Did You Know? Advocating for Conservation Before the County Board

By Jason Weinerman, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources

Note from the editor: Minnesota serves on the District Operations/Member Services Committee. The committee has decided to return the focus of Did You Know? content to elements of District Official Training and/or District Operations. The information below does not pertain solely to Minnesota – all conservation districts can do this, too!

Did you know that Minnesota’s conservation districts are using new tools to work with their county boards to solicit more support, including additional funding, which will allow more conservation activities to be put on the ground?

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources provides regional training events to introduce a systematic way by which districts can better understand themselves and communicate the benefits of a strong, well-funded conservation operation to the county board of commissioners. The conservation district advocacy tool box has a three pronged approach:

  1. Know Yourself
  2. Know Your County
  3. Make Your Ask

The first part of the process involves the district board and staff developing a comprehensive understanding about the purpose of the district, future directions, and its five-year financial needs. The steps for developing this understanding are:

  1. Ensure the district’s mission is current and easily understandable
  2. Identify current and future goals
  3. Analyze previous operational expenditure trends
  4. Predict operational expenditure needs, being sure to include any increases related to future goals

Once the district board and staff have a firm understanding of themselves, the next step is to understand the county. It is important to remember that the county board has its own mission and interests. Districts should strive to promote themselves as helping the county meet county objectives. In order to better understand how counties operate, districts should:

  • Know where the majority of county funding gets spent (Infrastructure, Health and Human Services, County Employee Payroll, and Public Safety)
  • Be able to clearly articulate how the district operations help the county, including an analysis for how the district serves as an engine for local economic development
  • Understand how the county governing structure operates, including the role of the county board, county administrator, and county department heads
  • Develop personal relationships with the county administrator and individual county board members
  • Prepare both annual and long-term budget requests for presentation before the county administrator and county board

Finally, district boards and staff will combine the information gained from knowing themselves and from knowing the county into making the ask. Making the ask, in terms of the district budget request to the county board, is often one of the most challenging things that will happen each year. This is because very few people like asking someone else for money, and there is always the risk of hearing a ‘no.’  However, districts do good work and should approach this process with confidence and faith in their message.  The process for making the ask includes:

  • Preparing adequately beforehand
  • Activating partners to build support for the district’s request
  • Practice
  • Clearly explain the benefits of the district during the meeting
  • MAKE THE ASK…specifically
  • Wait for a response, don’t begin negotiating against yourself

This system for developing the annual budget request to the county board allows districts to present their information from a position of strength. By highlighting the unique benefits that districts provide to local conservation, county programs and departments, and overall local economic development, county commissioners can be reminded of the vital role that conservation districts play in the lives of local residents. Reminding county commissioners, and others within county government, of the value of a strong partnership with the conservation district will go a long way to continuing the legacy of locally-driven conservation.

Disclaimer: Did You Know? recommendations and observations may not apply to all states. NACD’s DO/MS Committee requests your understanding. We also invite you to find out what your state and local laws and policies say about any particular item.

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