Vol. 13 No. 6 • September 1999
Cover Story •
Friends and Foundation Join to Pass Bond Issue
by Donna Grubman
The Friends printed fliers, postcards, and petitions and started documenting community support for the bond issue. The theme on all of the printed materials was “Libraries Now ... our children can’t wait, our seniors can’t wait, our community can’t wait.” The Friends began an accelerated literature distribution campaign through the libraries and direct mail to library supporters. Postcards were distributed so citizens could write to their commissioners to express their support for “Libraries Now.” Volunteers gathered signatures on petitions demanding “Libraries Now.” Thousands of signatures on petitions in huge cartons were delivered to the commissioners before the November 3 meeting, where they would decide whether to put our initiative on the public ballot.
There were also fliers inviting citizens to attend the November 3 workshop to voice their support for the library bond issue. Friends organized groups of their members and volunteers to attend the meeting to speak for their interests. The West Regional Friends of the Library even hired a bus to travel downtown to the commission workshop. The bus was decorated with a huge “Libraries Now” banner. The fliers and postcards were very inexpensive, just black ink on colored paper. The printing cost of this entire phase of the project was less than $500.
The Broward County Board of County Commissioners, the governing body of Broward County, usually holds informal workshops to discuss pending issues in a meeting room that seats approximately 75 people. On November 3 almost 300 citizens arrived at the workshop to speak for the bond issue, so it had to be moved from the regular meeting room to the main commission chamber. Representatives from the Broward County Library Advisory Board, the Friends of Broward County Library, and the Broward Public Library Foundation were invited to speak before the commission. After their eloquent presentations, the general public was invited to the podium. Their expressions of support were compelling. There was no opposition to the bond issue voiced at the meeting. The positive results of the survey and focus groups, the visible community support for the bond issue, and the lack of organized opposition convinced the commissioners to place the referendum for a library bond issue on the March ballot.
Over the past 10 years, the Friends have focused on advocacy for libraries
and the Foundation has become the principal fundraising institution for
library enhancements. The opportunity to support the bond issue presented
itself as the single-most-significant fundraising and advocacy project
available to either organization. It became clear that the time had come
for the Friends and Foundation to work in tandem to achieve the highest
impact and support. The Foundation agreed to lead the effort to put together
the financial resources required to mount the campaign, with the assurance
that the Friends would provide the advocacy skills and volunteers needed
to mount a major political effort.
Organizing the Bond Issue Initiative
The foundation director, Kay Harvey, worked with the executive committee of the foundation to recruit a campaign chair and establish a PAC to raise revenue to fund the campaign. Norman Tripp, chairman emeritus of Tripp, Coughlin and Smith, a highly respected Fort Lauderdale law firm, agreed to lead the effort. He worked tirelessly to establish an extremely effective and hard-working committee dedicated to reaching the supervoters and to passing the initiative. The bond issue committee included key library staff: I coordinated the library effort (in my capacity as associate director for library development); Kay Harvey represented the Foundation; and George Bolton was president and Judy Wolfman was past president of the Friends of the Library. In addition we used a private public relations company, a direct mail consultant, a political consultant, and representatives from the offices of voter registration and the supervisor of elections.
A budget of $150,000 was established for what was essentially a 2-month campaign. Through his impressive community contacts, Tripp raised the entire amount of money required, and billboards and printing were donated over and above the cash contributions.
Several high-level corporate executives lent their marketing skills to this effort and established the theme as “Better Libraries for a Better Broward.” They were dedicated to conveying the message that the bond issue funds would benefit all residents of Broward County, and that the initiative was not only about buildings; it would in fact increase materials collections and improve all facilities. Many clever, catchy themes were rejected in favor of this very direct and clear message.
The focus groups and surveys had demonstrated the public’s high regard for Broward County’s library service. The primary goal of the committee now was to provide information about the benefits inherent in the passage of the bond issue, and it was of the utmost importance to “get out the vote.” Because we were working with a short 2-month window, the political consultant strongly advised that the campaign be focused on the library’s strengths. The campaign was designed to reach library users (generally highly satisfied customers) and supervoters (generally positive toward library and education initiatives). The goal was to get supporters out to vote and to try to convince the undecided voter. There was insufficient time or resources to try to change the anti-tax voters or to try to recruit folks who did not have a history of voting.
The only obstacle the Broward County Library was facing in attempting
to pass a $139.9 million bond issue was complacency. So many people were
already satisfied with existing library services that a sense of urgency
did not exist.
Our Far-Reaching PR Campaign
The library marketing department provided bond issue information in the January, February, and March program guide Bookings. Staff distributed Vote Yes pins and stickers at all locations and bookmobile stops. The director of libraries, Samuel F. Morrison, sent personal letters to adult library patrons, homeowners associations, absentee ballot voters, and the clergy.
The Friends of the Library and the League of Women Voters set up tables at all facilities to encourage library patrons to vote on March 9. They distributed promotional materials, encouraged people to register to vote, and offered the opportunity to vote by absentee ballot. Promotional signs and banners also drew attention to the effort.
A direct mail campaign went out to 140,000 supervoters. The print pieces took the form of 8 x 10-inch postcards with photos and endorsements from major local celebrities: football star Dan Marino, tennis celebrity Chris Evert, and Wendy’s restaurant founder Dave Thomas. Two weeks before election day, three individual postcards went to the households identified as most likely to vote.
