Raising support for the skatepark project is part of all skatepark projects, but how you do it will have a huge impact on the skatepark that you eventually end up with. Raising support is a critical component to this project. It’s good to have a solid understanding of what “community support” means and how you go about getting it.
Most skatepark advocacy groups have experienced this scenario. As local skaters they have met as a small group and discussed their dream for a local skatepark, and eventually they’ve made their way to a city council meeting to share that skatepark dream with the city. The city compliments them on their initiative and says something like, “go back out to the community and get more support for the skatepark.” Sounds like approval, right? The skaters create a petition and spend 6 months gathering signatures. When they return to the city council meeting with their petition, the city says, “it appears that there is interest in a new skatepark but unfortunately we can’t afford it.” To prevent this run-around from happening to you, it will be important to understand what kind of support your project needs and how you can get it.
If you understand the different things that “support” can mean, you’ll be able to gather the kind of support that will be most useful for that particular stage of the project. That’s what this section is about.
If done well, gaining public support will be instrumental in turning your skatepark idea into a tangible skatepark project.
There are many ways that someone might support the skatepark project. Most of them can be categorized into one of two categories: philosophical support and tangible support. Philosophical support is when someone agrees with the idea that a new skatepark is a good idea but aren’t willing to do anything to support it beyond that. Tangible support is when someone is willing to do something to demonstrate that support. Both types of support are necessary, and most of your supporters will be the “philosophical” type, however “tangible” support is obviously more valuable to you.
Advocates can become discouraged by having a whole lot of “philosophical supporters” and not enough tangible ones. Be aware of this risk and commit yourself to converting people that are neutral into philosophical supporters, and converting philosophical supporters into tangible supporters. If you feel like everyone seems to like the skatepark idea but nobody is willing to help, focus your attention on what specifically needs to happen next and work on that.
Some types of support were introduced in the Volunteers and Supporters section. Here are some specific ways that your community will assist in the skatepark project.
Petitions are a common method for quantifying support for a project. However, petitions often carry a stigma that they are used to protest something. Petitions might be paper or online. Paper petitions are generally better for skateparks because the signatures will mostly be from your immediate community. Online petitions have the advantage of being able to reach many more people but the signatures may be from all over the planet. As a result, a paper petition or list of supporters collected as paper will generally be taken more seriously than an online petition.
Petitions are not going to convince your local leaders to build the skatepark alone. The petition is merely a useful step for demonstrating to your City Council or Parks Board that the skatepark has support in the community. The petition does not answer the larger questions like, “where will it go?” and “where will the money come from?” The purpose of a petition is to show that there’s public interest.
The skatepark petition should include a few sentences explaining what the petition represents and space for the date, signature, printed name, and address. Some petitions also have space for phone and/or email. The explanation should be short and to-the-point since most of the individuals you’ll be trying to convince to sign it will be busy doing something else, like coming out of a store or mowing their lawn or whatever. Avoid going into the history of skateboarding, for example. Also avoid blaming anyone for the lack of skateparks or use language that suggests that the city has been negligent in any way. The explanation should be positive and focus on the outcome you want (and not on the negative outcome you’re trying to prevent).
When you’re done collecting signatures, you will submit the originals to City Council. Be sure to make a photocopy of the completed forms before you submit it.
You don’t need a petition if your City Council or Parks Board already recognizes the need for a new public skatepark.
Drive A support roster is similar to a petition except that it isn’t submitted to City Council. Your support roster is used to collect names and contact info for individuals that would like to become more involved in the future. For example, if you meet someone that supports the skatepark and happens to belong to the downtown merchant’s guild, you might have them include that affiliation next to their name on the roster. Later, when you’re ready to present the new skatepark to the downtown merchant’s guild, you know exactly who to contact first that can help you set it up.
People that sign your support roster will be pledging some kind of involvement. Here are some typical kinds of resources that your supporters may be able to provide:
- Restaurant services for fundraising events
- Introductions to influential individuals or groups
- Strategic advice
- Professional services; legal, writing, graphic design, photography, web hosting/publishing, social media, etc.
- Fundraising advice
- Public policy
Supporters on your support roster may represent connections to important agencies in your community.
