Editor’s note: In this blog series, District Marketing Mojo, Verdin President and CEO Mary Verdin interviews a leader in the world of tourism marketing and communications for attractions, special districts and business improvement districts each month. Check back here regularly for new interviews.
Advocating for California’s Special Districts: A Spotlight on Communications Specialist Kristin Withrow
Throughout California, there are more than 3,000 special districts operating in communities large and small to bring services, programs and a higher quality of life to their residents. Special districts are the unsung heroes that work alongside many cities and counties, ensuring fire service, clean water, and parks and recreation facilities and activities, among other basic services and programs.
The California Special Districts Association (CSDA) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to advocate and educate on behalf of special districts. The CSDA offers education, training, networking and legislative support to these localized government agencies that provide public infrastructure and essential services, but are often under the radar in their communities.
Kristin Withrow is a communications specialist at CSDA, a role that she describes as being the storyteller for the association and its members. She crafts compelling narratives, uncovering the success stories behind CSDA members and their services, and sharing them with the world. Through e-newsletters, the bimonthly Special Districts Magazine, and CSDA’s social media pages, Kristin paints a vivid picture of why special districts offer these services and how they positively impact their communities.
Kristin’s journey with CSDA began in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and she has worked as the communications specialist for the past three years. Kristin’s passion for storytelling and communication made her the perfect fit for the CSDA role, and she has since immersed herself in the unique world of special districts.
The Road Ahead
Kristin and the rest of the CSDA team are constantly working to bridge the gap of understanding between the public and special districts. They aim to make people aware that many vital services in their communities are provided by these districts, not by their city or county governments. Always responding to the needs of its members, CSDA will soon have the convenience of an app that will give members easy access to CSDA resources on the go and from any device.
However, there are challenges to overcome in awareness and community support. Kristin took the lead on a public awareness campaign, “Districts Make the Difference,” that is now run in partnership with the National Special Districts Coalition and can be seen across the U.S. The campaign is currently live through various social media platforms and aims to educate the public about the crucial role special districts play.
Another major goal of CSDA communications is ensuring legislators and the public understand the distinction between city/county services and special districts. Bringing understanding to the distinction is pivotal to ensuring special districts are included in funding when new laws are created.
Kristin’s work at CSDA reflects her belief in finding common ground and emphasizing unity over division. She strives to bring together the diverse world of special districts under one umbrella, advocating for their common interests. This is illustrated by her choices when asked who she would have dinner with, anyone dead or alive. She envisions a dinner table with Eleanor Roosevelt for her pioneering spirit and opening doors for women; her grandmother Helen Sponable, a strong leader and courageous volunteer, working as a Lady in White (a precursor to EMTs) to learn more about her perspective on life and leadership; and Malcolm Gladwell, for his inspirational approach to storytelling and how he helps his audience see many sides of human behavior.
As Kristin continues to tell the stories of our unsung special districts, she invites everyone to join the conversation and discover the essential services provided by special districts in their communities.
If you’re interested in learning more, CSDA will be hosting a webinar on communications planning for special districts in March. Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn to be informed and stay tuned for more details!
Find out more at CSDA.net.