Focus On: Fundraising Committee

Pamela Bluh, University of Maryland, interviews Fundraising Committee Chair Lenore England about the committee’s work and her experiences as Chair.

Lenore England’s background, her personal and professional contacts, and her calm demeanor are well suited to the task of guiding the ALCTS Fundraising Committee. Since her appointment as chair in July 2012, Lenore has not only updated the committee’s documentation and modified and streamlined the members’ workload, but also renewed the committee’s sense of purpose and direction. By focusing attention on the sponsors and supporters whose generosity make it possible for ALCTS’ activities to flourish, Lenore is raising awareness within the ALCTS community about the value and importance of fundraising.

Lenore England
Lenore England

Could you tell us a little bit about the ALCTS Fundraising Committee? What is its charge and composition?

LE: The ALCTS Fundraising Committee is charged with advising the ALCTS Board of Directors on the association’s fundraising goals and objectives, developing and obtaining support for ALCTS programs and activities from commercial and private organizations or individuals, and coordinating with the ALCTS office on recognition of the organizations and individuals who contribute with cash, in-kind contributions, and other gifts. Overall, the driving goal for the committee is to raise funds to support ALCTS activities and offer financial support to the association at a time when increased funding is needed for important and worthy activities.

The committee consists of volunteers from the ALCTS membership representing all aspects of ALCTS interests. The members contribute greatly to the fundraising activities throughout the fiscal year, and I am very appreciative of their hard work and happy to report that as a result of their efforts, external support for ALCTS programs was successful in fiscal year 2013. Committee members maintain contact with potential sponsors via email, and also make phone calls to follow up or answer questions, or seek them out in person at library events or conferences. The committee developed a sponsorship "level of benefits" document for potential donors. With the assistance of Charles Wilt, executive director of ALCTS, a handout was developed for use at events and conferences that mentions the kinds of programs and publications, including Preservation Week, for which sponsors are being sought. A tracking spreadsheet allows me to coordinate all of the committee’s activities and to maintain close working relationships with ALCTS staff and the ALCTS president. I also participate in making contacts with vendors.

How does one become a member of the Fundraising Committee? Should members possess any particular skills, or is fundraising an activity in which anyone can participate?

LE: Committee members are appointed by the ALCTS President-Elect in coordination with Charles Wilt, based on their background or interests, although no particular skills are required. I hold an orientation session to train members who might not have done fundraising previously, and to refresh skills for continuing members. I think that the training provides members with a comfort level for making the “asks” and I make sure that I am available to answer questions and meet with ALCTS program managers and the member making the ask, as needed. Presenting fundraising as a process enables members know what to do, step by step, on a certain timeline. And practice definitely helps. Anyone with an interest in serving on the Fundraising Committee should fill out the ALCTS volunteer form.

What are some of the challenges of fundraising within the ALA structure? Are there specific rules or guidelines that must be followed? Is there any interaction between fundraising groups within ALA to coordinate requests, or does each group work quite independently?

LE: I follow the ALCTS rules or guidelines as they were explained to me by Charles Wilt. I am now in my third year with ALCTS, so I am still relatively new. So far, I have not found any major constraints that block our fundraising efforts. We are careful to avoid any conflicts of interest when seeking donations and we definitely acknowledge all donations. It is helpful that both ALA and ALCTS are well-known organizations since most of the potential sponsors already are familiar with our work. As a result, we can focus on the programs’ objectives and on the benefits of sponsorship from the perspective of the donor as well as the association.

In my first year as chair, I did not coordinate requests with other groups within ALA, but it may be a good idea to find out more about what other groups are doing. I am not sure if ALA groups work independently, but assume that they will coordinate at times. In thinking about it, a coordinated effort may help all groups.

One of the things vendors often mention when they are approached about sponsoring an event is that they desire the opportunity to participate in the planning or even participating in the event itself. Have you had that experience, and if so, how have you responded?

LE: I am aware of these requests, but have not encountered this situation so far. If this happened, I would let them know that vendor representatives are encouraged to participate in committee work and in the program planning process. However, it is very important that we avoid a conflict of interest with potential sponsors and maintain the objectivity of the program planning process.

As industry mergers, consolidations, and even occasionally economic failures take place, it seems that fundraising is becoming more challenging. What are some of the techniques that you use to identify new sources of support? And just as important, how do you retain sponsors? What sort of recognition does ALCTS offer to sponsors?

LE: The current economic environment does present challenges not previously encountered. My approach is to discuss with committee members what we can do in the time we are given over the course of a year. We generally approach two to three organizations for sponsorship and then widen our requests as needed. What I hope to do is to focus on the positive and what is going well, address issues as they arise, and always keep moving the committee forward. I also look for and nurture the strengths of the committee members who do indeed have a lot to offer. In order to meet our goal we continue to discuss and share ideas throughout the year. Most importantly, we celebrate our progress and our successes and do not let our disappointments distract us. The nuts and bolts of asking for support is done on a step-by-step basis: contact sponsors by email, follow up with a phone call, and meet in person, if possible. Most of our initial contact is made to individuals we know or have met or organizations with which we have had contact in the past.

