Fundraising in this Budget Crunch


by: Mike Schmidt, CFRE
      Executive Vice President & Partner
      Cramer & Associates



As operating budgets are reduced across the state, Libraries are turning to fundraising to help offset financial shortfalls. If you aren’t already conducting an annual campaign, here are a few suggestions to start one. Many Libraries use the Friends of the Library as their main funding request, but if the goal is to elevate the fundraising environment at you Library, I would recommend creating a more engagement and reward structure that can work parallel with the Friends.

Get your board involved –determine who are the most connected and willing volunteers that you have that can assist you in the fundraising process – create a development committee that you can meet with on a regular basis. Create job descriptions so that expectations are set up front (you don’t want another committee merely telling the Director what to do, you want this process to be facilitated by the volunteers with minimal staff support).

Determine your message – why does your Library need money? What is the library doing well and what are the challenges? Donors prefer to support programs and tangible items (like books or computers) rather than utilities or salaries. It will be key to highlight increased usage (focus on computer use, gathering spaces and programs, use those numbers that will be most impressive) and other positive elements. Donors are responding to positive news, rather than the ongoing discussion of budget cuts – everyone is feeling the pinch, so that isn’t an effective call to action.

Create a prospect list – Start with the names that you know from Friends, past Board members and high-end Library users. I have been known to take a look at the donor recognition wall at the local hospital or YMCA to get an idea of who are the community minded donors. Focus on individuals and families rather than businesses or corporations. Consider who you serve and who benefits the most. Some of the biggest gifts have come not from high end users, but infrequent users that have a great appreciation for the role of a library in their community. Start with having each of your Board members bring in ten names that they feel would be receptive to an appeal.

Develop solicitation materials – develop a simple brochure that highlights the Library’s programs and services, the area you would like their support for and what the outcomes will be once fundraising is complete (what is the return on investment). You can also include a list of what each gift size would bring: $15 can buy a new book, $50 can purchase children’s software, $100 can underwrite the Library’s program on resume writing, $1,000 would allow the library to purchase a new computer. These give prospective donors a tangible concept of library needs.

Making the requests – once you have created a prospect list, categorize them into three areas: personal requests (where a volunteer makes a face to face ask), targeted letters (where a letter is signed by a volunteer who calls to follow-up) and general appeals (a letter is sent that is signed by the Board President without personal follow-up). Prior to any solicitations – it is important that your board steps up and makes their own gifts first. It is important that they demonstrate their belief in the Library’s need prior to asking any one else to support. Also create a tracking system for all prospects (what category, who is soliciting and what is the outcome) so that you can grow your development pool each year and elevate receptive donors to higher levels.

Follow-up, Thank and Celebrate! – The process isn’t done when the check clears. It is critical to show appreciation, communicate the outcome of funding and celebrate with your volunteers. Annual campaigns should have a start and a finish to give volunteers a strong sense of accomplishment. The philanthropic process should not be viewed as instantaneous or merely the act of asking for money. It is a relationship building process that will ultimately lead to your base of supporters getting involved and supporting the Library. Your job is to lead them through the process in a manner that focuses on your Library’s needs while recognizing their need to feel appreciated as donors.


As a consultant, Mike Schmidt has been a partner to Library systems of all sizes throughout the Midwest, but can most often be found at his library in Granville, Ohio thumbing through the mystery collection or on the floor reading Mo Willems with his two kids.


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