A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

A New Beginning

by Peter Pearson on March 19, 2013

Welcome to a different approach to Public Libraries‘ fundraising column, which was previously named “Bringing in the Money.” Newly titled “Fundraising beyond Book Sales,” this column will be authored by a variety of individuals, each with expertise in a topic pertaining to library fundraising. While the authors will vary from column to column, we have one thing in common: we are all consultants from a unique consulting group called Library Strategies.

Library Strategies is a nonprofit consulting firm that is part of a library foundation for the Saint Paul (Minn.) Public Library (SPPL) (The Friends of SPPL). It was created six years ago in response to an increasing number of requests from other libraries about developing effective fundraising programs. Library Strategies’ consultants are individuals who are actively involved in a career in the library and library support world. The development of Library Strategies was an entrepreneurial venture on the part of our library foundation to assist other libraries and to also bring additional revenue into our library foundation in support of SPPL.

Creating a Culture of Fundraising

I’ve been staff president of The Friends of SPPL for the past twenty-one years. This nonprofit organization is both a library Friends group and a library foundation within one organization. Libraries are among the few institutions that can have two different organizations to support them. Whether you have just a Friends group, just a library foundation, both organizations operating separately, or both organizations merged as one, these columns will help your library do better fundraising. In fact,
it will help you create what we like to call “a culture of fundraising” for your library.

While many museums and arts organizations have been doing major fundraising or more than a hundred years, public libraries are relative newcomers to the world of major fundraising. Public libraries began creating library foundations only about twenty years ago. With this in mind, know that these columns will be written so that whatever your support organization’s structure, you will gain important tips and advice on developing a culture of fundraising at your own library.

Over the course of the next eight to ten columns, we will provide information and insights on many aspects of public library fundraising. Future columns will deal with topics such as the importance of individual fundraising and relationship development, the distinctions between membership and donors, the annual fund, grant writing, corporate sponsorships, special events, memorials as a way to build endowments, simple steps for a planned giving program, developing an effective fundraising board, capital campaigns, online giving and social media, the relationship between fundraising and advocacy, utilizing volunteers, and thanking and nurturing donors. Our goal is to provide you with the information you need to create a comprehensive library fundraising program.

What Fundraising Can and Can’t Do

In this column, we also hope to provide you with realistic information about library fundraising because everyone needs to go into fundraising with realistic expectations. Good news! Fundraising doesn’t have to be a dreaded word. It can be energizing. It can provide everyone in your library with added enthusiasm for what you do. After all, what could be more rewarding than providing extra funding for the institution that you love most in the world – your public library?

It’s important to remember, however, that private fundraising is not the answer to all your library’s fiscal challenges. Private funding can’t – and shouldn’t – take the place of stable public funding for basic library services and hours. That’s not the role that private donors want to play. They want their contributions to enhance your library services and programs. If you have lost a great deal of public funding in recent years, you may want to think about creating a grassroots political advocacy campaign before you create your foundation. Most fundraisers agree that it can take several years for a paid fundraising staff person to raise more money than his or her salary. So, starting slowly – with volunteers, then part-time staff, then fulltime staff – may make a lot of sense for organizations just beginning fundraising. And for those libraries that already have fundraising staff in place, we hope that our columns will provide timely and important information to expand or fine-tune your fundraising efforts.

Fundraising and Literacy

The theme for this issue of Public Libraries is literacy. There couldn’t be a better topic to launch a discussion of the appropriate role for private fundraising in public libraries than literacy. The possibilities for literacy programs in public libraries are endless, and they make excellent opportunities for the use of private funds. One of the most popular and well-known literacy programs that most libraries provide is the summer reading program. The summer reading program provides opportunities for children to keep their reading skills current so that they don’t lose ground over the summer months and can begin the new school year at the same reading level with which they ended the previous year. Most summer reading programs involve special programming to entertain children, as well as reading records and incentive prizes for reading a certain number of books during the summer. Since the summer reading program materials are distributed to most of the children in the community through the public schools, this makes an excellent opportunity to have corporate sponsorship of the program because corporate names and logos will be on the materials distributed to all the families in the community. There are also a number of foundations that have an interest in providing funding for summer activities for children through programs such as the summer reading program.

Adult literacy programs and services are also an important part of public library offerings. Often, programs that teach reading and basic skills to adults who have low literacy levels are located in public school buildings. But it’s not uncommon for adults who need this service to have negative feelings and experiences about public schools from earlier years. Because of that, providing adult literacy services in public libraries is a very nonthreatening way to reach adults who need literacy services but avoid school settings. Library adult literacy programs may be supported with contractual funding from the local public school district or volunteers of the local Literacy Council or private funding from community foundations and other education related local foundations. Partnering with a local adult literacy organization is a powerful way to develo a new allies and potential for additional funding. Library Strategies is currently working with the Minnesota Literacy Council in a joint project that provides training to literacy providers and library staff in small towns and rural areas in Minnesota.