaging
Longer videos (3 minutes or more) now perform better
Live video is also good
Square or horizontal format is better for people using phones
As much as you can, add subtitles to videos
Share only the best photos – not big albums
Share diverse links (not just the Guardian!) and remove the URL
Use your personal account – people trust their friends
Respond to comments and engage with people
Remember you can schedule posts.
Twitter is a fast-moving, news-oriented platform. Most politicians, journalists and influential figures use it to share their opinions and connect with others. This makes it a great platform for reaching decision-makers, as well as getting your campaign noticed.
Twitter best practices:
Post much more often, and don’t worry about repeating
The character limit has increased! But still – as short as possible
Maximum of 2-3 hashtags per tweet
Tag relevant people -including your key decision makers- ideally only one per tweet
Each tweet should be a standalone piece of information – with little/no context required
Mix of tweets and retweets is good
Respond to other peoples’ tweets
Offer your own analysis.
Petitions are a useful way of showing public support for your campaign. When used well, they can grow to an impressive size, grant you access to decision-makers, and build you a supporter base in the process.
But – don’t assume that just because you’ve set up an online petition, anyone will sign it or take notice! Your petition should form part of a wider strategy.
Petition best practices:
Keep the text short and snappy. Don’t worry about including every detail, but link to other places where people can find out more.
Celebrate milestones in your petition, and use them as opportunities to promote your campaign.
Email petition signers regularly giving them opportunities to get more involved in your campaign and encouraging them to share the petition with their networks.
Use petitioning to get the word out about your campaign and build your campaign team – there’s nothing like hitting the high street with a clipboard to energise your group. You can print off paper collection sheets from the Fossil Free petitions platform.
Another key way to grow and demonstrate your support is building local coalitions and allyship with other organisations, groups and campaigns. This is a crucial way you can show there is diverse and broad-based support for your demands, and is one way of reaching people in your community that you wouldn’t ordinarily reach.
Working in coalition can be deeply rewarding, but it can also be hard. It can involve compromise, and takes time and work to build trust and relationships – especially if you are reaching beyond your most obvious allies.
Influence – your work becomes inspired by another group(s). This might involve researching and getting to know their work, sharing it, and integrating some of their ideas into your campaign.
Direction – you get more specific about how your campaign and others’ could fit together. This might mean starting to reach out to another group by responding to a call to action, or attending one of their events.
Leadership – you establish a direct relationship with another group(s). This could involve taking guidance from your new ally and doing something new in your campaign like an event or action.
Accountability – your relationship deepens and becomes more mutual. Here, all partners become accountable to each other for getting things done and making progress. This might involve sitting down together and making a long term plan.
Collaboration – your groups are now working together to create original work, greater than the sum of its parts. Hooray!
Taken from ‘Organizing Cools the Planet’ by Hillary Moore + Joshua Kahn-Russell
To identify possible allies to work with, you might want to start by returning to your Spectrum of Allies. Who are the groups and individuals you identified as your ‘passive allies’? How could you begin to work together to build a stronger campaign?
Never give up. Your target may not say yes straight away… but keep going!
Campaigns are rarely successful at the first attempt. You may experience rejection, knock-backs and downright refusal to engage with you and your campaign. But don’t be disheartened, with sustained campaigning you can and will be successful.
Growing and training your team
As your campaign progresses, it can be easy to fall into the same old patterns of organising, and to rely on the same people with the same skills to make things happen. This can stifle your creativity, and lead to you recycling the same tactics and methods.
This can also be exhausting! If you’re one of the key organisers who has been involved since the start, you might want to take a break around now. It’s important that there are other people able to step up and take on responsibilities you might have held.
Training is a great way to share skills and experience, and grow the number of people taking on active roles in your group. When done right, it will build everyone’s confidence, enthusiasm and trust.
A training could be as simple as running refresher sessions for newer group members on your strategy – helping them see how they fit into a bigger picture. You could also sit down with your group to identify skills you want to develop: it could be action planning, petitioning, public speaking, social media, or any number of things.
