Laying Your Foundation: Developing a Fundraising Plan

1.  Start with your mission
2.  Identify your priorities and costs
3.  Develop your rationales
4.  Identify your prospects 
5.  Cultivate and grow your donor base
6.  Use advocacy and marketing effectively
7.  Measure your success

1. Start with your mission.    

An effective fundraising plan should lay out specific strategies that advance the mission of the organization.  It should include measurable goals. Your library fundraising plan should be created in partnership with the people you’ve recruited to help you - your Friends group, fundraising committee/board or other key volunteers.

2. Identify your priorities and costs.    

Look at your library and its community
As your library strives to fill community needs, where are its gaps? What are its biggest aspirations? How do these priorities advance the library’s mission and help it better serve its community? Can you tell the story of why each priority is important or urgent, and how it improves the lives of library users?

Look at your revenue sources
What are the resources required to reach your goals? Where do you get those resources? Funds for your library’s operating budget may come from local and state government, from reallocation of resources, from fees and fines, and through debt/bonds. While these sources are important, they can no longer do it all. As a result, fundraising – raising private dollars - can provide other revenue streams to advance your library’s mission. Remember, however, that private funds can never fully replace public dollars. As a rule, it’s best to fund basic services with public funding and use private funding for service and resource enhancements.

Look at costs
How much will it take to realize and sustain each priority area through the life of the program or service? Be sure to include staffing time, marketing costs, facilities costs such as space rental, and technical costs. Will this program or service be funded through expendable designated gifts toward operating funds? Or will this be an endowment opportunity, in which only generated interest will be spent? Or both? Is this a capital project? A planned giving option?

Look at goals
In addition to aspirational priorities, do you have an annual goal of dollars to raise for operating costs? If so, you may also want to have an option for expendable donations to go toward unrestricted operating funds—such as a category “for the greatest need” or “Director’s Innovation Fund.”

3. Develop your rationales.    

There are good reasons why you have selected each of your priorities. Articulate those! Understand and be able to explain why your library should offer homework help. Who needs information literacy classes? In what areas does your collection need enhancement? Make a case for these priorities. Use the data your library collects to strengthen your case.

4. Identify your prospects. (Note: if you have NO prospects yet, don’t panic, you will!)    

Your “prospects” are individuals and organizations that might be inclined to support your library’s services and programs. Start by asking yourself, “Did we raise any private funding during the last fiscal year?” If you did, how much did you raise? Who are your current and prospective donors (individuals, corporations, foundations, government)? Be specific. How much did they give? Is there a possibility that they can and may give more? What areas or programs would appeal to each of them? When do you need their gift (close date)?

Who will make the ask? This is a very important question because donors are much likely to give when the right person asks for a gift. The right person may be a trusted friend, colleague or an individual who has set an example with his or her own gift.

Who among your annual donors gives $250 or $500 dollar gifts? Who has increased his/her giving over time? Do you or any of your volunteers know these individuals?

Can you create a program such as an annual Leadership Circle to encourage $1,000+ donations? Can you make phone calls or set up a visits to thank larger donors, and ask these donors to consider joining the Leadership Circle by giving or pledging at or above the $1,000 level?

How can you make it easy for the donor to give?  Examples include: online donations, monthly automatic payment options, and text-a-donation.

Who among your donors has significant wealth? Can Trustees or volunteers identify them?  Can they set up an introductory visit to talk about the vision for your library? Are your volunteers connected to any private foundations or trusts?

See the Sample Planning Grid below for an example of how to organize your prospects.

Sample Planning Grid

List all solicitations except for your annual fund drive including the targeted dollar amount, gift capacity (could be from ratings or knowing the donor), purpose, and anticipated close date.

Sample Planning Grid
Prospect Name Gift Amount Gift Capacity Purpose Anticipated Close Date

Individual assigned

Henry $100 $200 Information literacy classes December 31 Trustee Mary
Sui $250 $250 Collection endowment Closed Volunteer Sue
Isabelle $500 $1,000 Homework assistance program June 30 Friends member Nate
peter $1,000 Unknown Unrestricted/Director's Innovation Fund December Department Head George
Mr. and Mrs. Smith $100,000+ $250,000 Estate gift June 30 Foundation Director Judith
Community Foundation $10,000 $10,000 Neighborhood Special Collections January Local history librarian Amy

How many prospects fall into varying gift levels? How much can you expect to bring in this fiscal year? What is the gap between expected dollars raised and your goals? 

