By Kitty Pope, Executive Director, Alliance Library System

The opportunity to attend the ALA annual conference is truly a privilege and a reminder of why being a librarian is the best job in the world. For me, the highlight of this year’s conference was speaking on a panel about trends in libray fundraising with the effervescent Peter Pearson from the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, Laurel Best from Huntsville Madison County Public Library, and Larra Clark and Chris Watkins from ALA. It was inspiring to hear them speak and learn what to do if you want your fundraising or grant writing to be successful.

One of the big lessons from the panel was that fundraising has to become a priority for you; it can’t just be in that “other duties as assigned” category. Don’t do it occasionally or pawn it off on the board. You must make it an ongoing priority!

The panelists suggested developing a simple “plan of attack.” For example:

  • Year 1: Brainstorm with the board and staff to create a list of five people to send a “general ask letter” to and then follow up with a phone call, and maybe even lunch with the prospective donor. Select people you already know. The best time to ask is in the fall or early winter.
  • Year 2: Talk to the same five people again, plus brainstorm with the board and staff for an additional 5-8 people to contact.
  • Year 3: Talk to your 10-15 people again, do the same brainstorming, and write a “specific ask letter” (e.g. $250 to purchase audio books for seniors).
  • Every year, build on last year’s list and add a few more folks. This plan works from the very smallest to the largest of libraries. In three years, you will have a database of people who annually support your library. Then, add a small fundraising event, and finally, a sustained giving project (i.e. a bequest from an estate).


The workshop audience asked some tough questions, such as:

  • Should staff be asked to donate to the library? The panel’s unanimous answer was yes. If, like St. Paul, you can establish a voluntary staff paycheck deduction plan, that five dollars per month really adds up.
  • How can I get started? Our best advice was to recruit at least two board members who really like to fundraise. They will start opening doors (and pockets). However, the panelists made it clear that it is the library staff’s job to write the letters and do the follow-up.
  • What are your secrets to success? Make it personal and thank your donors whenever possible. Also, keep track of your donors and how much they gave. It’s all about building relationships.

The ALA Development Office did a great job of pulling together a panel from a diversity of backgrounds that was able to energize the 80+ folks who attended. In this new world in which we find ourselves, sourcing alternate revenue streams is a way of life, so we might as well learn how to do it well. It’s all about building relationships!