Guest blog by Nancy Hughes, Executive Director of the California Urban Forests Council
Can you imagine a great neighborhood without trees? We can’t.
It’s a simple truth that great neighborhoods have character, rooted in the trees, parks and green spaces that help make the places we live feel like home.
Unfortunately, when decisions are being made about what’s best for our communities to thrive, the true value provided by these basic resources—and the return on the investment we make in them—is often overlooked. In challenging budgetary times, elected officials have a tough job prioritizing expenditures. Everything is vital, but there is only so much money to go around. Parks and urban green spaces along with public tree programs typically hit the chopping block first. Why is that? What relegates our green infrastructure to the bottom of the funding pile?
There’s a saying about “How you matter is defined by how things matter to you”and, I believe, then, what you do about it. How many times have you noticed neighbors upset by something that has occurred, but their passion comes too late? You may have seen this in yourself. What if we took that frustration and refocused it to address the issues we care about in our communities and to educate and advocate for the important changes we want to see. Over time, our cumulative local change can influence even greater changes throughout communities and the state.
So what can you do? Know that you can influence change. Citizens can and do become community leaders that influence change!
First, remember the why, what, who, how, and when as you are trying to garner support, influence policy, or acquire funding. Consider the following tips as a way to get there:
- Be genuine. The most important thing you can do is deliver your message as the caring person you are and demonstrate why this issue is important to you.
- Be creative. Check out our new video (full video) (30 sec trailer) featuring real stories of how growing trees make great neighborhoods and use this or our other resources as a tools to start the conversation
- Do your homework! Have facts and figures to support your claims, but don’t let those overshadow who you are and why this is important to you. Learn the language of your audience so you can deliver your message in terms that are relevant and compelling to them.
- Be realistic. Present achievable solutions and relate them to other opportunities.
- Be a good listener. Allow your audience to respond back and be open to a dialogue.
- Be concise. Create a five minute or less pitch for your message.. Sometimes the best 15 seconds you will spend is on that elevator ride with your mayor or city council member. Use it wisely!
- Collaborate. – Build a broader group of support than you alone. There is power in numbers and there are many apparent and even less obvious individuals and groups that can become a supportive part of your efforts toward success. Build these relationships BEFORE you need them!
- Follow-up and show appreciation. Follow-up with letters, thank you cards, and phone calls to acknowledge the decision-maker’s time.
- Don’t give up & Celebrate! Be prepared for the long haul; these efforts can take weeks, months and years to accomplish. While the going can get tough, still appreciate the successes along the way.
Get out there and demonstrate why you matter!
With your support we can make sure our cities are investing in our trees so that our communities thrive, our local businesses flourish and the places we live feel even more like home.