Levy season is notorious for sneaking up on schools and government entities. As we stated in our recent blog post, the worst time to begin communicating a levy is when it’s already on the ballot, as people need to see messages 11-15 times before the details really sink in, according to advertising expert Thomas Smith.
Still, it can be challenging to plan six or 10 months in advance for levies—especially when there are so many other matters in a school district to oversee, like the development of a strategic plan or the integration of new technology.
If your district is readying to place a levy on the ballot next election season, you may be wondering: what month is the best time to start our communications? In other words, in what month are Ohio school levies won or lost?
Levies are won and lost during the months when the levy is not on the ballot.
In other words, when you don’t have an active levy on the ballot will decide whether you will pass or lose a future levy.
Let’s break this down further.
Have you ever heard the following maxim? –
He who frames the debate wins the argument.
The maxim perfectly pertains to winning a debate, garnering support for a cause and – of course – passing levies. School districts that frame the levy’s purpose long before it appears on the ballot will have a much better chance to pass it when elections take place.
During the months leading up to the vote, school districts must have already made an effort to develop trust within the community. This can only happen when there is open, transparent, methodological communication with target constituencies, representing a majority of the community. How are you strategically reaching out to every one of your constituencies during “off-season?”
Building that trust factor with constituents is a year-round activity, and it allows districts to frame the debate over the levy’s necessity when it eventually arrives on the ballot. As you start to plan for your next levy during off-season, there are several factors to keep in mind so that your whole community fully understands and eventually votes in favor of the levy.
It’s All About Trust and Confidence
Constituents will not trust the leadership of your school district inherently. Rather, they want to be engaged and participate in the district's affairs and decisions.
When it comes to tax dollars, to some degree constituents are more inclined to be less trustful of how the district is allocating and spending their money. Further, constituents will be even more distrustful if there’s a new levy on the ballot that they weren’t expecting and hadn’t heard about until election season.
This makes sense, and it’s also why it’s all the more important for your district to focus on building trust and confidence in the strategic direction. Part of doing so is seeking an understanding of the opinions of constituents, measuring this data and reporting it to the community. Let the community take part and voice what they want.
Asking for additional tax dollars cannot be an isolated cause. There must be a storyline delivered by trusted members of the school district, which the community has also had a hand in creating. Establishing trust is therefore critical to winning a levy, as it will result in the community believing and knowing that the leadership’s actions and decisions are for the good of all.
Building the Leadership Storyline
As your leaders start to build trust in the community, part of doing so is building a storyline that resonates with constituents. There must be a viable storyline of why your district is placing the levy on the ballot and why there is a community-wide need for it. Think of your strategic plan as a three-year story that needs to be expounded upon.
Every story must begin with a fully developed explanation by your district’s leaders of the levy’s importance. You don’t want voters to just think you are asking for money. Rather, they need to know the whole story of the levy’s evolution—from the moment it was first brought to the school district’s board members to the financial necessity.
The storyline needs to build up to the announcement of the levy on the ballot, meaning your leadership must begin telling the story long before votes are cast.
- Is your district trying to improve services for students and families?
- Are we engaging and listening to our constituents?
- How are you communicating the details of these services and their need?
Foregrounding Community Engagement
During the off-season, your leaders must focus on engaging your community members in the school district’s day-to-day operations. Without reaching out, you can’t expect constituents to plug in when you need their support.
In order to best engage all constituents, every member of your district’s leadership must be aware of their separate but symbiotic roles. Hosting open forums for community members and delivering ‘state of the schools’ communications are two great ways to engage constituents who don’t have children in your schools.
Another great idea is to host focus groups and other community-wide events. This allows for your constituents to share their concerns with you and have their voices heard. It will also give your leaders the chance to understand how constituents will eventually feel about the value proposition offered by your next levy.
As you engage with your community members, the district’s superintendent and school board will play particularly significant roles in driving the school storyline forward. Having these figureheads enlightening constituents to the school district’s needs will not only garner trust, but it is will also be essential to uniting key stakeholders with the rest of the community.
And while these are all great one-off activities, it is equally necessary that you make it your mission to be a good storyteller all year long. What this means is building off of the stories that you tell every step of the way, so themes can develop and your community can begin to retain your message.
Remember: different constituents listen to different messages with different attention spans. How will you consistently reiterate your three-year-long story?
All three of these factors – building trust and confidence, developing a leadership storyline and engaging the community – are intertwined. To inform constituents in a manner that earns their full support, school districts must know what you do and why you are valuable. Once they’re familiar with you and the impact you have on the community, they’ll be more likely to support your levy when it arrives on the ballot.
The Impact Group has proven success with assisting school districts in creating communication strategies during election season—and during off-season. We want to help your district.
Contact us today to schedule your FREE levy marketing consultation.
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