When Opportunity Knocks: Starting a Library Foundation
Chris Watkins | March 04, 2009
Leading lights in the public library fundraising world from the likes of San Francisco (Calif.), St. Paul (Minn.), Princeton (N.J.), and Columbia (S.C.) put on a show at ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Denver. The occasion was a Midwinter Institute on starting a library foundation, and these veteran fundraising gurus presented case studies of their own libraries followed by a nuts and bolts presentation on the legal issues involved as well as practical advice on recruiting and working with an effective foundation board.
There will be two more opportunities for tips on library fundraising at ALA Annual Conference in Chicago—one on relationships with donors scheduled for Saturday, July 11, 1:30–3 p.m., and one on fundraising trends on Monday, July 13, 10:30 a.m.–noon.
Until then, here are a few key points from the Denver presentations:
Friends and Foundations
Friends organizations and library foundations typically serve distinctly different roles, even if they are housed in a single Friends/foundation organization. The Friends serves to broaden library support across a wide spectrum of community members, while the foundation tends to be a more narrowly focused organization specifically formed to receive and cultivate major financial support for the library.
Staff and Boards
Library foundation staff should be “fearless,” according to one of the presenters—not afraid to ask for support, and never apologetic about asking. Boards should represent the most influential and accomplished members of your community, with a specific role for each board member (e.g., business leaders are liaisons to others, as well as offering their own resources; public officials may not be major donors in their own right but are knowledgeable and well-connected, etc.)
Don’t waste your board’s time. Recognize that the more valuable their time, the less of it they can spend. Prep carefully for meetings and make sure efforts are rewarded, not just with recognition, but with success.
Public vs Private
The consensus is that private dollars enhance, rather than detract from, public support. Local funding agencies need to understand that their support for their library is further leveraged by an effective private fundraising effort, a win-win for citizens, voters, and library users. All of the program presenters reported having been able to attract additional public funding precisely because of their private fund-raising, and the key importance of tying advocacy to funding.
Value of a Separate Foundation
Paula Goedert, ALA’s corporate counsel, offered practical advice on the need to protect board members and the library itself from legal liability by incorporating a library foundation as a separate 501(c)3. This doesn’t have to be a complex or costly process, with voluntary assistance often available through state bar associations. Simply having a separate entity to receive gifts that’s separate from a city or county department can reassure some donors that their contribution will be used according to their wishes and not lost in the bureaucracy.
For more resources, see the section on funding in the library section of the site.
Chris Watkins is Chicago-based consultant specializing in nonprofit fundraising.