When planning your next ballot measure, history can be cruel. Many school districts and other public agencies become accustomed to having to run bonds and levies multiple times before receiving approval based on historical records, however, when planning your next measure, you should always plan for success and know that failure is not an option.
This can be easier said than done, so how can you plan for success? Simple. Get your constituents involved in your district’s or agency’s projects and plans far, far earlier than you may have previously. If constituents feel that they had a part in determining and planning the scope and elements of your measure, they will be more likely to “buy in” and support the measure the very first time it shows up on the ballot.
Below are a few of the steps you can follow to get your community involved so you can give your measure the absolute best chance to pass the first time.
Deciding to build new facilities or add new programs can be very exciting, however you can’t let your district or agency leadership’s enthusiasm over these new ideas overrun the process by putting the measures before the voting taxpayers too quickly. You know what your district or agency needs, but in many cases, your constituents do not. Educating your voters about your needs is your first priority, and you must give yourself plenty of time to ensure you get the information in front of them before they ever see a measure on a ballot.
The more time you give yourself, the better, but a good rule of thumb is that you should leave a minimum of 12-18 months prior to your preferred election date.
Create a strategic planning committee.
Assemble a committee made up of agency or district leadership along with key stakeholders from your community. Make sure to include representatives from all the different groups you serve.
From the very beginning of the planning and throughout the entire process, regularly hold strategic planning committee meetings where you present the current state of your plans to the committee and get their feedback. Listen to them. Many times, key stakeholders will have their finger on the pulse of the community, and will offer valuable feedback about what the taxpaying public will and will not support include what they expect from your agency or district both now and into the future.
Encourage the members of your strategic planning committee to speak to their friends, family, and associates to get their feedback, too. Use them to help spread the word about your project!
Keep your community in-the-know.
Consider creating a website to provide information about the status of your plans with the opportunity for any taxpayer to ask questions or provide feedback. Make sure to update the website often and use social networking to get the word out when new information becomes available.
Develop press releases with accompanying photography to send to your local media so you can get coverage in your area’s news sources for community members who might not use social media or pay attention to the Internet.
Create a community mailing list where anyone can subscribe, and send the updates you develop in the previous steps to them directly.
Hold community open houses.
Throughout the process, hold community open houses and invite your community to attend . Offer in-depth information to your attendees and have experts on-hand to answer any questions they might have. Have leadership and other staff monitor the open house by asking attendees what they would like to learn more about or know about your organization. Get feedback. Oh, and offer refreshments – it might sound cheesy, but food goes a long way in getting people to show up!
Organize and educate.
As election date approaches, be sure to stay on top of the process. If you hear about frustrated members of your community, reach out to them directly to see if you can clarify any questions or issues they might have. Make sure the members of your strategic planning committee do the same. The best way to build support is to make sure you provide all of the factual information people request so they feel they know everything about your project.
Thank your community and your supporters.
When your measure passes, you must remember to thank your community and your supporters. Far too often, winners of any election forget to come back to the voters and simply say “thank you.” There are many ways to do this ranging from sign waving to newspaper ads, but you need to remember to thank your voters for supporting you. Plus, don’t forget to thank your employees and volunteers who dedicated long hours to helping get the word out about your measure. Your supporters will be key in passing your next measure, too!
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If you need assistance, please feel free to contact edTactics for free consultations and to discuss your organization’s current and future needs. You can reach us by calling (360) 566-7616 or learn more about us by visiting our website at www.edtactics.com or following our Facebook (www.fb.com/edTactics) and Twitter accounts (www.twitter.com/edTactics).
Art Edgerly & Eric Jacobson