5. Tell Your Story: Persuading Decision Makers
A great advocacy campaign requires an effective message, creative ways of communicating it, an audience that includes decision makers, and meaningful jobs for people who want to help you get your message out.
You’ve let your constituents know that cuts are coming, and now it’s time to create a polished message that will inspire them to get out and show their support. Your advocacy message should be tightly focused on one issue: “Help us keep our library strong!” Your library is not a frill; it’s essential to the health and welfare of your community. It’s a reflection of the quality of life all around you. Your library has served its citizens well for a long time and must continue to serve them after this budget cycle is over.
While this guide to Navigating a Challenging Budget Year isn’t intended to develop a perfect advocacy message for your library – you and your Budget Response Team must do that – it can provide some helpful tips. For example, your advocacy message should:
- Be positive. This is not about whining!
- Be directly tied to what people value about your library.
- Be catchy. That means concise, to the point and attention grabbing. Maybe it’s a slogan.
- Be memorable, something that will stay with people.
- Lend itself to a variety of formats (flyers, bookmarks, posters, petitions, postcards, newsletters, websites, media ads, etc.)
There are some guidelines on other ALA websites that address creating advocacy messages. Read those before you start embarking on creating your own. Here are a few helpful links:
Advocating in a Tough Economy Toolkit
ALA - Office for Library Advocacy - "Making the Case"
Frontline Advocacy for Public Libraries Toolkit
ALA - Frontline Advocacy - "Your Message: Say what Matters"
You want a broad audience of people to hear your message, but you particularly want decision makers to hear it.
Because this is not a one-size-fits-all world, people see and hear in their own way. That’s why you’ll want to think of as many ways as possible to communicate your strong advocacy message. First of all:
Do You Need Money for Advocacy?
The answer to that question is “yes and no.”
“Yes” because many of the best methods of getting your message out come with a price tag. (That price tag doesn’t have to be large, however.) “No” because there are some activities you can carry out at essentially no cost.
You can do a lot with limited funds, but before you write any checks, prioritize. Don’t spend your precious dollars on efforts that aren’t the most cost-effective. See the checklist below for some proven ideas.
One important caveat: You may not be able to spend library funds on advocacy of this sort. Advocacy dollars may have to come from an outside source. If your Friends group has raised money through book sales or other events, can you use those resources? If you don’t have any extra funds on hand, can your Friends or trustees raise some support? That will generate both money and awareness. Will a printer donate his or her services? Will your newspaper donate advertising space? Get creative! Your library is in the crosshairs.
Checklist of Ideas for Getting Your Advocacy Message Out
Some of these ideas are free, some require money (but not a lot). Look over the list and see which ones feel right for your library, and use your Budget Response Team as a resource as you decide what will work best.
- Print your own flyers and bookmarks right in your library. Explain what’s happening, how your library will be impacted, and how people can help. Include decision makers’ contact information. Keep your message positive. Remember: Your library is a NO WHINING zone!
- Post your advocacy message prominently on your library’s website, and each day post something new that supports your message. Use your library’s statistics, testimonials from users, famous quotations, trivia questions, anything that reinforces your message and brings visitors to your website every day. Have some fun with this!
- Start a petition drive and gather as many signatures as you can. This is a great way to use volunteers.
- Establish a “telephone calling tree” whereby six people call six people who call six other people…etc. Prepare a short script for callers.
- Hold a “Library Snapshot Day” to document a day in the life of your library. Visit ALA’s website ALA Office for Library Advocacy - Primer for Library Snapshot Day to find out more.
- Invite your youngest library fans to draw pictures or write poems about what makes the library fun and exciting. Hang these in the library and around the community.
- Send e-mail blasts to library card holders for whom you have e-mail addresses. Invite them to e-mail decision makers, and provide appropriate e-mail addresses of public officials.
- Pre-print and pre-address postcards that library users and others can easily pick up, add their messages to, and mail to the individuals who will be determining the level of your library’s cuts.
- Similarly, have a pre-printed letter to decision makers available in .pdf format on your website that people can download, print, sign and mail. Postcards and letters from citizens to decision makers can be very effective, but do this only if you think you can “flood” decision makers with them. A weak trickling of postcards or letters might tell give the impression that no one cares very much.
- Speak to book clubs, civic and community groups, parent gatherings, senior groups, teen organizations, business associations, and other gatherings made up of people who use and value your library. Your library’s Budget Response Team can help here. Communicate your advocacy message and then why and how you need their help.
- Write a letter to the editor of your newspaper. Maybe that letter should come from you, or maybe it should come from someone on your Budget Response Team or from someone well-respected in your community who is not directly associated with the library.
- Advertise in your local paper or on that paper’s website to expose lots of readers to your message. (Be sure to ask for reduced advertising rates!)
- Find out whether your local newspaper considers your budget challenges and possible cutback in library services a news story. Contact the appropriate reporter directly.
- Contact your local radio and/or television stations and see if they are interested in a feature story or interview.
- Have some small buttons made with your library’s advocacy message and give them out by the handful.
- Place flyers in businesses, schools, coffee shops and other locations where people might pause and read about your library’s situation and be motivated to help.
- Host an event at your library. A rally, march or other gathering of supporters who will shout your message will attract attention and possibly the media.
Everyone who works for your library is a member of your “frontline” staff. They are the people that library users deal with everyday. Even staff in positions that don’t put them in direct contact with library users are the face of your library because their families, friends, neighbors and others know they work at the library. For this reason, they are your #1 best advocates. ALA has online toolkits to help frontline staff become more effective advocates, to think consciously about promoting the library and its needs during their daily interactions with users and others. You can find the toolkits here: ALA - Office for Library Advocacy - Frontline Advocacy Toolkits.
Don’t forget your Budget Response Team. They are your senior leadership and should be available for a wide range of advocacy and communication activities.
Your library has a big fan base. They’re your “library lovers.” Many have been faithful users for years and you and your staff know lots of them on a first name basis. They are children, teens, parents, singles, teachers, workers, job seekers, new Americans, seniors, and others. Engage them! It’s within the power of everyone who loves your library to speak up for it. Library loves can volunteer to distribute flyers around the community, knock on doors with petitions, write letters, make phone calls, send e-mails and generally be your library’s face and voice far beyond where you and your staff can reach.
Don’t be shy about asking people who are respected leaders in your community to come forward on your behalf. Their endorsement will carry weight with decision makers and will encourage others in your community, those who admire and respect them, to join in your effort.