Work backward.

Once you know what the community wants to be, in terms of placemaking, you can work backward. What things would need to happen in order to get there? Before long, themes or groups will emerge. Identify the groups and people who want to work in each area. Keep working backward to get more and more detail. Assign specific people, specific tasks on a specific timeline.

Work plans are at the heart of every successful Main Street community. They are detailed plans of who is going to do what by when and how much it is going to cost. In the case of the Clare Main Street program, their work plans cover 16 pages of detailed activity and dozens of volunteers. Likewise, Iron Mountain’s work plans are 37 pages and don’t leave a single detail on any of their 12 projects to chance. As the old saying goes, “aim small, miss small,” meaning the less you leave to chance, the greater the odds of success.

Find resources to fit the plan, don’t plan to fit the resources.

One of the biggest mistakes communities and organizations make is when they only chase money. Nonprofits and businesses call it “mission creep.” It means you’ve altered what you do for money, be it for grants or customers. In the short run, it works out a lot. In the long run, it usually leads the organization away from its core purpose and tends to lose its biggest supporters because it no longer does what it was intended to do.

Instead, the community should decide for itself what it wants to be. Having a vision for what you want to be makes it easier to find funding, whether at the local, state or federal levels or through foundations. Think of it like a business plan. If a community can show what it wants, how it wants to achieve it and what it needs to get there, it’s easier to get buy-in from others to help achieve that vision.

In Boyne City, their comprehensive Main Street program put forth a vision of a vibrant, walkable downtown that valued their historic heritage. That vision, and work plans to back it up, translated into numerous projects undertaken at the grassroots level. These grassroots efforts included everything from festivals and events designed to flood the streets with people to rehabbing their historic facades to helping their existing businesses thrive and recruiting new ones to the area. Their efforts have helped to leverage more than $6 million in infrastructure and facade improvement grants from four different state agencies. They are a community that has a plan and executes it. Funding followed.