Creative tips for library fundraising

We all know how tough fundraising can be for librarians, especially when you consider most of the U.S. is still trying to climb its way out of the recession. Still, librarians are usually very creative when it comes to raising revenue, not to mention awareness, for the valuable services they provide to the community.

Libraries offer a unique advantage for citizens in the digital age, and it's up to library directors to determine how they want to communicate these tools and resources to the general public. Whether it comes from the government or private sources, funding is a crucial element for librarians, and with all of the technological advancements that have taken place over the past few decades, there are many options available.

Tell a story
The Libraries of Washington State offered some excellent insight into library marketing. They specifically suggested getting to know the stories most of your patrons associate with the library and then using this information to "break the ice" with donors and community leaders that could potentially influence your revenue in a positive way.

For instance, rather than spouting off statistics, tell potential donors about how the library helped a patron get a new job or learn a new language. Or, explain to an influential person how you and your staff worked with a local startup to draft a small business plan using library resources. Although stats are great and informative, hearing stories about how the library helped people on a personal and professional level is going to have more resonance.

Appeal to special interests
Libraries are usually in touch with the literature and art community, so hosting an authors night, book signing or art exhibition could be a great way to attract potential donors. Likewise, creating partnerships with cultural groups, public broadcasting stations and other nonprofit organizations can allow everyone to work together on donor collaboration.

Don't be afraid of a little media publicity
Librarians have a unique voice in the community, and they shouldn't be afraid to express their views on literacy, childhood academic development and other important matters. Library directors could use their expertise to write an opinion piece on one of these topics in the local paper to increase knowledge about the needs of the community and the ways that libraries are making a positive impact on these endeavors.

Likewise, libraries can utilize the staff's expertise to their advantage in terms of publicity. For instance, if they have a staff member who is well-versed in early childhood literacy, have him or her pitch to a reporter stories on the subject so that the library could easily advertise how their resources can help children increase their academic skills. Not only does this help libraries get the message out to parents about the unique (and free) resources that are available through public libraries, but it can also encourage free advertising and exposure for the library.

Events and programs
Summer reading programs, book clubs and author series are all traditional ways to attract new readers and visitors to the library, namely families. However, there are many creative events the library could host that can reach a wider audience, and in turn, secure more potential funding. According to the Libri Foundation, some excellent lesser-known fundraising ideas could include:

  • Holiday craft or ornament sales
  • Ethnic potluck supper
  • Recycled can drive
  • Senior sock hop
  • Teddy bear picnic or tea party for children
  • Wine tasting
  • Street fair
  • Historic home tour
  • Herb and flower sale
  • Masquerade ball
  • Local chef cook-off
  • Carnival
  • Chess tournament
  • Art show/sale
  • Yoga workshops

Many of these efforts can be easy to host, especially since libraries often double as community centers already in several ways. Be sure to mix your marketing and fundraising efforts together to make the most of your time and money. Coordinate Web/social media updates and branch materials with fundraising campaigns so everything is integrated and coordinated. According to the American Library Association, mixing these two essential strategies is the key to fundraising success.

The library is a community resource, but it also needs support for all of the excellent programs and tools it offers. Be sure that as a library director, you're thinking of the future in terms of your marketing and fundraising campaigns.


Robert Storer
Marketing Manager