For 35 years, the California State Parks Foundation (CSPF) has advocated tirelessly on behalf of California's 277 state parks, reaching out to citizens, lawmakers, and community and business leaders to make sure the parks get the support they deserve.But with California in dire financial straits, the nonprofit organization wanted to make sure that funding for state parks did not find itself on the chopping block. The CSPF sought a way to not only attract more volunteers and donors, but also to rally more advocates who would lobby the state legislature during the group's annual Advocacy Day in Sacramento, where CSPF and other park supporters speak out about state parks.
Last year, the CSPF held Advocacy Day just before Earth Day, says David Landis, president and CEO of Landis Communications, which the CSPF hired to help drive event awareness. Advocacy Day overshadowed the CSPF's efforts on Earth Day.
This year, Landis decided to hold Advocacy Day two months before Earth Day to maximize media coverage, which would help generate interest in the CSPF's activities on Earth Day.
Landis and the CSPF then developed a survey for members of the foundation to get their opinions on various state-park-related issues, such as whether they would support a sales-tax increase to maintain the parks.
"We knew people loved their state parks, but they weren't aware of the issues facing them," explains Barbara Hill, VP of development and marketing for the CSPF. "People don't always distinguish between regional, state, and national parks."
"We wanted to show how much people are willing to support their state parks and how much state parks mean to the state's economic well-being," adds Landis. "People spend $2.6 billion a year on their state parks. If you cycle that through the economy, they spend nearly $7 billion on nearby businesses. And state parks create 100,000 jobs. The parks are very important to the state's well-being."
Armed with the survey results, Landis and the CSPF reached out to other advocacy groups that would support the state parks systems and CSPF goals. Once the CSPF enticed more advocacy groups to attend Advocacy Day on the steps of the capitol, Landis invited the media to the event to see the growing support for the parks system, as well as the threat the parks faced as California slashed programs to help balance the budget.
"Our parks system is a non-partisan issue," says Hill. "It reaches across the state, from business leaders who [realize] that our parks enhance the quality of life to environmentalists."
The survey results attracted 13 organizations - including the Bay Area Open Space Council, the California League of Park Associations, and the California Police Activities League - to attend Advocacy Day, up from just six last year. And 200 people rallied on the Capitol steps in support of state parks, double the 100 supporters from last year.
The groundswell of support attracted local, regional, and state media, which reported on the advocacy groups' concerns. The coverage also helped elevate the CSPF's image, and, as a result, the group attracted 5,000 volunteers to its Earth Day event two months later, up from 4,000 last year. The CSPF also attracted 13 corporate sponsors to support the Earth Day activities.
"This resonated because people love state parks," says Landis. "And I think the governor saw that support, [as] he didn't touch the state-park budget."
Landis will continue to work with the CSPF on various projects, such as the organization's upcoming 35th anniversary.
PR team: California State Parks Foundation (Kentfield, CA) and Landis Communications (San Francisco)
Campaign: Advocacy Day
Time frame: January to April 2004