Successful Fundraising in Turbulent Times

Jane Treadwell, University of Illinois-Springfield

ALCTS, LAMA, and the ALA Development Office sponsored a symposium on fundraising during ALA Midwinter in San Diego. Librarians from a variety of types and sizes of libraries turned out to learn more about fund-raising from a couple of "pros." Joan Flanagan, a consultant based in Chicago, is the author of two best selling books for nonprofit organizations, The Grass Roots Fundraising Book and Successful Fundraising. Peter Pearson is president of one of the most successful foundations supporting a public library, the Friends of Saint Paul Public Library. (Asked during the symposium what his day job was, Pearson explained that the Friends organization in Saint Paul is not a volunteer organization of little old ladies who like books, but rather a foundation with the express mission of raising money for the library.) Together they offered a number of tips for getting started in fundraising, and made the point that being a librarian and raising money are not antithetical.

Begin with your mission, Flanagan advised. Libraries have a mission that they can be proud of, and shouldn't hesitate to use the positive image that the public has of libraries and librarians to raise money for needed services and improvements. She helped the group discover what they already knew about fundraising, simply from having made gifts (or declined to make gifts) to other nonprofit organizations. As participants related what worked and didn't work for them, Flanagan underscored an important point: no single technique will work with every prospect. Ask each prospect to give in three different ways. Organizations spend a great deal of time seeking funding from foundations, and Flanagan had wonderful advice on how to approach these specialized sources of funds, but she cautioned that only about 25% of private contributions to nonprofits come from foundations and corporations. Where we really need to concentrate our efforts is in cultivating individuals as donors.

In the afternoon, Pearson gave more in-depth advice on how to set up and manage a library foundation for fundraising. Although perhaps more relevant to public than academic librarians, many of his remarks could be generalized to the academic setting. He reiterated something that development people often say: fundraising is totally about relationships. He estimated, in fact, that 95% of his job is about building relationships, and only 5% about asking for money. When it is time to make an appeal, whether in person or in writing, Pearson urged participants to accentuate the positive by saying "we're a great institution with some challenges;" don't just list the challenges, he said.

For turbulent times or any time, the speakers gave good advice on getting started in fundraising.

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