The Small but Powerful Guide to Winning Big Support for Your Rural Library

The Small but Powerful Guide to Winning Big Support for Your Rural Library logo

Steps to Success

Securing support is an ongoing challenge for libraries of any size. It can seem particularly daunting in small and rural communities with many needs and few resources. But small can be powerful when making your case for support.

Advocacy is about persuading funders and other decision-makers to give you the support you need. It begins with the people who believe in libraries—you, your staff, board members, friends, volunteers and users. Making your case for support is all about getting organized and focused. The best way to do that is to keep it simple.

1. Don’t wait for a crisis. Make yourself essential.

Advocacy works best when the library has a track
record of excellent service and a reservoir of goodwill with the community. You may not have the nicest
building or biggest collection, but you can become
renowned for your excellent service. Learn to speak the language of those you seek to serve. Sponsor literacy, employment and other classes that address community needs. Develop partnerships with other organizations.

2. Build your team.

You will need a core group of supporters to help strategize. Start with your library’s  trustees, friends or biggest fans. Try to find people who both believe in the library and are well connected in the community. Research shows that even people who don’t use the library appreciate its role and wish to support it. Always remember to ask for support.

3. Have a clear, memorable message.

You will need a simple, powerful message, one that is easy to say and remember—about 10 words. And you should use it consistently in publicity materials and presentations. The more you use it, the more likely people will “get it” and act.

“Our community deserves a 21st Century library.”

“Kids need libraries as much as they need schools.”

Develop three supporting messages or talking points and a few good statistics, stories or examples to build your case.

4. Target your audiences.

Be specific. Who needs to hear the message? To whom do they listen? It’s hard to reach everyone, so identify those whose support is most critical and make them your highest priority. Key public officials, parents and seniors are typical target audiences for libraries.

5. Identify strategies.

How will you deliver your message to the people you want to reach? Who will deliver it? Your action plan should identify specific strategies, a timetable and who is responsible. The more times and the more ways you deliver the message the more impact it will have.

6. Practice word-of-mouth marketing.

Good old-fashioned word-of-mouth is still the most powerful form of communication. But to be effective, it needs to be done consciously and consistently. And it is most effective when others do it for you. Don’t just tell people, ask them to “Please tell your friends.”

7. Have an enthusiastic, articulate spokesperson.

A message will only take you so far. You will also need a spokesperson who can deliver it with passion, who is comfortable and skilled in that role. That may or may not be you. While you know the library best, it is often better to have a supporter be the front person.

8. Evaluate constantly.

Don’t wait until it’s over. Keep an eye out for what’s working and what’s not. Are you getting positive media coverage? To how many groups have you spoken? What kind of feedback are you getting from people who come into the library? Ask representatives of your target groups whether they know about your campaign. Keep a checklist and make adjustments as needed.

9. Don’t stop.

Make an ongoing effort to keep your community informed of how the library contributes to the community and what it needs to provide the best possible service. It is much easier to win support when key officials and community members understand its importance and are enthusiastic.

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