Top Five Tips for Engaging with Local Council
Local Council is an often-overlooked resource for social enterprise. Far more than ‘rates, roads and rubbish’ your local council can be a useful source of support in several ways:
- availability of capacity-building workshops
- financial support through grants and procurement
- increased exposure for your enterprise, through events or other marketing
- links and introductions to others in the local community who may have a similar mission or have links to your cohort.
If you’re lucky you might even get a cheerleader and advocate for all things social enterprise (take a bow, City of Parramatta!).
Here are five top tips for ways to engage with your Local Council.
Local councils have significant procurement budgets and will be looking to purchase items ranging from small, such as catering, to large-scale tenders for cleaning or an expression of interest to operate a café in a Council facility.
Most councils will operate the larger procurement and expression of interest processes through Tenderlink. All you need to do is to sign up and you will be sent relevant information about opportunities that you may be interested in applying for. It is worth looking directly at the procurement section of a Council website to see if they will offer you the opportunity to sign up for their Tenderlink portal for free. This will allow you to receive notification of relevant tender opportunities from that Council. If you want to cast your net wider, you can sign up to Tenderlink directly to hear about tender opportunities across Australia, although there is a subscription fee associated with this.
Alternatively, you could contact a team directly in Council about your offerings, which is the subject of Tip Number 2.
2. Get in touch with relevant teams within Council
Every Local Council has a range of teams that focus on different aspects of Council operations. There are interesting and innovative people working in councils who are keen to hear about new ways of doing things with the community, for the environment or other local initiatives. They may not have heard of a social enterprise but telling them about what you do will open their eyes to the possibilities and may open the door for other social enterprises to work there too.
Have a look at a Council website and see if any of the teams are relevant to your work. This could be a Community Development or Community Capacity Building team, an Environment team or Waste and Sustainability team, an Events team, or an Economic Development team.
Be clear about your ask before you get in touch, so that you have the best chance of getting to the right person at the start. Even better, if you know someone in Council get them to do some digging for you to see who might be best to speak with.
3. Talk to your local Councillor
Councillors are the elected officials who represent local people in Council and are the main decision-makers for significant projects and help set Council priorities. They are also there to advocate for their local constituents – this includes individuals, organisations, and businesses.
Getting to know Councillors is a fantastic way to get your social enterprise on the radar of your local Council. You may want to contact a Councillor in the Ward that you operate in or find a Councillor who has an interest in the area you work in.
Councillors are there to represent their communities, so any evidence you have that shows the positive impact your social enterprise has on the local community, they will be eager to hear. Council websites have the contact details for each Councillor.
4. Hire community space or join Council events
Councils have a range of facilities that can be hired by the public, community organisations and businesses to run events, workshops, presentations, and the like. Some are shared facilities like Community centres, where you may meet other organisations you can link in with. Some councils offer subsidies for the use of these facilities by not-for-profit organisations.
You can also keep an eye out for any events being run by Council, where there may be opportunities for a market stall or an information stall about your business. This is a great way to get exposure for your enterprise at a large public event and to get on the radar of the Council events team, who may invite you back time and again.
While this may seem obvious, it is worth looking into the myriad of grant opportunities available from councils. Many councils have a broad range of grants including community grants, cultural grants, event grants, business grants and environmental grants.
While you may need to be a not-for-profit to apply for some categories of grants, things like business grants or event grants are more likely to be aimed at for-profit businesses.
Some councils also have specific Social Enterprise Grants. Right now, the City of Parramatta has a Growing Social Enterprise in Parramatta Grant round open. This grant offers $25,000 to locate a successful social enterprise into the Parramatta area. This grant is open to both for-profit and not-for-profit social enterprises. Applications close on 19 September 2022. Check it out here.
Far from being a faceless government institution, local councils welcome engagement from local organisations and social enterprises, particularly if you can provide evidence of the positive impact you can have in the local community.