Preparing Referendum Materials

Note: this is the third in a 10-part series on topics related to communication and successful school operating or bond referendum efforts that originally appeared on the Minnesota Association of School Administrators website. These posts are not meant to be an all-inclusive guide for school district leadership, but rather offer suggestions and guidance on school district referendum communication-related issues. All opinions expressed are my own.)



Unless you’ve perfected the art of cloning, you can’t possibly be in as many places as you need to be to address all of your community’s referendum-related questions. Thank goodness that well prepared referendum support materials can help!

There is no one-size-fits-all approach for materials. You can prepare as many – or as few – materials as fits your community’s need (remembering, of course, to adhere to state and local election laws). However, as you create your communications plan and determine what materials you will prepare, keep in mind the following suggestions:

  • Set a goal of weekly updates. Remember: it is almost impossible to over-communicate during a referendum.
  • Create both broad and audience specific materials, making sure all include relevant broad and/or targeted messages. Note: It is vital that these messages be based on research / community input and address the interests and concerns of each stakeholder group. Groups may include district staff (current and retired), parents of current students, alumni / alumni parents, pre-school parents, senior citizens, business owners, and community groups, just to name a few.
  • Tie your messages and materials to student achievement and impact on the classroom. Telling voters that the district will have to cut $4 million means more when put in terms of the number of teachers or staff positions it represents.
  • Create materials that answer every conceivable question a community member might have regarding the referendum. Proactively answer the “Five Ws and One H of Journalism” (who, what, why, when, where and how).
  • Use charts and graphs to visualize financial information and numbers. Use stories and quotes to humanize and localize your efforts. Annotate and source all your facts.
  • For electronic communications, offer a synopsis with a link back to your website for deeper explanation.
  • Post all materials on your website for download. Save as PDF files rather than Word documents (which are easier to alter).
  • Be consistent in the look and feel of your materials.
  • Consider a sentence-by-sentence breakdown and explanation of the actual ballot language.
  • While you may not be able to advocate for the referendum’s passage, you can encourage community members to get out and vote.
  • Finally, don’t expect community members to come to you for information. It’s up to you to get the information out to your community.

Next week: The importance of internal communication


About robin

Robin Smothers, APR, is the driving force behind the public relations firm, RMSPR. Robin’s practice focuses on community initiatives, particularly education. Accredited by the Public Relations Society of America, Robin draws from more than 20 years of experience to develop award-winning public relations, communications and community engagement programs. Prior to founding RMSPR in 1999, Robin worked in agency, non-profit and corporate settings. Robin holds a M.P.A. in Community Engagement, a Certificate in Public Participation from the International Association of Public Participation, and a Certificate in Business Communication from the University of St. Thomas. She is past president of the Minnesota School Public Relations Association and past president of the Association for Women in Communication, Twin Cities chapter. Robin is a frequent author, speaker and presenter on topics such as PR2.0, community engagement and public relations. Contact Robin at

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