In the final hours we decided to hire a company to make phone calls to voters in key districts. The firm contacted 20,000 homes in the 4 days prior to the election, at a cost of 40 cents per completed call. (The rule of thumb is that 60 percent of calls are connected from an average list, but we had a much higher completion rate because the list had been recently purged.) Once again the database of supervoters was used, this time for the automatic dialing system. In this instance, we targeted Zip codes in the areas we felt it was most important to remind people to vote on March 9. Areas were also targeted based on two criteria: 1) large condominiums with a high concentration of supervoters, and 2) communities scheduled for significant projects resulting from the passage of the bond issue.
In contracting for telephone messages there are two options: a recorded message or an individual speaking for 30 seconds from a prepared script. We were advised not to use the recorded message because of public resentment toward it. Based on response to the library, the phone calls were a great reminder to vote in the mid-year election. Our community speakers bureau was another important component of the campaign. In all, 140 presentations were made to community groups. Library staff members Cecil Beach and Eileen McNally coordinated the speakers bureau. An orientation was provided for all speakers, and a script was created for them. Each was also given a comprehensive manual containing background information on the library and the details of the bond issue. In addition, a two-sided form was created to track requests for community speakers and to document the attendance, questions, and response of the audience. This tool was valuable in helping the committee to anticipate possible problems or concerns and to get a sense of the climate during this intense campaign.
In retrospect, the speakers bureau was an extremely important outreach tool. Based on the feedback from speakers and participants, citizens were encouraged to vote and they also became excited and involved in the future of Broward County Library. We have attracted many new friends and customers as the result of the bond issue campaign.
Here’s another way we reached out: Broward County government employs over 7,000 people, and we made a concentrated effort to get out the staff vote. The initiative was promoted in Countyline (the county staff newsletter) and in Staff Developments (the library staff newsletter). A message was printed on all pay stubs the last week in February. An e-mail went to all county employees as a reminder to vote. A voice message from our director of libraries, Mr. Morrison, went to all county staff on March 5 and 6. In addition, city managers in all municipalities were asked to e-mail all city employees to remind them to vote “yes” for the library bond issue.
We did not overlook electronic resources either. The bond issue message appeared on the county’s Web page throughout the campaign. SEFLIN, the regional electronic resource provider, touted the initiative on its opening screen. We mounted the message on all terminals throughout the library system. And a unique and significant contribution was made by the Board of Realtors—it mounted a promotional message on each computer used by local realtors.
However, the Board of Realtors was only one of several important
outside organizations endorsing the library bond issue. The PTA, school
board, and all Broward institutions of higher education endorsed the bond
issue and actively promoted the initiative to students and staff. Individual
cities that had a great deal at stake mounted local “get out the vote”
drives. Mailings, billboards, banners, and community presentations were
very effective in cities slated for new facilities.
Media Relations and Political Activity
Pierson Grant Public Relations handled the press releases and editorial board meetings. Library director Sam Morrison and lawyer Norm Tripp met with the editorial boards of the daily newspapers, the Sun Sentinel and the Miami Herald. Both newspapers endorsed the bond issue initiative without reservation. Morrison and Tripp also appeared on cable community affairs programs. Press releases went to all of the media, with a substantial effort directed at the local papers and the community news sections. I served as the spokesperson for the library and handled questions from the media.
Presentations at local democratic and republican clubs by citizens they could relate well to was an important activity. Assigning speakers who have some knowledge and sensitivity to the organization they are addressing is really important in achieving a positive result.
The “Committee for Better Libraries for a Better Broward” paid for the
printing cost of adding the library item to the palm cards of local politicians.
Palm cards are essentially small-print cards delineating the issue and
how to vote, designed for the voters to take with them into the voting
booth. Both palm cards and lollipop signs were created for use by precinct
volunteers. A “lollipop” is a sign on a wooden stick, either held by hand
or put on a lawn. Our volunteers who are accustomed to participating in
political campaigns value palm cards and lollipop signs, though we have
no tool to measure their value.
At Last: the Final Results
The bond issue passed unanimously in every precinct in Broward County. The percentage of positive votes indicated that the political strategy of getting out the supervoters and concentrating on specific high-density precincts was a valid approach. On March 9, 1999, a direct feed from the Supervisor of Elections Office was established in the auditorium at the Main Library. The committee members and all interested staff and volunteers gathered to watch the returns as they were registered. Absentee ballots were counted first. They were 71 percent for the bond issue. This early positive news helped the excitement to mount that evening. As the returns starting coming in they were generally around the 70 percent level. At 9 p.m. the political writer for the Sun Sentinel called in his story, “It’s a Landslide.” The bond issue initiative for $139.9 million passed by 72.45 percent.
On March 10, all of the same communication tools we employed to pass
the bond issue were now utilized to share the good news with the public
and the staff. The message was that 72 percent had said yes to “Better
Libraries for a Better Broward.”
Donna Grubman recently retired from her job as the associate director for library development for the Broward County Library in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She has a graduate degree in library science from the University of South Florida in Tampa. In 1985 she was selected as “Woman of the Year in Communications” by the Florida-Atlantic Chapter of Women in Communications. During Grubman’s long career in library management and marketing, her library received numerous John Cotton Dana Awards for library public relations and NACO (National Association of County Organizations) awards for publications and programs.
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