June 22, 2009

New York Public Library Successfully Fights City Budget Cuts With Online Campaign

The New York Public Library successfully used an online fund-raising and advocacy campaign to fight the city’s plan to slash its municipal support by $28-million this year — and now it has won back $23-million in subsidies.

Key to the library’s success was an urgent alert message that the institution used to replace what viewers typically see when they visit its main Web site.

Starting on May 6, the library encouraged online visitors to make a donation of $5 or more and to contact their city representatives to protest the cuts.

“Keep your library open,” the message read. “We need your help! Record numbers of New Yorkers are relying on The New York Public Library in these difficult economic times.” The city cuts, it said, would shut city libraries for an extra one or two days a week and restrict residents’ access to job-search tools.

The campaign included a celebrity-studded YouTube video, featuring the actress Bette Midler, the writer Amy Tan, the actor Jeff Daniels, the director Mike Nichols, and several others. All donated their time to urge viewers to participate in the campaign.

The library also used messages on Facebook and other social-networking sites, inviting its donors, to use Twitter and other tools to tell people about the campaign and the library’s budget woes.

The campaign brought in $50,000 from 1,100 donors, with an average gift of $47. Eighty percent of those who gave were first-time donors. “We are really excited about this,” says Catherine Carver Dunn, the library’s senior vice president of external affairs.

Equally critical, she says, was the campaign’s ability to galvanize more than 30,000 area residents who contacted their city representatives to protest the cutbacks. Says Ms. Dunn: “We created an opportunity for library users to be heard.”