Library Donation Strategies
By Stephanie Campbell, MLIS
One of the biggest struggles libraries face is how to increase operating funds. Grants are available for special projects and new initiatives, but that leaves day-to-day expenses. Encouraging donations by giving patrons the opportunity to name something can help with both the new cool stuff and the everyday necessities, thereby freeing up more funds for staff salaries, the electric bill, snow removal, etc.
Not surprisingly, naming opportunities have a long history in library fundraising with “adopt-a-magazine” programs and memorial book plates. But how can you go bigger and move beyond these humble basics?
Think about what else might be adoptable or could be memorialized – shelving, display units, room renovations, supplies, equipment – the sky’s the limit. A new kiosk, circulation desk, self-checkout station, or makerspace could be within your reach if you’re willing to expand your naming opportunities to more areas.
From the beginning, you need to be very clear about what you want and the amount of money needed to obtain it. You must also make the process of giving convenient and rewarding for the donor. Timely, accurate acknowledgement from the library that recognizes the gift and makes the donor feel appreciated is vital. No one wants to hear a donor say they never received an acknowledgement letter, that there were inaccuracies in it, or that the library misspelled a name on a memorial recognition like a book plate.
With memorial books, you don’t want to be pressured into buying or accepting titles that your collection development policy doesn’t support. The same goes for tributes or in-kind gifts for areas beyond collections. With restricted gifts, make sure your library is in control. Avoid using vague statements such as “furniture for the reading room,” or you could find yourself stuck with a glider rocker, when what you really envision is a reading chair with built-in charging station.
If you don’t already have one, put a gift acceptance policy in place.
In some cases, signage acknowledging gifts is the way to go and makes perfect sense for special collections, rooms or programming areas, and outdoor seating such as benches. However, placing labels and plaques on every shelf, chair, and table is both cumbersome and unattractive. Perhaps you can create a tribute area in your library or invest in a donor wall.
Libraries and/or Friends groups often hold yearly fund drives. Though you may dread the thought of conducting multiple mailing campaigns, picking specific projects or services to sponsor throughout the year may be more effective than just a single annual appeal for unrestricted gifts. Make giving easy by setting up procedures for accepting in-person, by-mail, and online donations.
Beyond specific items and initiatives, naming opportunities can also give your operating funds a boost. Summer reading programs for children, craft materials, and lecture series are just a few of the things that might attract donors. Again, just make sure you (not the donor) are choosing the content and focus of the gifts.
Many libraries are creating “societies” or “circles of giving” for specific endeavors. Explain the important role libraries play in bridging the digital divide. See if you can raise funds to offset the costs of your computer hardware and software upgrades, consortia member fees, and database contracts. If you’re going to create tiered schemes, map out what the donor levels are, what they support, the perks of giving at various levels, and what type of recognition is due to each type.
Everyone likes seeing their name in print. It’s essential that you acknowledge gifts and list your donors in your library newsletters and annual reports. Make sure sponsorships are mentioned in all publicity materials and media coverage.
Capital campaigns and professional fundraising often address major gifts such as wings and entire buildings. However, it’s helpful to be armed with information; you’ll want to have potential projects in the back of your mind in the event an unexpected large bequest or endowment comes your way.
Here’s another idea you may not have considered.
Though it may seem morbid, families of the recently deceased often look for opportunities to memorialize their loved ones through gifts of books or other contributions—or request that funeralgoers make charitable donations in lieu of flowers. So make sure local funeral directors, lawyers, and estate planners have copies of your newsletters and fundraising brochures for them to keep in mind as they meet with clients who may be interested in library bequests. Knowing the library is an option may give comfort to those who are grieving and having to make difficult decisions about settling estates.
Essentially, fundraising is match-making: connecting your goals with people who love the library and want to give back. How you are helping this happen in your community?
- Further reading on general fundraising advice
- Check out this great article on best practices in donor recognition
Before joining Brodart in 2016, Stephanie Campbell worked for more than 20 years in public, academic, and special libraries. She is an avid gardener, bicyclist, and kayaker. Click here for more.