Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It's not like plopping a fish into a nice, clean bowl...

It's more like tossing a tiny fish into a mired swamp. When people talk about bringing issues to the fore of key stakeholders and the general public they tend to address the situation as if the issue, a nice goldfish, or beta since they are still all the rage right now, can be dropped directly into the mind, the clean bowl, of the populace as if there is nothing already there. In reality, a person's mind is a quagmire of issues and responsibilities and being ignorant of that fact will do little to help you. Marketing is key - you have a target audience so how do you best contact them? Well, you have to know what other things they might like besides your issue/cause/whatever and use those things as some sort of leverage if your initiative is very new or little known.

In the afterschool realm it isn't quite as hard. People can be parents. Parents have kids and tend to care about them. Parents have to work so their kids can eat and have clothes and whatnot. Kids might not have anything productive or constructive to do after school. The problem is there and if your afterschool program has a good relationship (best option is clearly to be in the school) with the school and school district then it isn't hard to get parents to put the kids in the program.

However, what about the important people who aren't parents? Or who used to have school-age children and might want to get involved? What about the business community? All these potential stakeholders probably, especially in the Northeast of the United States, do some sort of volunteering, sponsorship, donating, etc. for at least one organization or cause. That does not mean, however, that people are maxed out at one cause. Gathering support is not about finding the Monopoly guy and asking him to give you enough money to be sustainable. It's about being the fish in the swamp that doesn't get lost amongst the reeds and using the momentum you gain to build relationships. These relationships can turn into life-long volunteers, donors, suppliers of in-kind goods, and general visibility expanders.

Turning to a highly specific example, my program, the 21st CCLC is part of the Manchester School District. Currently, budget season is upon us and things are especially brutal this year. With the downturn in the economy caused by the sub-prime mortgage crunch and the extreme weakness of the dollar causing higher prices for gas and food added to the inflated revenue expectations and one of the snowiest winters in history, the City of Manchester is in dire straights. Either everybody needs to cut everything under the sun or taxes will go up... a lot (by the way, the state of NH has also been adversely affected by these things and is also in the hole monetarily). Last night over 2,000 people went to Memorial High School for a chance to appear before the Board of Mayor and Alderman and be heard. All talk was about the school district's budget. Currently set at $147 million for this year, the Board of School Committee requested a proposed $153 million for next year. The Mayor returned with a budget of $140 million which, along with the rest of the city, would result in the absence of a tax increase. Of course, cutting $7 million dollars is a lot so, obviously, teachers fear for their jobs. The Mayor has repeated said that if administration is trimmed the school district should be able to figure it out but the number of people who work in the administrative offices where I reside is nowhere near enough for that to happen.

Now, with people wondering if athletics and arts&music will be disappearing from classrooms, and it is a big possibility that happens much more, nationally, than anyone would care to admit, and how many, it isn't a matter of 'if', teachers will be pink slipped, how the HELL am I supposed to get support for an afterschool program????

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