Fundraising is a volume business and the process of asking is still successful even if we do not get a sponsorship, simply because we form connections and relationships through the process that can lead to sponsorships later on. One of the committee members went to every vendor booth at ALA Annual in Chicago to thank those vendors we did approach over the past year for their consideration, whether they donated to ALCTS or not. This is a great example of initiative and exactly what we want to do to build relationships in the future.

Retaining sponsors is absolutely critical for successful fundraising. The committee members and I cultivate relationships and I document these for future reference. The committee members come to the group knowing organizations and their representatives, which is great. We did have success this year with a number of vendors whom we had not previously approached and we will continue to work with these organizations’ representatives in case an opportunity presents itself in the future for a collaboration. We do want to achieve some sort of overall coordination, so that we do not approach the same organization too often. However, I have found that even if that happens, every encounter should be viewed as a learning opportunity. We want to know more about the organizations and what we can do to encourage their support.

The other critical step is recognition of sponsors for their donations. As I mentioned previously, we have developed a document that outlines a range of benefits [insert link to document here] depending on the amount of value of the donation.

Do you work with program planners to identify potential sponsors? Or does the committee work fairly independently? How do you determine which programs or events need sponsors?

At times, program organizers will give us some ideas and this is very helpful. The committee also reviews the list of ALCTS programs and events as they become known. In addition, we put out a call to program and event organizers instructing them to let us know if they need or would like sponsorship. The donation requests for programs and events are assigned to committee members and then we brainstorm together or individually with the program planners based on our ideas and on the program organizers’ feedback.

Could you tell us a bit about your interest in fundraising? How did you become interested in this activity?

Many of my family members are involved in fundraising and philanthropy. I have participated in these activities throughout my life and my family taught me a great deal, primarily through example. They showed me the importance of philanthropy and more importantly, fundraising, based on their life’s work. I saw how much their generosity affected so many lives in so many positive ways. Their legacy will continue and indeed, during their lifetime they made the world a better place for so many others. Their work was also to inspire philanthropists and I am glad to have been a part of this and continue what they started. I believe that the greatest investment I can make is in people and in organizations that support others. Fundraising is something that I am very comfortable with and I am honored to help ALCTS raise funds for very worthwhile programs and activities.

ALCTS revenue is derived primarily from three sources: membership dues, publications, continuing education, and sponsorships. When the budget is prepared, are there revenue targets for sponsorships?

Sponsorship funds are used entirely to support ALCTS programs and activities and do not support salaries or operating expenses. By its very nature, sponsorship support fluctuates over time and the budget reflects that reality. I was not given any specific targets for sponsorship, but during my first year as committee chair, my primary goal was to revitalize the committee and achieve the same level of support as had been achieved in the previous year.

Does fundraising in academe differ from fundraising in other sectors of society?

I am really just learning more now about fundraising in academe and from what I have observed, the organizations with whom I’ve worked prior to working with ALCTS have somewhat different guidelines and expectations. For instance, other nonprofits hold events, such as annual luncheons with noted speakers, to raise funds to support their activities. These are the types of events I have been involved with in the past. At ALCTS, we need to coordinate our numerous activities very carefully and uphold the premise of an open environment for learning and discussion when seeking sponsorship. Most of the fundraising for ALCTS is for specific events that provide learning opportunities for the community, rather than a social occasion to benefit the nonprofit organization’s overall activities.

Over the years, ALCTS has had the good fortune to work with generous and loyal organizations and been successful in obtaining financial and in-kind support for ALCTS activities and events. Besides working with vendors and others to obtain financial support for programs and other events, has the Fundraising Committee explored any other forms of fundraising or considered developing a philanthropic campaign for ALCTS?

Last year, my goal was to get the committee work off the ground and we concentrated on programmatic support. For the committee, it was also a matter of scalability and setting priorities and by working with donors, we increased the number of sponsorships over the previous year. In addition to direct solicitation, we received in-kind donations from a publisher who provided copies of Erin McKean’s new book for the ALCTS President’s Program, and another publisher who offered giveaways for all the ALCTS preconferences. Now that we have the fundamentals of fundraising under control, we are beginning to explore other forms of fundraising, including the practicality of organizing some special events and approaching private or public foundations for support.

Conveying the value and importance of philanthropy and creating a culture of philanthropy are at the heart of a successful philanthropic campaign. Feedback from my meeting with the ALCTS Board of Directors in June 2013 suggests that a campaign to establish and maintain a secure financial footing for the association may be a worthwhile activity. This is an endeavor that I and the members of the Fundraising Committee would be happy to explore in consultation with the ALCTS Board in order to examine the options and lay the groundwork for such a campaign.

Thank you Lenore, for taking time to answer these questions. Not only have you given us a glimpse into the nuts and bolts of fundraising and helped to dispel some of the misconceptions and mystique surrounding fundraising, you have also provided us with a very clear vision of the significance of fundraising within ALCTS. We wish you and the members of the committee all the best for another successful year.