Working with Community Leaders

  • Prepare—It is essential to make a good first impression when approaching community leaders. Be prepared, be friendly, and have a positive attitude. Remember that you are one among many vying for their attention and support. If you do not pay respect to demands on their schedule and position, then they will likely choose to lend support to other causes.
  • Listen—Listen to what leaders have to say. If you gain understanding of the parameters under which they work, you will likely have a better chance at advancing your agenda to fit within such parameters.
  • Facilitate working relationships—Try to accommodate before getting accommodations. It is always advantageous to provide something before asking for something in return. For instance, instead of setting up a protest to raise the issue of poor facilities in your locality, ask the leaders responsible to take a tour of the facilities in question with your club. You can make a negative situation a positive one for those involved. Instead of bashing leadership, you can incorporate them in the solution and provide political cover for a history of neglect. Plus, if they agree to tour the facilities, you have engaged them in the process and have begun to hold them accountable.
  • Focus on the big picture—Know your issue inside and out, but begin by touting your ideas/plans through a general approach. Leaders are usually generalist types, with a working knowledge of many issues, but true expertise in perhaps only a few. Prepare for detail, but sell your issue in general terms. If you are asked for detail, give it.
  • Be honest—Never stretch the truth. If you are not sure about a question or issue raised, then admit it and promise to get back in touch with more information. Your credibility is a major part of your reputation. Never put it in jeopardy.
  • Always be flexible—Politics is often a game of compromise. If you show the inability to meet halfway on an issue, you may likely get nothing instead of a considerable amount.
  • Be aggressive but considerate—Ask for a lot with the expectation that you won't get everything. If you don't ask, you will hardly ever receive.
  • Be persistent—Advocacy is like sales. Never give up. Don't be discouraged by people who tell you no, just be determined and find the people who share your goals, those that will say yes.
  • Focus your efforts—It is better to achieve small victories than to fight many battles with no beneficial outcomes. There are too many stories of groups who tried to do too much and ended up getting nothing accomplished. Narrow, specific focus is a good way to realize success.
  • Be ambitious—While focusing on specifics is essential, it is important nonetheless to aim high. Have an organized strategy, but do not limit capabilities by selling your team short on expectations.