Sample Range of Gifts Table
(sometimes referred to as gift pyramid)

A range of gifts table is useful in showing the number and magnitude of gifts needed to successfully complete a fundraising campaign.  With an understanding of how many gifts of varying amounts are needed, you can begin to see how well your prospect base matches the needed gifts.  You may discover that you are in a very good position to undertake a campaign, or you may realize that more work needs to be done to build your prospect base.  One other thing - it is important to realize that three or four prospects might be needed for each gift required at a given level.  So, if you need four gifts of $5,000, you will likely have to identify 12 prospects capable of making a gift at that amount.

The table below shows how the number and size of gifts might fall for a relatively large fundraising campaign ($250,000), but the same process can be used for a fundraising campaign of any size.

A $250,000 campaign might look like this:

Sample Gift Table
Gifts needed Gift amount Total Cumulative total
1 $50,000 $50,000 $50,000
2 $25,000 $50,000 $100,000
4 $10,000 $40,000 $140,000
10 $5,000 $50,000 $190,000
12 $2,5000 $30,000 $220,000
25 $1,000 $25,000 $2450,000
many Less than $1,000 $5,000 $250,000

5. Cultivate and grow your donor base.    

Once you complete your table, you may find yourself looking at a gap between what you can raise and what you need.

One strategy for bridging that gap is to strengthen the donors you already have. What actions and activities can you deploy to expand your prospect pool and funding base? Can you go back to lapsed donors and ask them to renew? Can Trustees help to identify other high level prospects and set up introductory visits? Can librarians research past volunteers and employees and set up ways to engage them, such as an annual “meet and greet” at the library, a targeted appeal, or by setting up individual visits? Is there a special event built around a strategic priority that you can leverage to raise funds?

Finding new donors is important too. If you have no prospects, don’t despair. Think again. Maybe you have not been asking. Do you have donor appeals on all brochures and printed material, verbal appeals at all events, programs, material check-out locations, and on your website? Give prospective donors many opportunities to self-identify that they vote for the library with a donation. Remember that most people, even those who have the ability to make large gifts, give small first-time gifts to organizations.

6. Use advocacy and marketing effectively.    

What is advocacy, and what is marketing? They are not the same, but together they provide value and enhancements.

Advocacy is the process of advancing a cause or course of action, often to affect public opinion. Let’s assume you’ve heard that your library is about to face a devastating budget cut that will curtail hours and force the elimination of some vital services, an everyday occurrence in today’s economy. Encouraging library users to call or e-mail decision makers to urge them not to cut the library’s budget is advocacy. Writing letters to the editor of your community newspaper or asking volunteers to hand out flyers is advocacy too. People who speak out in any fashion on behalf of your library are citizens who vote, and their opinions matter to decision makers. They can be your library’s champions - its advocates.

Marketing usually refers to the promotion of a product or service in order to influence people to buy or use it. Marketing communicates messages that influence people’s behavior, not just persuading them to use your library, but to supporting it with their private gifts as well. Marketing lets people know that you need private funding and makes it easy for an individual or organization to give. What marketing strategies can you carry out to let prospects know about opportunities to donate to the library? Can you combine these with overall outreach and engagement strategies (e.g. of messaging: “Ways to get involved!” “Volunteer, Bring a friend, Donate!”) Can you include donor and user testimonial clips repurposed in many places including the Library’s website, blog, telethons, donor web page, and on various social media?

When used together in an effective, strategic way, advocacy and marketing can influence public opinion and grow your library’s donor base, along with its visibility in the community.

7. Measure your success.    

Outline your success metrics. These will tell you how well you’ve done, and could include:

  • Target goal of dollars to be raised
    • Actual dollars raised
  • Targeted percentage increases at specific giving levels
    • Actual percentage increases at specific giving levels
  • Targeted number of personal visits
    • Actual number personal visits
  • Anticipated number of grant applications or major gift solicitations to be sent out
    • Actual number of grant applications or major gift solicitations sent out
  • Target number of donors who leapt from one giving level to the next
    • Actual number of donors who leapt from one giving level to the next
  • Target increase in the number of online donors
    • Actual increase in the number of online donors

Seven tips:

  1. Ask!
  2. Use your fundraising plan as guide for action. The most important element of fundraising is to ask, and most people give because they are asked.
  3. Keep your ask simple: “I hope you will become a Friend of the Library because they allow us to go above and beyond and bring all these important services and resources to our users, to our community.”
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for significant levels of support. You may be pleasantly surprised.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask again. Persistence often becomes gentle persuasion.
  6. Thank the donor right away and demonstrate how you use the gift over time.
  7. Remember: ask!


Thinking ahead about your library’s needs and determining the best strategies for meeting those needs will provide you with a roadmap to direct all kinds of library fundraising activities. And, above all, don’t be shy. Ask!

3. The Annual Fund: The Cornerstone of All Fundraising

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