Walkabouts: the importance of going to members rather than waiting for them to come to you

13 April 2015

The idea of 'cold-calling' to someone's office door can be daunting and something that many are not comfortable with.

Yet people respond very well to the union coming and visiting them in their offices, rather than waiting for them to come to us, which usually only happens if there's a problem; the classic customer-provider relationship from servicing. If you start by giving your apologies for disturbing them, and you will only take up a few minutes of their time, you will very likely get a positive response.

Walkabouts show members - and potential members - that the union is active and visible. It can also send that message to management, which can be very useful during negotiations. They are also something that becomes quite normal very quickly and no longer daunting.

I usually approach a walkabout by having both a leaflet and something that we are asking people to do. Leaflets and newsletters are good as they give you a reason for visiting them rather than purely to recruit. They are also useful if people are not in their offices as you can leave them under doors or on desks so that staff know the union has been to visit them.

Holding a branch meeting a week after a walkabout gives them something they have to do from your visit, both to attend themselves and to spread the word to their colleagues - making them feel like they have some responsibility for the union's success, that they are the union. It can be particularly useful to make a branch meeting members only in this situation, especially if the meeting includes an important update to a campaign or dispute, as this may be a motivation for them to join in the intervening period. This gives you an opportunity to ask if they are already a member, if they're not, you can then hand them a membership form and talk about why they should join. If they are a member, ask them to take a form and approach someone who isn't.

We've had particular success with walkabouts at Kingston University. One walkabout where we handed out a leaflet publicising a series of branch meetings gained us 9 new members in the following week, with 4 joining either that day or the day after.

For another walkabout, we focussed on getting signatures for the branch's Open Letter to the Board of Governors requesting they halt management's proposals on promotion and progression, and promoting a lobby of the Governors the following week. The walkabouts contributed to the branch getting over 400 signatures and a strong turnout at the lobby.

As well as the main site, we have also conducted walkabouts at of the smaller campuses at Kingston, as staff at smaller sites can feel more than most that the union is remote and detached from them. We had a good response with people appreciating our efforts and feeding back useful information.

Laura Flynn
UCU London region

Last updated: 23 January 2018