An Ohio library is harnessing the power of Kickstarter to fund an early literacy project.
While Medina County, Ohio, is relatively affluent, a 2013 community survey showed that we scored below state and national standards for parent and child reading time. Recognizing that this interaction is vital to early literacy, Medina County District Library (MCDL) launched several projects to improve local youth literacy. One such program is our Busy Books project.
Developed by Heather Coontz, MCDL’s community relations manager; Tina Sabol, the donations associate and liaison to the library’s friends group; and Connie Stanton, a graphic designer, Busy Books is an early literacy learning tool for preschoolers. Laminated, dry-erase books are filled with early literacy activities based on a similar project at the library. Busy Books explains Every Child Ready to Read principles, teaches parents to prepare children for kindergarten success, and helps children learn through play.
With support from Friends of MCDL, donors and a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, we hope to produce about 1,000 books to distribute to the community. With more than 70 percent of our service population owning a library card, MCDL will supply the books to caregivers in storytimes as well as in community locations where parents may not be library users, such as WIC and Head Start programs. We seek to achieve our goal to increase early literacy skills in the next community survey, garner positive response from out school partners, and foster Medina County ROCKS, a United Way funded program for kindergarten readiness.
It’s estimated that each book will cost approximately $5 to produce with paper, printing, laminate, spiral binding and dry-erase pens included. Thanks to onsite printing capabilities at our library, the costs of printing these books are much lower than if outsourced. (Staff time is not factored in to that estimate.)
One unique aspect of the Busy Book project is our choice to utilize Kickstarter as a funding tool.
Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform for people and organizations looking to raise funds to support a specific project. The website has been used to fund films, music, comics, video games, technology and other projects. Typically, a campaign will last around 30 days, although Kickstarter offers the option of going up to 60 days.
People who are interested in backing a Kickstarter campaign choose how much money they would like to donate; in exchange for their support, people get updates on the progress of the project and, depending on the amount of the donation, they receive a thank-you gift. For the Busy Book project, thank-you gifts included:
- adding the donor's name to a thank-you list in the book
- thank-you cards
- a copy of the book
- sticker sheets
- the option to have a name or logo on the back of the book
Advertising your Kickstarter project is extremely important to gaining backing. To spread the word of our Busy Book campaign, we sent messages out to the entire Friends of MCDL email database (nearly 400 people) at the launch and midway point of the fundraiser, and we plan to send another message in the final days. We sent press releases to local media — and got a front-page article in the local Medina Sun Newspapers — and featured the Kickstarter in numerous social media posts through MCDL, the Friends of MCDL and personal pages on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Additionally, the project was wrapped in to the MCDL and Friends of MCDL summer donor campaign that launched July 30. This personalized campaign targeted former library and friends of the library donors.
UPDATE: While our Busy Book campaign did not reach the $2,500 goal we set, we are still quite pleased that it managed to receive 50 percent of funding in 30 days. Maybe we should have set the amount lower, but for our first attempt at using the platform, we were pretty happy with the response. There are so many projects on Kickstarter that get almost no attention. If nothing else, this endeavor raised a lot of awareness about the project through social media, newspaper articles and word of mouth. Following this campaign, we plan to contact the local donors and encourage them to still give to the campaign by donating to the Friends of MCDL website. They can do this through our PayPal account on the website and by writing "Busy Books" in the comments line or they can write a check. We also have plans to look into service groups that focus on children as a source of funding. Motivating people to donate to a crowdfunding campaign may be out of the norm for libraries, but if you're willing to experiment, there's a lot of good that can come out of it.
If you’re looking to start a Kickstarter campaign to fund a project for your library, our advice is to be very well prepared for the launch. You want to make it easy on people to support your project, so you’ll need to have mock-ups, graphics, descriptions, etc., all ready to go. Our planning for this project began in early 2015, in order to get a mock-up of the book ready for the official campaign launch. This mock-up is important so potential funders can see what they are contributing toward, either in person or through the Kickstarter campaign video.
You also need to have a plan for marketing your project. Think of all the avenues you can take to gather support whether by emailing your contacts, social media, mailers to past supporters, etc.
Go with the emotional element in your sales pitch too!