There currently exists a mindset that if you want people to donate to the library, you must offer them something in return. A perquisite (perk).While I argue that the continued existence of the library IS the perk, some of my library’s board members do not agree. They cite the perks they have received from other organizations, in return for donations and point out the various experts who support the idea. Although I have point out that the incentives they received have come from national organizations which are much grander than our library, the response is that our perks should just be less extravagant.
The question is, what can a public service organization that already offers its goods and services free provide as a bonus? Library staff members have spent hours pondering this question. Elimination of fines? This poses multiple problems. In our institution most high donors do not even use the library, let alone owe huge fines. The elimination of fines does not seem like a significant perk. Tours of the Library? Perhaps. If the non-public areas were large enough or the donors curious enough. In our case, the non-public area is approximately twenty square feet. Hardly worth paying to see. Individualized service? We already do that. Personalized recommendations? We do that also.
Inevitably when the conversation comes up, suggestions turn to things outside of the library: we could offer gift certificates to local business, dinners, knick-knacks, or products with the library’s brand. But many of us cringe at these suggestions. Investing precious funds in items to give away to those who give us money seems counter-intuitive at best and wasteful at worst. Where will the funds come from to pay for these perks?
I know of very few librarians who are natural fundraising or development experts. People who like and are good at this job tend to be in the field. The rest of us, well, we generally hate it. It’s hard to ask for money, even when we believe in the cause. But certainly believing in the need and cause makes the process easier and more sincere
We run the fundraisers (the galas, the wine tastings, the author visits, the bake sales, the tastes of’s, the book sales, etc. etc.) but what can we offer the donors that is unique and special to them? I have often thought that the answer, in fact, is nothing. Perhaps libraries shouldn’t try to offer that unique gift or branded object. Perhaps the best thing is for us to be straightforward: the perks we offer are to everyone, every day. If one is really only going to support the library to receive their free mug or lunch, are they really supporters?