In working with public sector clients—water, sewer, jail, not-for-profit hospitals, and other districts—we can unequivocally say
you need three things to pass a new tax initiative:
1. Your patrons (people who pays taxes to support your entity) must trust you. Whether they think about you and your services sometimes, rarely or never, patrons are aware that they are paying for a service you provide and they have an opinion about both the quality of that service and their faith in you to provide acceptable service in the future. You simply must know where patron thinking is today, before asking them to fund the future.
2. Your patrons must like your ideas well enough to pay for them. You can have the most frugal, most efficient, most effective and most logical plans in the world, but you are never going to get them funded if patrons don’t approve and don’t think the plans are worth the cost. The determining factors are in your patron’s head—not on some blueprint.
3. Your patrons must show a willingness to consume information about you and that communication must be talking about what your patrons want to know. This is a huge part of the process that is often overlooked. If patrons aren’t willing to engage with you long enough to at least consider what you are asking for (and if you are not communicating with them effectively), your chances of passing a tax initiative are zero. Know in advance if you have their ear—before you start trying to communicate to them about a tax initiative.
Do you know what your patrons are thinking? Most public sector clients only hear from 20% of their patrons—the 10% who love them and the 10% who hate them. Before you go to the ballot box, you need to hear from a good cross-section of all your patrons. You need to hear their opinions, their fears and worries, their experiences with your service and you need to hear their voice. If you don’t have the patron perception data you need to make informed decisions about a ballot initiative, you are only setting yourself up for disappointment on election day.