Not every problem can or should be solved by the non-profit volunteer community alone. Often we take the bureaucracy’s invisibility, or rather our lack of needing to appeal to it, as a sign that it is working smoothly. If, however, you find that you have a local cause, be it road maintenance problem or a desperate need for a community park, you’re going to have to know how to approach your local government. This ‘How To’ guide aims to show you just how to get your local government on board with your cause.
Do Your Research
Lack of information is the first thing that is going to keep your local government from getting on board with you. The hazier your proposal, the easier it will be for them to shelve it, delay it, or ignore it. Look up all the terms, look up some studies on the subject, find estimates for the size of land needed to build that community library, figures for the price as a pool cost large enough for your community’s needs, etc. While you’re at it, take a look at the strategies (records) of your city’s past council meetings. Consider going to open city council meeting or forums so your can get an idea of how best you can present your proposal or issue once you’ve finished your research. Have similar issues been brought up before? Have it all written down, backed up, and ready to go.
Build your Base
Start talking to people about your cause. They may have more to add to your research. They may be willing to sign a paper petition (don’t underestimate the power of paper petitions. Raising awareness can only strengthen you, bringing you allies and info. See about getting an article written about your issue in the local newspaper. Advertise your efforts on social media. Have a bake sale or a community forum. As you begin your research into the specific ins and outs of your local government, look for pre-existing umbrella groups that are either already advocating your issue or deal in something very much like it. Consider if there are any other organizations in your community who might want to support your cause.
Hone in on Your Target
Now that you know exactly what you want, and you have some fellow community members to back you up, you have to make sure your aim is true. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is take your issue or proposal to a person who has no power to act on it. Sure, go look up the contact information of your local government officials online but, whoever you talk to, first ask them, “I want to see x happen, are you the right person to talk to? If no, then who?”. Get an appointment with whoever has the power to address your issue. Steps two and three are meant give you the power you need to get through the door.
Staying on the Agenda
Whoever you talk to, get their name, get their contact info, and get them to promise you something whether it be a call back, an email, or the information you requested by a specific date. If you are ever told “Let me get back to you.” Ask “When can I expect to get a response? And how?”. Be polite. But don’t let them forget about you.
If You Can’t Convince Them, Replace Them
In most areas, running for local government isn’t nearly as expensive, difficult, or time-consuming as you think. Many local offices are filled by volunteers putting in a few hours a month. Especially if you find that you are ready to back a cause that your community wants, that your local government isn’t addressing, you’ve got your campaign platform right there.
Working with your local government really isn’t as difficult as many make it out to be. Follow the steps above and you can really be a voice and a force for change in your community.