Securing Sponsorship for your Library Program

 In Foundations, Friends, Fundraising, Resources

Business sponsorship of library activities is an example of innovation that is on the rise. It is attractive because it creates (or builds on) relationships for a win-win situation for both the library and the business. Here’s how: The library is one of our society’s most beloved and valued institutions, and a business that sponsors a library program or service becomes connected to those positive feelings. The library, in turn, receives cash, goods, or services that it needs. It’s a business-to-business transaction, a partnership formed for mutual benefit. There’s even a term for it, “cause-related marketing,” the partnering of business with worthy causes. You don’t need to look far to realize that shared business and nonprofit marketing is all around you these days.

Would a Business Sponsor a Program At Your Library?

Absolutely. The halo effect of being associated with your well-respected library can be a great incentive. Your library may already be giving this benefit away, so the real change is only to create a policy in which the benefit to the library is greater. For instance, do you accept things that you will give away to your visitors, such as bookmarks? Commonly a sports team may want to provide you these items, because it is good marketing for them. Shouldn’t they be asked to also provide financial support for that program? Ask your staff and consult your budget—could you live without the giveaways if they will not make a token financial gift? This is the first step to giving the library brand its true value.

Businesses are also attracted to sponsoring library activities because attendees are potential new customers. For example, do you have a summer reading program for kids? A business that caters to families might be interested in providing cash support in return for placing its logo on program materials. Another approach is to contact a local business and ask leaders of that business what kind of library program might interest them. Might your local garden center want to sponsor a series of spring programs featuring a popular local horticulturist? It’s worth asking.

“Ask” is the operative word here. But who at the business should you ask, and who should do the asking? In a small business, it is probably the business owner who makes these decisions. In a larger one, marketing or community relations departments are often charged with forging relationships with nonprofits or special causes. It’s imperative to ask the right person at the business, and the best way to get to this person is to use a relationship you already have. That’s because business sponsorships, like individual donations to your library or its Friends group, must start with a relationship first, then progress to financial support. Does a member of your Friends group, a library volunteer, or a frequent library user have a personal connection with decision-makers inside the targeted business? If so, this may be the best person to approach the decisionmaker(s) and say, “I know of an opportunity to sponsor a library program and wonder if it might fit your priorities. Can we chat about it?”

If you have a business in mind you would like to work with, don’t forget that they may already have a connection to someone who is passionate about your work. With events in particular, a sponsorship is best presented by a current client of the business—ask your board and volunteer pool if they have attorneys, accountants, landscapers, or other service providers they are willing to ask on your behalf.

It can be a great way to get a foot in a door that might otherwise be closed. Be sure you are clear about what you’re asking for and what the business will receive in return. Present a written proposal. Clearly state the sponsorship fee that your library, its Friends group, or its fundraising organization expects. Base this fee on the value and cost of similar marketing exposure, not on your library’s budget or need. Be ready to negotiate. Most of all, make it easy for the business to say, “Of course!”

What Library Activities Might a Business Sponsor?

Just about anything. Here are a few ideas:

  • Author readings
  • Themed programs (cooking, gardening, travel, how-to, financial management, etc.)
  • Programs for children, teens, or families
  • Programs for seniors
  • Technology programs
  • Bilingual programs
  • Film series
  • Special library or fundraising events

How could a business sponsor these kinds of activities? It could help pay the cost of printed materials (such as flyers, calendars, newsletters, and reading lists) in return for including the business’ name and logo on these materials. It could put its name and logo on bookmarks promoting your teen book club. It could supply promotional mouse pads for your library’s computers, or give out imprinted paint sticks to participants of a do-it-yourself class on home improvement. In a capital campaign, businesses may be offered the opportunity to have a special area of the library bear their name in exchange for a very large gift.

In Sun City, CA the library’s Friends group offers business memberships for $50 a year. The memberships allow businesses to have their logos printed in Friends’ newsletters and displayed in the library’s window. The Port Chester-Rye Brook (NY) Public Library (PCRBPL) discovered an unusual advertising vehicle: toilet paper. The idea came from two young local entrepreneurs who had grown up under that library’s roof. The library received the advertisement-printed toilet paper free and placed it in public restrooms for about nine months, until the supply ran out. Despite the fact that the rolls of toilet paper disappeared faster than anticipated (due, perhaps, to the handy inclusion of coupons), the library director gave the venture a solid thumbs up and would do it again.

A point to consider carefully: if you agree to receive goods, especially in lieu of cash, think about impact upon the value of the library brand. At PCRBPL, presumably there was a savings in not having to purchase toilet paper, plus income from the ads. Every agreement like this should be held up and considered within a cost-benefit context.

You’ve Found a Sponsor, So Now What?

It’s a good idea to present your business sponsor with a written letter of agreement that reflects your mutually satisfactory terms. The letter should state what each party is committing to do, and what each expects in return. Be specific by including dates and deadlines. Spell out how and how often promotion of the business will take place. Be clear about invoicing and payment requirements. You might want to include an escape clause too, in the event that an unforeseen occurrence causes one party to wish to break the agreement. (For example, what if one party unexpectedly and publicly takes a political stand or makes a statement that is perceived as reflecting negatively on the other party?) Representatives from both the library and the business should sign the letter of agreement.

When the ink is dry, your library has a big responsibility. In business language, this is called “fulfillment.” It refers to all the actions your library, Friends group, or fundraising organization must do to merit the business’s financial support. Follow your agreed-upon terms, and do it well. Communicate regularly with your business sponsor to ensure that they feel in the loop. Provide written reports with quantified results (number of program attendees, number of imprinted book bags distributed, and so on). Make sure your business sponsor knows how much you appreciate their support. Be smart, and use this sponsorship opportunity to get to know your sponsoring business even better. This could be the start of a beautiful relationship, and like any relationship, it takes care and work, but can benefit your library, your business sponsor—and most importantly, your library’s patrons.

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