(San Francisco, CA)- Friends of the Urban Forest successfully advocated to restore city funding for community-based tree plantings and maintenance.
Category: Advocacy, Public Policy
This advocacy effort involved educational meetings with politicians, government officials and the media as well as grassroots e-mails, letters and phone calls to local officials. Although the campaign was able to secure funding for the coming year, it was not able to achieve long-term funding for tree plantings. FUF plans to launch an effort in the spring of 2006 to pass legislation that would secure a long-term funding mechanism for urban forests in San Francisco.
Founded in 1981, Friend of the Urban Forest provides financial, technical and practical assistance to individuals and neighborhood groups in San Francisco who want to plant and care for trees. Programs include:
* a tree planting program through which community volunteers plant over 1,500 trees each year
* a tree care program where FUF’s certified arborists, assisted by volunteers and trainees, prune and re-stake existing street trees
* a community involvement and youth education component that provides trees tours, quarterly pruning workshops, leadership training and a youth tree care program that trains economically disadvantaged youth in planting and tree care.
Funding for the organization comes from several sources including individuals, foundations, corporations, events and different public funds such as general revenue and a special sales tax, called Proposition K.
In 2005, money from the Proposition K sales tax intended for privately maintained, non-profit street tree planting was eliminated, significantly threatening the ability of FUF to continue its program of public tree planting and care.
FUF launched an intensive educational, media and grassroots outreach effort to restore funds. The campaign was successful in recovering $162,000 for the program from San Francisco’s general fund for a one-year solution, but was not able to affect the long term changes in the use of the Prop K sales tax that could have ensured tree planting and maintenance funds for the next 30 years, the lifetime for Prop K sales tax funding.
In the spring of 2006, FUF plans to initiate a campaign to advocate for long-term funding of tree planting and maintenance. FUF will invite its constituents to help develop strategies for this effort.
One-on-one Educational Efforts
There were several components to the advocacy effort to restore funds for tree planting and maintenance. First, the FUF executive director realized when talking to people in the mayor’s office and the Board of Supervisors who oversee these funds that there was a misconception about FUF’s historical and current reliance on public funds. As a result, he spent considerable time informing elected officials and their staff about FUF’s accomplishments and funding history. This involved preparing clear, concise memos on the subject and sending them by e-mail, fax and snail mail. He then followed up with phone calls and, when possible, face-to-face meetings.
In addition, FUF asked its board of directors and other supporters to use their contacts convey this information. For example, one of FUF’s board members has a relationship with a Supervisor and was able to arrange for a meeting.
FUF also worked to educate reporters about FUF and the funding dilemma. In addition to working with individual reporters, FUF met with the editorial board of the local newspaper. When the paper was not able to run an editorial on the subject, FUF asked if they would consider an op-ed piece. The chairman of the board of a local Latino organization agreed to write an op-ed piece on the subject for FUF. The article strengthened FUF’s credibility by illustrating the diversity of community support for FUF’s programs.
FUF has an e-mail list of approximately 4,000 residents to which it sends monthly updates about its activities and other issues. This list has been compiled over the years and includes FUF members as well as volunteers who have participated in its planting or other programs.
FUF e-mailed information to these people urging them to contact the Mayor and Board of Supervisors in support of the funding. The e-mails included a brief description of the issue, a call to action, and included phone, fax and e-mail information for the Mayor and the Supervisors. This was highly effective and critical to the success of the operation.
The City restored $162,000 to the 2005-2006 budget for community tree plantings and maintenance. This, along with support from other funding sources, will allow FUF to continue its public planting programs for the coming year.
1. Establish and nurture relationships with government and political officials and their staff. Help them to understand the history of your organization and how your work furthers their goals. There may be misconceptions or past problems that you need to work through and clarify.
2. Prepare clear and concise informational handouts for persons you need to reach such as government officials, politicians, staff of interested organizations, neighborhood organizations and residents. Tailor these handouts to the audience you are trying to reach.
3. Get information to your audiences in a variety of ways-fax, e-mail, snail mail, phone calls, meetings. Do not rely on just one method of transmission.
4. Capitalize on the relationships of your board of directors and other supporters. These relationships may enable you to reach people who otherwise would not take the time to learn about your organization.
5. Cultivate relationships with the media. Educate reporters and editors about your organization and the challenges you face. Work with individual reporters and with the editorial board. Request a meeting with the editorial board to explain your concerns. Ask if they will write an editorial supporting your cause. If they are not able to run an editorial, ask if they will print an op-ed piece on the issue. If possible, have the op-ed piece authored by a respected member of the community who is not directly affiliated with your organization.
6. Pay attention to and nourish your relationships with community organizations including neighborhood papers, neighborhood associations and merchant groups. Elected officials listen to these key constituent blocks.
7. Realize that in many cases the messenger is as important as the message. Pay attention to who delivers your message to which audience.
8. When working with your supporters, realize that you cannot rely solely on their passion for your cause. You need to make it easy for them to be advocates. Be careful and thoughtful in what you ask them to do. For example, provide them with phone numbers of politicians and government officials who need to hear your message. Prepare sample letters that they can send describing the issue at hand.
9. Give supporters timely feedback on their advocacy efforts. Let them know the latest developments in a clear, concise way.
10. When communicating with your supporters, convey a sense of urgency, not panic.
11. Be discriminate in your use of large-scale grassroots response to issues. This should not always be your first plan of action. If you overuse this strategy, you can burn out your supporters and alienate the decision-makers you need to influence. Don’t mobilize the troops if the matter can be resolved with a smaller number of people involved.
12. Reactive advocacy and proactive advocacy require different approaches. In the first, you are responding to a crisis, and in the second you are trying to create an environment where a crisis will not arise. Both types are valuable and need to be practiced by many organizations at some point in their history. Proactive advocacy can allow you the time to involve your constituents in strategy development and implementation in a way that reactive advocacy does not permit.
Kelly Quirke, Executive Director
Friends of the Urban Forest
Presidio of San Francisco Building 1007
P.O. Box 29456
San Francisco, CA 94129-0456
Phone: (415) 561-6890 ext 107
Fax: (415) 561-6899
(c) 2005 Alliance for Community Trees