4. Forming an Advisory Committee
As you approach your stakeholders, you will find a range of responses. Chances are that some will have a negative or dismissive response to your overtures. Don’t let this discourage you unless it is the majority response. If it is, you might want to re-think your project. (My mother often quotes an old Dutch proverb: “If one person tells you you’re a horse, forget it. If two people tell you you’re a horse, forget it. If three people tell you you’re a horse, go out and buy a saddle.”) But hopefully most of your stakeholders will respond in a positive manner. Some may just wish you well. Others may have some advice or suggestions for resources. And a few will be sincerely interested and want to stay involved with your project. A good way to provide this opportunity is to organize an advisory committee. You can meet with your committee on a regular basis and give them updates on the progress of the project. They will provide advice, feedback and resources. They can also be useful in making a good impression in the community, especially if the group includes some key stakeholders. When approaching new organizations or individuals about your project, drop a few names… “You must know Mr./Ms. So-and-so, they’re on my advisory committee. Jump right up on that bandwagon!”
The whole process of identifying and engaging stakeholders may seem like a lot of unnecessary work, but believe me it is not. In the business, this is called ‘doing your homework’. If you ever stop by and watch City Council or Board of Supervisors meetings (which is not a bad thing to do, by the way), and someone gets an unenthusiastic – even nasty – response to a proposal, you may notice people in the audience looking smug and muttering, “They didn’t do their homework.” You may have gotten away with it in high school, but in the world of community development this homework has to be done.
Identifying and engaging stakeholders is the foundation of your project’s success. It will help you avoid land-mines and navigate your way through troubled waters. It will give you the support you need to be taken seriously by public officials and funders. It will give you the benefit of other people’s experience and wisdom, and will help refine your project concept, eliminating foolish or infeasible elements and adding great new ideas that you might never have come up with yourself.