Burnout is a state of physical, emotional and/or mental exhaustion that comes from long term involvement in emotionally demanding situations. It is often a problem in groups organising for justice and on causes they care about.
Activist burnout is often caused by people setting themselves unrealistically high standards, which they are never quite able to meet, no matter how hard they drive themselves. Taking the weight of the world on your shoulders and not allowing yourself to rest until the problems of the world have been solved is a sure way to burn yourself out.
And remember: the impacts aren’t just personal – when one person is burnt out, it takes a toll on the whole group.
Burnout happens slowly, over a long period of time, which can make it difficult to recognise. Here’s how to spot some signs and symptoms of burnout in yourself and others:
A creeping feeling that activism is taking over your life
Difficulty in making decisions
Inability to stay focused
Insomnia, difficulty in sleeping, or getting enough sleep
A growing tendency to think negatively
Pervasive feelings of hopelessness
A loss of sense of purpose and energy
Physical indications of burnout include muscle tension, headache, backache and exhaustion
A loss of pleasure in food, friends or other activities that were once exciting and interesting – a general sense of running on empty
Other warning signs of burnout include temper tantrums over trivial matters, not wanting to get out of bed in the morning or becoming accident prone.
When we’re in bad shape, our power is diminished — we’re less creative, more reactive, and less able to plan strategically. Check out these 7 behaviours from ‘Finding Steady Ground’ that we can use to strengthen ourselves, so we can keep taking more and more powerful and strategic actions.
You won! The most important thing you can do right now is celebrate with your group and supporters.
Often as campaigners we’re not very good at taking the time to appreciate our victories, but celebrating is crucial for morale and the relationships you’ve built in the course of you campaign.
But rewind a second – often in our campaigns, we know when we might be about to win. Whether it’s because there’s an important meeting coming up, an election, a big action, or an announcement from a decision-maker – winning is something we can plan for. If you let us know when you think you might be about to win, we can help you share that story far and wide, and make the most of the moment.
Share your story
When we’re campaigning on an issue like climate change, the enormity of the problem can make it hard to feel positive – that’s why it’s so important to share our stories when we do win.
Here’s a quick checklist to go through with your group to make sure you’re sharing the story of your victory far and wide:
Let the Fossil Free team know in advance so we can help celebrate ([email protected])
Give journalists some advance warning; send them a press release under embargo or, if the decision is not yet confirmed, give them a heads up something big might be coming.
Share the news with your supporters;
Post on your social media accounts
Share the news by email.
Send a press release to local (or regional, or even national!) media. Getting good coverage of your victory is one way to maximise your impact.
Write a blog or article explaining how you won and what you achieved.
Reflect and evaluate
It’s important to take time to reflect on your campaign when it’s over, not just move right on to the next thing. By looking at what went well and badly, we can learn about how to make our future campaigns even more effective!
As well as dissecting the thing you could improve, make sure to spend some time as a group appreciating what has gone well – here’s an exercise you could try in a meeting.
Sometimes, even when we do everything right, our campaigns lose. This can be really hard to deal with, and can be a big challenge to groups who have invested loads of time and energy into a fight. Here are some top tips from organisers around the world about what to do when we lose:
Maybe your group is starting to think about where to go next after your campaign win. A couple of routes you could take are:
If you’ve won your campaign locally, is there a way to go bigger with your target? Go regional? National? International?!
Perhaps you want to keep the same scale but work on another campaign ask. What climate justice demands are relevant in your community? How can you build on the success you’ve had so far to demand more?
Support others. You could mentor or support another local campaign, or work with others nationally to progress the Fossil Free movement.
Get in touch with [email protected] if you want some support to think through these options.
Thanks for making it to the end of the Fossil Free Campaign Guide!
Fossil Free is a project of 350.org and many partners – including Friends of the Earth England, Wales & Northern Ireland, Friends of the Earth Scotland, and Platform. To get in touch with members of the Fossil Free UK team, head to the Contact page.