Launching a Successful Community Improvement Initiative

A city park with a community gathering to clean up litter
Author
Ashley Landers
Ashley Landers
Vice President of Client Services

Recently we helped our partners, the San Antonio River Authority, launch their anti-litter initiative. A year in the making, it started when residents received a bad report on the amount of litter that ends up in area creeks and rivers. Reflecting on how much work went into making this trash outreach initiative a success, below are a few tips that could apply to any public service effort.

1. Elicit Emotion: Give people a reason to care.

Focus on how the issue collectively impacts the community. Make sure it isn’t about passing blame but about inspiring everyone to see the problem, care about it and want to make a positive change. Sometimes a single word can make all the difference. Our call to action: “Don’t Let Litter Trash Your River” started as Don’t Let Litter Trash THE River. By simply swapping "The" with "Your" we created a sense of ownership for all residents.

2. Inspire Action: Give people many ways to participate.

To help generate press for the effort, we launched during a weekend-long symposium. All our events, activities and programs provided messaging that led the community back to our initiative hub – our website. There, people could self-identify in varying categories: Community, Corporate, Educator, Volunteer before signing up to take a pledge to put litter where it belongs. After the pledge, they were given additional ways to move further in their commitment. A thank you email explained that by downloading the Litterati app, participants could document the litter they pick up, helping establish sound data that could be used to better address trash issues at their source.

3. Build Trust: Give people a familiar face.

When you’re trying to inspire action and create behavior changes for millions of people, it never hurts to amplify your voice by borrowing someone else’s. Celebrities and influencers are a key strategy to launching successful community-wide programs and campaigns. Beyond our micro-influencers on social media, we knew we needed a personality that could grab the attention of residents young and old. And no one better than San Antonio Spurs Player and recent Olympic Gold Medal Winner, Keldon Johnson. We made sure to loop in his network of passionate followers along with our own to help us establish this outreach effort as one the community could believe in and rally behind, just like their beloved Spurs.

4. Be Transparent: Keep people on the same page.

Lastly (but really first when trying to pull this off) is to look inward before you look outward. An initiative of this size requires lots of moving pieces, with many team members owning their own components. From the beginning, be sure to conduct weekly status meetings and keep a detailed calendar of who is responsible for sharing updates on their portion and when. This will keep everyone on task and on timeline, and not muddy the water of who oversees what pieces to make the program a success.
 
If you’d like to participate in the Don’t Let Litter Trash Your River challenge, go to https://www.sariverauthority.org/trash-initiative and take the pledge today to get started!

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