Working with politicians and funders (Advocacy Series #4)

Let’s talk to the Money People!

This is where people start to get nervous when doing advocacy work.

“I don’t know what to say!”

“I don’t want to talk about money!”

“What if I ask, and they turn me down??” (And what if they laugh at me? And chase me down the hallway? And steal my lunch money??)

Fortunately, most of these fears are pretty groundless. But it’s worth taking a couple of minutes here to talk about some strategies for working with funders and politicians.

Advocacy for libraries is pretty easy! Generally, people like libraries, and see the value in having a good library. Sometimes you need to whip out an elevator speech on “this is why Google will never replace a librarian” but that should be simple enough. Rattle off a quick list of a few things your library does each week, and doubters are stunned into silence.

Advocacy is talking to people, telling them about your library, your materials, your services, and all the things you do there. Dealing with funders is just the same: tell them what you are doing in your library, and how you are spending their money.

When dealing with politicians, there are a few basic ideas to help the relationship build. In this case, “politicians” is being used pretty loosely – not only elected officials (Senators, Reps, Mayors, Council members, etc.) but also people whose job it is to do political work in the course of their administrative jobs: principals, presidents, provosts, etc. For our discussion here, these people all have pretty similar functions.

First: remember it is a relationship, so it is give and take on both sides. Politicians are used to being constantly asked for things; but people rarely remember to thank them, or to ask what they can do in return. So it’s fine to ask for money, for support on an important library-related bill, and for other kinds of help within their area of work. Then it’s also nice to give them some library “stuff” – flyers, handouts, websites, outreach information. Just as you would with any patron who shows interest in your library, you want your politicians to understand all the things you are giving to your community – including them.

When working with other funders (such as grantors), remember that they WANT to give money away! They want to give money to people and organizations who will spend it to bring glory back to the funder and to the library. You just need to show that you are capable of putting together some great ideas, of handling money responsibly, and of reporting back on how it was spent. So when you fill out applications, or call to talk about a money request, you want to sound professional. Fill things out correctly – as a grant reviewer, it drives me NUTS when people don’t follow the directions!! Have an actual plan, beyond just “please give me money.”  Know how you are going to evaluate your plan, and be ready to do so to ensure you have some good information to share. Funders know that not every project is going to turn out perfectly; but you should be ready to explain how things went wrong.

Finally, when dealing with all types of money people: NO WHINING! No one wants to hear people whine about being handed money, resources, and materials. If you have some constructive things to say, share them. But whining that grants don’t happen on your schedule, or funders do not fund things that are of interest to you not only decreases your likelihood of getting money and support in the future, but it hurts all of us. Libraries everywhere need support from their communities, and the larger community of funding. We need to be taken seriously, we need to demonstrate competency, and we need to look professional. So step up, don’t complain, and be ready to work hard and show some great results!

Fortunately, in libraries: it’s VERY EASY to show some great results!! We are pretty awesome!!