Case Study: Local Residents Vote for a Library and Affirm Their Roles as Shareholders

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It had been almost ten years since a community library in New York had received an increase to its operating budget from the town. Private funding and contributions helped, but the Library was facing a deficit that made it impossible to keep pace with the inflationary costs of salaries and healthcare. The library also feared that it would not be able to continue the quality of services the community had come to expect. In New York State, libraries can’t just request an increase from their town, though. It needs to go before a town-wide ballet and residents vote on whether or not the library should receive an increase (increasing their own taxes). The Library had never undertaken a public awareness campaign. Yet, without an increase in funding, the Library knew it would not be able to continue their level of service.

The Strategy

The Library reached out to Danosky & Associates to build a public awareness campaign that would ensure: 1) the library’s proposition for a budget increase would be included on the ballot in mid-term voting, and 2) the public would be well-informed on the fiscal and community value of the library’s services as they cast their votes. We launched a full engagement and outreach effort by doing the following:

  • Established a core constituency through analysis of library patronage vs. registered voters
  • Developed an online community survey to determine how the local community values its library
  • Used the community survey to prepare talking points and materials for library volunteers as they engaged the community to become the opinion leaders and supporters of the library
  • Implemented a strict timeline to rollout a series of structured marketing initiatives that would lead to an affirmative vote.

The Outcome

Following this eight-month long campaign, the proposition passed by a healthy margin. Not only did residents approve the increase in library funding provided by the town, many more residents learned about all the programs the library offers. And the library came away with information that can be used in future outreach, engagement, and a renewed vision of services.

Lessons Learned

  • The library gained valuable insight to the needs and expectations of its neighborhoods through a community assessment, engagement of key library stakeholders and volunteers, and recruitment of new members. It also learned how important it is to reach beyond its primary service area, as one area didn’t have as much support for the initiative because they weren’t included in the door-to-door outreach.
  • Boots on the Ground is not only effective in a campaign of this type, but it’s crucial to building trust. Library volunteers attended local civic meetings to present the campaign and answer questions; this put faces to the names associated with the library. Local businesses showed their support by agreeing to display window flyers which were branded for the library’s campaign and rotated on a monthly basis to inform the public on its programs and services.
  • When the public votes to tax themselves for a public library service, public libraries are generally better funded. This also allows residents to come away from an affirmative vote as not only a future patron, but a shareholder as well.

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Nonprofit organizations – and their boards – are on the front lines of many of the societal problems we face.  They are advocates, providers of human services and collaborators for social change.  And they are predominantly white.

A recent study of Board practices, Leading With Intent  published by BoardSource noted that “boards are not prioritizing demographics in their recruitment practices”.  The survey they undertook of their members received responses from 1,545 organizations nationally.  Of those organizations, 90% of their Chief Executives were Caucasian, as was 90% of Board Chairs and 84% of Board members. [Read more…]