- Police and Fire
- PTA and School Board
- Parks Board
- City Administration
- Business and Trade Organizations
- Fraternal Groups (e.g., Rotary, Lions, etc.)
- Department of Transportation
- Local industries
- Local news media
- Other active organizations
Building your support roster should be an ongoing exercise. When you are facing a particular obstacle in your effort, look for a name on your roster that may be able and willing to provide help.
Professional Service Donations
Service donations include too many things to list entirely. Anyone that has a job may be in a position to leverage their company’s resources into a donation. You will have to use your imagination. Here are a few examples:
- Mechanic: Oil change for raffle.
- Pizza Delivery Person: Pizzas for fundraising event.
- Printer: Print services for flyers.
- Professor at Community College: Graphic design (or whatever topic they teach).
- Health Clinic: Research on benefits of regular physical activity. Accountant: Advice on managing donated funds. Music Store Clerk: Amplification for public event.
- Convenience Store Manager: Coupons for free soft drinks. And so on.
You will become good at linking people and businesses to the new skatepark project.
Letter-writing is an effective way of communicating to your local leadership that the public is interested in seeing a new skatepark. The premise is that you will encourage people that you meet to write a letter to City Council and/or the Parks Board to declare support for the new public skatepark. If your city is already receptive and prepared to work with your group in getting the skatepark approved and funded, a letter campaign will probably be unnecessary.
It’s difficult to convince people to write a letter on your behalf, or even an email. Your task will be to make it as easy for them as possible and remove any obstacles that they may face. One obstacle, for example, is that people are generally lazy and it will be easy for them to forget to write that letter, or they’ll forget who they’re supposed to write to, or what they’re supposed to say.
A good way to make it as easy as possible for your supporters to write letters is to provide them with all of the information they need that they can take with them. For example, you might make a handbill that includes some of the top reasons why the skatepark is important, plus the names, titles, and addresses (mail or email). You may still find that only a few letters get sent but at least you made it as easy as possible.
City Council members don’t often get many letters on a particular topic, so if you can get even ten people to write letters, you can be sure that City Council will notice. If you can convince your supporter that their letter will make a real difference, they’ll be more likely to actually write and send it.
Local businesses may be willing to tape your flyer on their wall or window. Your flyer should include a “call to action;” it should tell the readers something that you specifically would like them to do. It might be a flyer encouraging people to attend the next City Council meeting, your next fundraising event, rally, or maybe a design workshop. Whatever it is, the flyer should promise that the event will be rewarding and important. Don’t forget the what, why, when and where.
Letters of Support Campaign
Collecting letters of support is an easy activity that can be valuable. Instead of having your supporter write a letter directly to a particular community leader or agency, they’ll be writing a letter to your group as a “generic” expression of their support. These can be compiled and shared with other groups to show widespread support for the skatepark. More importantly, you can find good pull-quotes to use in your other materials. For example, you might have a nice support letter from the local Kiwanis. Within that letter you find this quote, “the new skatepark is an important facility for future generations.” You can then use that, along with the author credit, “— Kiwanis Chapter 806,” in your other materials.
Letters of support are more effective from organizations and large companies than from individuals.
Events are not usually an easy fit for skatepark advocacy groups. They perform best when they are organized by someone within your group that enjoys event management. For skatepark projects, special events are usually connected with fundraising but occasionally they will be organized to build community awareness and support for the new skatepark.
Events are usually either passive or active, meaning that your supporters will either be watching something (passively) or will be doing something (active). Activity events tend to be more engaging.
Your event should relate to the need for a new skatepark in some way. For example, cleaning up derelict lots in town could be used to underscore the need for more safe places for young people to recreate. Your supporters would be active volunteers at this event. (For an event like this you might also ask local businesses to donate the materials needed to conduct the event; trash bags, gloves, bottled water, and so on.)
Don’t forget to notify the local news about the event as it nears. It may also help to create an RSVP list so that you can estimate how many people to expect. (The event feature on Facebook handles this nicely.)
After every event, email your donors, volunteers, and others that expressed interest to share what a success it was (and to thank your donors). This will encourage people to participate in your future events.