Getting Started

The key to successful donor management is record keeping. There are countless donor management systems on the market, ranging in price from free to tens of thousands of dollars. Whether or not a dedicated, computerized donor database is a worthwhile investment will largely depend on the size of your donor pool, long-term goals, and the number of library staff dedicated to fundraising.

If you are just starting to fundraise and your pool of current donors is still manageable (for example, under 1,000 names), it’s quite possible to use a spreadsheet or the library’s existing accounting software to manage gifts. To capture other important information about significant donors, even well-established fundraising offices can still utilize paper archives.

The data you want to capture at a minimum are:

  • Donor name and address.
  • Date, amount and designation (how the money is to be used) of any gift received.
  • For pledges: amount of payments, how many payments, and expected payment dates.
  • Do not contact, do not solicit, do not email/mail/call requests that you must honor.

The following additional information will help significantly improve any future interaction with the donor:

  • Brief record of any meetings or conversations with the donor or prospect where they indicate any likes or dislikes about what your library has to offer (keep the tone of notes like these neutral and objective). Any information like this can be a building block for a future significant request for support. It also keeps staff and volunteers from repeatedly approaching the donor about support for an early childhood reading program when they have already made it known that their interest lies with technology and free internet access for the public.
  • Record of any involvement of the donor with your library: Are they volunteering? Are they invited to special library events? Do they (or does someone they know well) serve in a leadership role at the library?
  • Record of any request for a significant gift, even if the request did not lead to a donation.
    Information related to any potential estate gifts from the donor to your library, and how those funds are to be used when eventually received.

The reasons for keeping this type of information about your donors are:

  • Staff turnover - You want to be able to continue the relationship with the donor even if the primary contact person on your staff decides to leave the library.
  • Financial/legal - If you are accepting donations for a certain program, you need to be able to demonstrate that the funds were spent as intended by the donor.

Building support from the ground up

This Frontline Fundraising Toolkit contains a section titled “The Annual Fund: The Cornerstone of All Fundraising.” It provides lots of helpful information about annual funds, but here are a few solid, quick ideas on the subject.

If your library has an annual drive for support, consider segmenting your donor list into: 1) individuals who have not yet given, 2) individuals who give occasionally (but not every year), and 3) people who give regularly. Some fundraising professionals advise requesting a specific gift amount in your letter.

To encourage increased annual support, consider establishing “giving clubs” with set donation amounts that have corresponding recognition and benefits. Giving club levels for your library could be: $10-25, $25-50, $50-100, $100-250, $250-500, $500-1,000.

  • For non-donors, invite them to give at the lowest giving level or a set minimum amount rather than just asking for “support”.
  • For occasional donors, ask them to give at or near their previous highest giving level, or nearest giving club level.
  • For regular donors, ask them to give at the next highest giving club level. Make a case how and why the increased support will help your library.

The goal is to encourage sporadic donors to become regular donors, and for regular donors to consider giving at a higher level than before. This means asking for a gift in a way that is tailored to the donor and takes into consideration how much and how frequently they have given before. You must also keep your donors informed when you are not asking for their support by sharing how contributions are making an impact:

  • Tailor your thank-you letters to reflect how a donor’s gift to a specific program is helping that program be more impactful.
  • Use your website or newsletter to describe what the library has been able to accomplish thanks to the support of its generous supporters.
  • Provide information about community needs and how library programs can help address those needs. Describe how a gift of $100, $500, or $1,000 would help you provide better service to your patrons.

Help your donors think about outcomes, not amounts

Donors are willing to give more if they feel that their donation has a greater impact and that their money is helping make a difference. Whether you are asking for a small or large contribution, you need to make a case why your library is the best place to give a gift. Help your supporters think about how far their dollars go and what their gifts actually do. If you can share your story and your successes with your audience, you will help turn unmotivated, occasional givers into engaged, regular donors.

Next: Working Your Way Up to Major Gifts

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