How to Become – and Thrive – as a Fundraising Librarian

This post on fundraising is by Marc Huber. Marc Huber is an 18 year fundraising veteran who has consulted on the $25.3 million capital campaign for the DeKalb Public Library, IL, and is currently working as Director of Development for the IUPUI University Library in Indianapolis, IN.

This post on fundraising is by Marc Huber. Marc Huber is an 18 year fundraising veteran who has consulted on the $25.3 million capital campaign for the DeKalb Public Library, IL, and is currently working as Director of Development for the IUPUI University Library in Indianapolis, IN. Marc is a member of ALA, ACRL, and the Association of Fundraising Professionals. For additional information, contact Marc at [email protected].

Today’s librarians are faced with a near endless number of tasks that seem to have little to do with the profession of librarianship they once got their degree in.

The change in the demographics of users, the switch from physical to digital content, and the transformation of libraries from places of reading and learning to access hubs for government and employment services might have been predictable; but very few librarians probably entered the profession with the understanding that the need to run an effective fundraising program would become an integral part of their job.

No matter how we look at it, for libraries and librarians the ability to fundraise has become absolutely necessity - but it is not a necessary evil.

Very few individuals consider themselves “natural fundraisers”, or relish the opportunity to be involved in a fundraising campaign. For most, the idea of fundraising is scary – but it does not have to be.

For most libraries, fundraising means organizing book sales that net a few hundred dollars per year, often requiring a tremendous amount of volunteers and effort. Next are letter writing campaigns to local businesses. On occasion, there’s the carefully crafted note to an individual with “deep pockets”, who has never set foot in the library, but surely will be moved by our thoughtful letter.

In truth, none of these activities are inherently wrong. However, for most organizations who choose to employ those activities alone, fundraising will become a tedious and often unsuccessful chore.

Fundraising is best understood by breaking it down into three insights:

  • Individual donors must be at the heart of your fundraising efforts. Individuals are by far the biggest contributors to charitable causes in the United States. Individual giving is routinely near the 80% mark of all charitable giving year after year. Adding in estate gifts and contributions from private, family foundations, and that number is closer to 90%. As much as organizations like to look at corporations and foundations, this is not the best way to raise funds. Always focus on the individual donor first.
  • People give to people to help other people. The idea of asking another person for a gift tends to make people very uncomfortable. Most often, it is the fear of being turned down coupled with the notion that “begging for money” is somehow inappropriate. An adjustment in one’s mindset is crucial here: not getting a gift is not a rejection of the fundraiser as a person – the other individual has simply made the determination that our cause does not align with their interests or priorities at this time. In the end, a proper ask for support comes down to one thing: giving someone the opportunity to help another individual (not us, but the patrons our library serves). What we are asking for is not a $10,000 check. Instead, what we really are asking for is to give someone the chance to learn how to read, be more successful in school, or find a new job. Which leads us to our final point…
  • Our fundraising goal must be well-defined, and that isn’t an overall dollar amount, the building we want to expand, or the computer system we have to buy. All of those are just means to an end. They are stepping stones to help us realize our real mission – the one that’s focused on our patrons.

The best way to approach our need to raise funds is by asking a series of Why questions:

  • Why are we asking for money? (Because we need to expand our child and youth services section.)
  • Why do we need to expand our youth services section? (Because the space is too outdated and too small to adequately serve the number of children and young adults that come to our library.)
  • Why are you serving so many young patrons at your library? (Because our community has grown, the demographics have changed, and local after-school needs are not effectively meeting the needs of these children.)
  • Why do we need to meet the needs of these children? (Our library is committed to helping raise literacy rates in our community, and we are addressing and supporting an otherwise unmet need.)
  • Why do we have to address this need? (Studies have shown that high literacy skills are essential to succeeding in life, and – with your help - our library is uniquely positioned and prepared to help address this skill gap of the children in our community.)

I made up these questions and answers simply for illustration purposes. You will find that doing a similar exercise with a series of Why questions will help you gain more focus and clarity in your fundraising program. It is an exercise that can be done alone, but is often most effective when done in a group with key library staff members, and significant volunteers. A group carefully chosen for this exercise can lead to much deeper answers and insights. All of it will help develop a case that will be far more compelling than a request for a dollar amount.

Remember: you are never asking for money. Instead you are asking for positive impact. With that in mind, you can approach your next fundraising meeting with more passion, more urgency, and more confidence.

News from around the #libraries #politics world

Cedar Rapids Public Library (IA) staff and volunteers were out last week going door to door for library card sign up month.

“We decided to go out and meet people where they are, Library Director Dara Schmidt said. “We want to let them know that they can get a library card, that its part of their taxes, its already paid for, and they should come and use the amazing resources that are available to them.”

This effort has helped them communicate the value of library services ahead of their levy increase on the November ballot. And they received great coverage in the local news.

If you participated in library card sign up month, let us know how it went in the comments.

Lafourche Parish voters will decide on renewing two sources of library funding on October 24. Together, the two property taxes are 85% of library funding which will be an estimated $5.6 million per year. 

The Diggs branch of the Valley of the Tetons Library (OH) was opened just over a year ago and funded with a two-year $16 per $100,000 property tax. A permanent levy will be on the November 3 ballot at $20,000 less than the current funding level. This money is needed to keep the doors open for this new branch and needs a super-majority (66.7% of the vote) to pass.

Other Happenings

Come party with us at the California Library Association (CLA) Conference. We will be hosting a pre-party and fundraiser on the evening of November 5 at Barney’s Beanery. A ticket will get you 3 hours of dancing, drinks, pool playing, and networking. Tickets are $40 OR you can sign up to be a $5 per month donor. Details, ticket link, and RSVP. Hope to see you there.

The Southeast Florida Library Information Network (SEFLIN) has posted the Keynote that our Executive Director John Chrastka gave at their Virtual Conference last month. The title: "The Librarian as Candidate: Activating Activists for Funding and Election Day Outcomes - Run Time: 59:23". Free to view.

EveryLibrary Board Member, PC Sweeney, made a guest post to the DEMCO blog last week titled Library Advocacy, Part 1: The Importance of the Right Message”. Using his experience working with libraries on ballot measures he walks through the elements of effective library messaging for outreach, advocacy, and public education. A good, quick read.

That is all for this week. Join us next week for another round up. Happy trails!