6 Things Your Friends and Foundation Can Do to Support Your next Library Ballot Campaign

The IRS limits spending by 501c3 organizations (like Friends and Foundations) to roughly 20% of their prior year’s budget. This means that your Friends group or Foundation can, with the guidance of your accountant, donate directly to a local ballot committee in advance of a ballot measure for your library.

This listicle is brought to you by the EveryLibrary Executive Director, John Chrastka.

#1 Put some money into a local campaign committee fund

The IRS limits spending by 501c3 organizations (like Friends and Foundations) to roughly 20% of their prior year’s budget. This means that your Friends group or Foundation can, with the guidance of your accountant, donate directly to a local ballot committee in advance of a ballot measure for your library. If you are anticipating that your library is on the ballot in 2016, look into making a donation to the local YES committee at the end of 2015. And then again in 2016. See #6, below, for more.

#2 Start donating to the library for marketing and outreach

You should start making donations to the library that staff can use to promote programs, collections, and services - on social media and on the web - to your local community in advance of a campaign. It’s a best-practice anytime. In most communities, as little as $50 a month can go a long way to reach users and non-users about the library. If you or the staff need advice on how to do it right, check out the recent book by our EveryLibrary advisory committee member Ben Bizzle.

#3 Talk to your board and members about what’s on the horizon

The worst thing to hear after a ballot measure fails or your City Council says ‘no’ to a funding request is: “I would have helped, but I didn't know about it”. Get ahead of that by sharing information early with your board and membership. Start with the facts about dates. If you have a levy or millage renewal coming up in 2 or 3 years, tell people. Add it to your regular agenda.

#4 Talk about how Election Day is a big fundraising day (maybe the biggest) for your library.

Stable revenue for the library starts with taxes. Your donations, whether Friends or Foundation, should be used to supplement, start-up, or extend the budget. The budget is based on taxes and Election Day is when the library’s taxes are renewed or raised. If you have members or leaders who look at their fundraising project as the most important project, please kindly remind them that renewing or extending your tax base is likely a bigger source of funding for the library.

#5 Talk to local media about more than your events and book sales.

Your local media - online and traditional - want to feature stories about civic engagement and neighborhood volunteers. Ask your longest, your youngest, and your ‘best’ volunteers to offer their stories about why they are investing their personal time in supporting the library. It’s a good human interest story and it gets the library in front of readers in between book sales.

#6 If it doesn't already exist, it may be up to you to start the local ballot committee

The most responsible thing for the local library support system to do in advance of the campaign is to have a local ballot committee that can receive and hold money for an eventual Get Out the Vote and YES campaign. Because of IRS restrictions on spending by 501c3 organizations (see #1, above), if the YES committee is in place and ready to receive money the year before the campaign, there is more time to raise the money the YES campaign needs for yard signs, phone banks, pizza for volunteers, and social media ad buys. If no one else identifies this, it may be up to you to start the conversation. EveryLibrary is here to help.

This week’s Lib Elections News

Residents in Belgrade (MT) passed a municipal services levy last week that included the public library. It passed by a 65 percent margin. Also, a sales tax to support the library in Weed (CA) was overturned by the California Board of equalization. Measure O passed with 71 percent of the vote which was well over the required 62 percent. The only news coverage found was this opinion article.

There will be a measure for a levy increase on today’s ballot for the Polk County Library in Missouri. Voters will decide to increase the levy from 0.10 mill to 0.25. This will be the first levy increase since 1948. In recent years the library has had to dip in to its reserve funds and these would be depleted in about 4-5 years if the increase is not passed. Also today residents in Altamont (IL) are being asked to approve the formation of a Library District. The district will provide a wider tax base than the current city provides.

Barre Town (VT) voters will see a measure on their May 12 ballot to increase the annual funding for the Aldrich Public Library by $45,000. Instead of approving the increase on their own, the municipal budget committee decided to pass the decision on to voters. Approval of the increase by voters could mean that the budget committee would be more “comfortable” with allowing increases in future years.

Residents in Spokane County (WA) will vote August 4 on a $22 million bond to build two new library branches and renovate others.  This would be funded by a property tax increase of about 11 cents per $1,000. A similar measure was defeated last April, but the cost to the taxpayer is lower in this measure. Also in the Pacific NW, there will be a levy increase on the November ballot for Washington County Cooperative Library Services (OR). Pre-polling shows that over two thirds of voters would support a levy increase for the system. An increase would help them pay for an additional library to serve residents in south Hillsboro as well as increase services to youth and purchase additional collections. This would be the first increase in 10 years. The increase amount has not yet been set.

Other Happenings

Last week we announced our journal The Political Librarian. This journal will focus on local tax and public policy for libraries. We put out an early call for contributions and are continuing to seek those contributions over the next several weeks. Over the next month or so, we will be presenting  questions and discussion topics that will help form the basis of this exploration and inform the content of our first issue. We believe that we can serve as a platform, a venue, a contributor, and a convener of these discussions, and we encourage others to bring their own original lines of inquiry. Please contact editor Lindsay Sarin for more information or to discuss contributing to “The Political Librarian”.

EveryLibrary Board Member, Peter Bromberg, is the kickoff speaker for Library Journal’s new Leadership Academy, "Create Your Career Roadmap". This four week online course begins April 22. Library staff at any level will learn how to build a strategic plan for their career as well as build new skills specific to the challenges that libraries are facing. Details and registration.

EveryLibrary board members John Chrastka and Erica Findley will be in Eugene (OR) April 15 - 17 at the Oregon Library Association Conference. If you are attending the conference please look for our session Communicating with voters using social media on April 16th at 2 pm. We will also be hosting a fundraiser for EveryLibrary and the People for Oregon Libraries PAC on April 16th at 9pm. Tickets are on sale for $15 and will get you access to an informal networking event plus a hosted bar and selected appetizers. Tickets and event details.

That is all for this week. Join us next week for another round up. Happy trails!