Diary of a New(ish) Foundation Employee: Thinking About Fundraising

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One of the things I knew very little about when I started work with The Friends and Library Strategies almost a year ago, was fundraising. The words were foreign to me. What the heck is “donor-advised fund giving?” Are we a foundation? Do foundations give to us? Institutional what-now? I had attended a few fundraisers—generally as a guest of friends I considered more well-off or as volunteer staff for an organization I normally supported on a more daily-operations level, but I had not really considered the amount of planning and analysis that might go into achieving the outcomes an org really needs to survive.

It shouldn’t surprise me that different approaches make for different giving, but somehow, it does. Our development team, in the capable hands of Laura Vitko and Rose Christiansen, just did a major data study of our donor base. They did a deep dive to see who our donors are and what their ties to the library revealed about giving habits.

There is strategy and science at play here. It is important to understand who is most likely to give to your library, and how that might be changing right now. It is also very important to understand how the needs of your library might be changing right now. If you are a foundation, planning needs to be linked to the library you support. My colleague Laura points out in a presentation given at the International Public Library Fundraising Conference, it is often useful to begin planning and research with a question, or set of questions.

We began with: which appeal letter yields a higher response rate: the nostalgic joy of reading story – or – the social justice role of the library? Both are common approaches to library-donors in the St. Paul area, but we did not have a sense for how these messages reached our potential donors and who those donors were. Taking stock of the data that emerged will allow us to

  • Determine the key characteristics of our audience.
  • Build donor profiles and align fundraising.
  • Use conclusive results to guide more effective fundraising practices
  • Build new sets of questions to continuously refine our data

It may seem like a lot to start something like this now, but Library Strategies can help you begin this process. Our current projects include development plans for a small, Midwestern library; mergers between Friends groups and library foundations; development of a major capitol campaign; as well as a feasibility study for a mid-sized city. All these projects involve a degree of narrowing in on what questions to ask, what the library wants, and who the library serves and in what ways. We’re here for you!

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