Maybe you’ve seen something in your community that you can’t ignore, some need that no one else is properly addressing. Maybe some vital element or essential service that would set your community on the right track is missing. Or maybe you’re just a chronic reformer. Whatever your reasons, when you get ready to take positive action in your community, there are choices to make. In today’s blog we will explore some of those choices and offer some advice for getting your cause off the ground.
The first requirement is not negotiable – persistence. If you’re easily discouraged, community building is probably not the job for you. If you’re fully committed, proceed to the next step: identifying the problem. Maybe your community faces many problems. The easiest mistake to make is to approach community change with unrealistic expectations. Don’t try to do everything at once. Think small at first. Narrow your search to a problem that you understand, one that will yield tangible benefits to your community, preferably sooner rather than later.
For example, let’s imagine that your community has a growing problem with teenage drug use. Being a member of this community, you decide to fight back by giving younger teens other options, somewhere else to go after school, a different system of role models. Maybe this decision leads you to the idea of a community center. Now you’re refining your idea to something tangible. You need a building. You need a staff. You need money!
Remember the persistence thing? This is the point at which persistence is often the difference between success and failure. Before you start raising money and hiring help, you need to refine your idea. Who will be helped by your idea? What is the capacity for members? What schedule and what services will best address the initial problem? Work these details out on paper. Then revise them. Then revise them again. Then show them to someone smarter than you. Then repeat.
A good early goal is to work out all the details on paper – the intended outcome, the financial requirements for success – before you attempt to raise the first dollar. Lots of people have great ideas. Very few of those people follow those ideas through, and even fewer of those ideas actually yield real, positive results. Putting in the research and becoming an expert in the cause you plan to champion is a good way to build your organization on solid ground. If fundraising is part of your plan (and it should be), this is the time to build your credibility.
Once you have a clear understanding of what you’re trying to do, and after you’ve done enough research to talk about all aspects of your issue confidently, it’s time to get some help. Talk to your community. Hold a public event. If you have some starter money, use it to promote your event. The goal is to clearly describe what you’re trying to do and recruit like-minded, respected members of your community to get on board.
After assembling a core group of members, the next step is setting up some kind of organization. If your mission is charitable in nature, you might want to set up a 501(c)3. Political organizations will face other options depending on whether or not they will donate money to political campaigns. The big payoff from this step is creating a legal entity that can accept funds.
Before the time comes to start actually raising funds, you need to know exactly how those funds will be spent, how each expense will be documented, and how this documentation will be reported.
That’s pretty much it all it takes to get started. It sounds like a mountain to climb, but it doesn’t take as long as you think. Once your organization is able to raise funds, your organization will better understand its reach and adapt accordingly. Be persistent and do your homework. You’ll get there. Good luck!
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