There are all different types of campaigns – fundraising campaigns, military campaigns, and political campaigns to name a few. But there is another type of campaign, one that we consider our specialty at Denny Civic Solutions – civic campaigns. Civic campaigns can seem a lot like a political campaign at first glance, but there is one big difference:

Political campaigns are about politicians trying to get the votes of citizens. Civic Campaigns are about citizens trying to get the votes of politicians. In political campaigns, the candidate is the product. In civic campaigns, the idea is the product.

In both political and civic campaigns, there are a lot of pieces that need to work together, from issue and survey research to opposition and champion research, from fundraising and coalition-building to developing the message at the grass- and top-roots levels. All are important and come into play at different points in time, but for both, the factors determining success are relatively consistent. A political campaign will rise and fall on the candidate; a civic campaign will rise and fall on having strong, committed civic leadership.

The importance of strong civic leadership is impossible to overstate. Whether a civic campaign is trying to change environmental policy, local taxing structure, government structure, human service delivery, or community development, the most important element is getting the right leader(s).

So who is the right leader? Sometimes it can be the person who had the idea, but not always. It can be (but usually isn’t) a lead staff person within an organization that’s trying to make some kind of change. Ultimately, the right leader is that unique individual in the community who has a solid reputation and a large network to tap, one who is articulate and passionate about the proposed idea, with the ability to influence politicians without falling prey to conflicting interests. Obviously it is no easy task to find the right person, but the right leadership can make all the difference.

Here is an article I wrote for Pop City that highlights the leaders of five civic campaigns that helped Pittsburgh “turn the corner.”