Image by Thomas Hawk. Large yellow sign with black letters advertising loans.
stepchangelogoWhen people hit problems in managing their finances, they can turn to the UK StepChange Debt Charity for help.

StepChange also campaigns for debt reform, so when they heard that there was to be a Parliamentary debate on payday loans, they pricked up their ears.

The scheduled Private Members’ Bill would provide an opportunity to lobby against payday loans — short term loans with extremely high interest rates that have caused problems for many. Miss the repayment and extra interest and charges quickly accrue.

A good number of StepChange’s clients have direct experience of the harm such loans can do, and the charity knew that putting their voices in front of MPs before they went in to vote would be the best way to bring about a change in the law.

Peer Lawther, StepChange’s Digital Content Manager, explained more:

We wanted our clients to talk with their MPs about their experiences of debt, and specifically of payday loans. We knew that there was a Private Members’ Bill going through Parliament, aiming to clamp down on bad practice around these types of short term loans, and we wanted to see if our clients, and their stories of problem debt, could lend weight to their MPs’ decision to vote.

Many of our clients have an energy and the enthusiasm to share their stories, to help other people avoid the situations with debt that they themselves have lived through.

Providing an easy path

Campaigns can really benefit from asking supporters to write to their MP, but it’s a slightly more complex process than one might expect.

Firstly, many people don’t know, or can’t remember, who their MP is. Others may have the intention to write, but never get round to it: there are many opportunities to drop out of the process while searching for an MP’s website, finding an email address and composing a message.

The best chance of getting the maximum number of people to contact their MP is to make the process as simple as possible. As it happens, that’s the principle that WriteToThem was built around.

And fortunately for campaigning organisations, we also provide code so that anyone can put WriteToThem’s functionality on their own website.

Debt charity Stepchange's website graphic against payday loans

Peer says that once StepChange found what WriteToThem could do, it was an obvious choice to use it:

There was initially a discussion of trying to find lists of MPs’ email addresses, but that was quickly dropped when we found a third party had created something already.

We’d seen the WriteToThem functionality had been used with other campaigns and we felt it was the perfect tool to use for our work, to ‘do the hard work’ that would have taken a long time to create internally.

Need to mobilise your supporters? Put WriteToThem on your own website

Simple implementation

Debt charity Stepchange's use of WriteToThem embeddable tool to bring about change on payday loans

Stepchange’s implementation of WriteToThem – with their own styling

WriteToThem offers a number of options when it comes to using it on your own campaign site.

At the low-tech end of things, of course, you can just provide a link to WriteToThem. With a little more technical knowledge, you can pick up our code to provide a small box where users can input their postcode.

If you have the technical capability in-house, though, it’s nice to modify that box into a graphic that fits in with the look and feel of your website.

Whether or not that’s the case, on clicking ‘submit’, users are taken to the second page in WriteToThem’s process, where they can pick which representative to write to. If you are targeting a specific group of representatives — say, MPs or MEPs— you can tweak the code so that these are the only options displayed, or even take the user directly to the screen where they can begin composing their message.

The StepChange team found the process quite simple:

We added the script to a module within our page and then styled it ourselves so it was branded correctly. Adding the script was straightforward; for the styling we asked our web developer to add a bit of code to the module. We also added tracking, so we could see in Google Analytics how many times the ‘Email your MP’ button was pressed.

After that, it’s just a matter of putting together the text that explains to your users what you’d like them to do.

To fight against spam and to discourage mass-mailings, WritetoThem filters out duplicate letters. StepChange’s experience is a great example of why we do this: their supporters’ own experiences, written from the heart, are always going to be more powerful than identikit messages.

But to get inspiration flowing, we advise listing a few pertinent points which users can rewrite in their own words: StepChange did this, too.

Over a thousand testimonies

And how did it all work for them? That tracking came into its own when it was time to assess the results:

We could see how many of our clients clicked on the button to visit WriteToThem, and we had over 1,000 clients taking the next step and writing an email.

Unfortunately, at the last minute the reading of the Bill was cancelled in Parliament, so the clients’ stories didn’t have the ultimate impact they should have, but that’s no reflection the hard work and enthusiasm that our clients brought to the campaign, aided by WriteToThem.

If you’re a campaigning organisation and you’d like to harness your supporters’ voices by placing WriteToThem on your own website, it’s simple.

Image: Thomas Hawk (CC)