People new to advocacy and community activism are sometimes overwhelmed with the scope of it all. With time and practice it becomes much easier. Lots of people catch the “advocacy bug” and enjoy the myriad details. For newcomers, however, the process can seem daunting. Establishing a few good habits early on will help make your skatepark project a great experience.
1. Be persistent
The skatepark process can easily take years of hard work. At times the progress will come quickly, while at others it may seem completely stalled. Stay committed and be persistent. Communities all over the nation are doing the same thing under more difficult conditions, so stay positive and stick with it.
Most skateparks are the result of several years of advocacy work. During this time most of the people involved will have experienced moments when they’re ready to quit. This is a reasonable result; it’s hard work! Take the time you need to maintain your job, family, health and sanity…but don’t abandon the skatepark effort completely.
2. Keep Records
At the beginning of your efforts, assemble a binder of notes from meetings, useful articles, copies of presentations, and contact lists so you aren’t working against yourself when you need that information. Do not neglect to track your hours as well, as they may come in handy later during fundraising.
Early in your effort you may find it useful to get a few nice books for notes and records. It’s good to get one for organizational papers where you will keep your letters, receipts, a calendar, and so on. A small notebook will be invaluable for taking notes during meetings…people’s names, ideas worth capturing, companies and organizations that should be contacted. This notebook will be like your “junk drawer” of miscellaneous information. You may end up filling up several of these before the skatepark is done!
3. Maintain Good Communication
Enthusiasm and interest can go up and down within your group. Share your findings, coordinate projects, and solicit feedback within your group to keep people engaged.
Running a skatepark advocacy campaign requires a high degree of “people skills.” People will look to you for updates and ways to get involved. You’ll want to offer these volunteers tasks that are rewarding, attainable, important to the cause, and within their capacity to complete. Though it will be tempting to try to run your campaign entirely through Facebook, nothing lets a volunteer know they’re appreciated like a phone call.
4. Pay Attention
Meetings with parks department employees and city bureaucrats can frequently reveal important details about the process you’re trying to navigate. Listen carefully when speaking with people who may be able to help.
Most public meetings have diverse agendas filled with topics that don’t appear to have anything to do with skateboarding but if you pay attention you may discover opportunities that you would have otherwise missed. Every construction project has the potential to be relevant to the local skaters! If nothing else, pay attention to how other attendees are addressing the audience and consider what you think works with their presentation and what doesn’t. What can you borrow and what would you have done differently?
5. Be Prepared
Always have a pen and paper handy when you anticipate an encounter with anyone associated with your project. It also helps to have business cards of your own to quickly distribute at meetings.
There are some great, inexpensive resources for business materials online. Overnightprints.com, for example, will deliver affordable, full-color, high-quality business cards within a few weeks. It is nice to have a generic organizational card that any of your volunteers can distribute rather than personalized ones for each volunteer. Keep a few in your pocket wherever you go.
6. Educate Yourself
Find out as much as you can about skatepark design, construction, and civic projects. Although it may seem daunting at first, you’ll find that the more you learn, the easier it is to learn.
People build whole careers within Planning and Landscape Architecture. You’ll probably never be as educated as them in those areas but knowing a little about how capital improvements are made in parks will help speed things up. The more you know, the more effective you’ll be.
7. Help Others
When you demonstrate a willingness to help out other citizen action groups, you will find that they will similarly be more inclined to help you.
Building partnerships and good-will among other organizations will pay dividends in support later on. When a group is having a fundraiser or awareness campaign, for example, consider rallying a few skaters to help them out. You will immediately establish your skatepark group as a “friend” that deserves their support. Later these relationships can turn into lucrative fundraising opportunities.
8. Maintain a Calendar
Missing crucial meetings will quickly erode your credibility. It’s much better to show up unprepared than to be absent. Carefully keep a calendar of upcoming events, meetings, and public hearings and attend them consistently.
Google has an excellent free calendar that allows you to share events with others and automatically sends you reminders of upcoming events. It’s also accessible from anywhere you have a computer or smart phone. If that isn’t your style, a wall calendar where you do most of your advocacy work is nearly as good.
9. Be “That Person”
You’ll need to establish yourself and your group as experts on skatepark matters. If you don’t know the answer for something, say that you’ll find out. When you do know the answer, communicate it with conviction. Over time, you and your group will be the regional experts when it comes to skateparks.
Nothing erodes a person’s credibility like hyperbole and drama. You want to position yourself and your group as the professionals on skateboarding matters. This means providing leadership not just with information but also in tone. Don’t take the bait from people who don’t understand skaters. Show them what kind of person you are by being strong, fearless, and smart.
10. Get Help
When you’re at the end of your rope, talk to an expert. There are lots of skatepark advocates who want to help you get your park built; you just need to find them. Skaters for Public Skateparks is a great place to start.
No skatepark gets built by one person. It takes dozens…sometimes hundreds of people. You are only one of them and from time to time you’ll need a hand. That’s okay! We’ve all been there. The help is out there ready for you to use.
There are some great resources out there to help you become a powerful catalyst in your community. Consider picking up a copy of the Public Skatepark Development Guide when you’re ready to take your project to the next level.