Resistance from taxpayers. Reluctance from board members. Friends not ready to be advocates. It’s no secret: waging a successful budget/funding vote, building referendum, or redistricting campaign can be challenging for any library.
In New York’s Westchester County, the Mount Vernon Public Library was faced with passing a $4.3M budget or shutting its doors. At the Finkelstein Memorial Library in Spring Valley, NY, a certain segment of the community actively organized against the library. In Wappingers Falls, NY, the Grinnell Library needed to create a library district so that the community would decide the library’s financial future directly, rather than elected officials. The Saugerties Public Library asked its town taxpayers to ante up an average of $67 a year for 25 years to pay for a $7 million building expansion.
Challenging? Yes. Were they successful? You bet. Why? Because they planned, and because in each case the library’s trustees were involved from the start.
It’s time for trustees to see themselves as library advocates and start planning dual Public Education and Vote Yes campaigns. Communication Services, a political consulting, strategic communications, and branding firm, has helped dozens of libraries pass their votes since 2005. With a success rate of over 80 percent, the firm was hired by United for Libraries in 2013 and 2014 to work with libraries in the on their advocacy plans.
The first step in any successful campaign is putting together a campaign plan—an actual written document—outlining the strategy the library is going to use. Information you need to include and know about includes:
- What your compelling message will be
- Who and where the voters are
- How you’re going to convey your message
- How you’re going to track your supporters and get them out to vote
- How you’re going to pay for the campaign
Develop a Message That Moves People
Before you can move forward, it is essential to develop a message that has an emotional pull. Communications Services has successfully used a community-based values model, starting with a series of focus groups to determine what those values are and how the library can reflect the community while the community’s shared values are reflected the library.
Your message has to be clear and concise. Hone it down so that it clearly understood by everyone—from sophisticated voters to fifth-grade library patrons. If your fifth graders can understand it and embrace it, the electorate will follow.
Communicating with Voters
You’ve got a message that works. Now, how do you get it to folks?
A combination of direct mail, social media, web presence, and good, old fashioned one-on-one chats is a great and manageable way to get the library campaign message out.
Use Google Calendars to track campaign activities from scheduling photo shoots to mapping out when direct mail will drop to figuring out when Voter ID phone banking will happen, and keep everyone in the know.
Four pieces of direct mail over three to four weeks before the vote is our standard. These give libraries a chance to tell their “vote story,” to let people know the pros of voting yes and the cons of voting no, as well as show the voters the broad base of support you have. Your website needs to provide detailed information about what you’re trying to accomplish and the campaign should have active Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts to engage those who spend time on social media. You can even cost-effectively advertise on Facebook by targeting zip codes, age, sex and interests.
Identifying Your Voters
Because we can’t use our patron files for political purposes, we need to be creative in identifying library supporters. Get the voter file for your service area, import it into a database, and begin to identify library supporters. Merge and purge your Friends membership list into the voter file. Consider which neighborhoods have large numbers of library users. Your website should also give people the opportunity to sign up as supporters—another way to identify voters.
One of the best ways to identify voters is through phone banks. Develop a short script explaining the voter initiative and the specific ask. If you don’t ask the question, you won’t know who to pull out on the day of the vote.
These calls need to be tracked in a database. Those who vote yes are coded as 1s, those who don’t know as 2s, and those who will vote no are 3s. Since it’s unlikely all the calls will get done in your first wave of calling, you can call the 2s again during the second wave.
Do not spend time trying to convince your opposition—typically anti-tax folks—that they are wrong. It’s a waste of your time. Instead, reinforce your message with your base of support and try to persuade the undecideds.
There’s a cloud-based voter management file called Voter Activation Network (www.ngpvan.com), originally devised as the voter tracking software for President Obama’s 2008 campaign, that is worth looking at. The VAN will host a voter file and continually update it, enabling phone bank volunteers to track voters on a laptop or smartphone as they’re making the calls.
What To Do With the Info
Your mailings are in the mail. Your calls have been made. Your database is up to date. Now what?
Winning on the day of the vote is all about turning out the folks who support you. That means another round of phone banking, typically called “Get Out The Vote” calls (GOTV). Calls should be made two days and one day before the vote. You call again the day of the vote.
If you have the capacity to track your voters at the polls, you can start your GOTV calls at dinner time and only call those who you know haven’t voted yet. If you can’t track your voters, just call them all. But remember, only call your 1s.
Libby Post is President/CEO of Communication Services (www.commservices.net) and serves on the ALA Library Advocacy Committee.