Administrative and Management Skills

Virtual Giving Campaigns

Libraries big and small need the support of their communities. In pre-COVID times, fundraising could run the gamut from a book sale to a large Gala with a keynote author. This is yet another area where libraries have had to pivot to the “new normal”. 

Photo of Cindy Sharek, Director of Donor Relations for the King County Library System Foundation.

Cindy Sharek, Director of Donor Relations for the King County Library System Foundation, shares how they’ve adapted. 

How are you using Virtual Campaigns? 

The KCLS Foundation participates every year in three giving days. 

  • Library Giving Day (April 23)
  • GiveBig (May 5-6)
  • Giving Tuesday (Dec. 1)

In 2020, these were even more important to our fundraising for the year. All three were virtual and we had great results. We used email campaigns, social media posts, and direct mail to spread the word. We were able to put together a strong match pool for Library Giving Day and raised over $110,000 between GiveBig and Library Giving Day. We have a robust marketing plan for Giving Tuesday and we are hopeful for strong end-of-year results.

We’ve also partnered with KCLS for an Author Voices program funded by the Foundation. It provided an opportunity to recognize the Foundation as the funder during virtual events. We used a new platform, Crowdcast, which has a “donate” button. When the KCLS host references the partnership between KCLS and the KCLS Foundation, they pointed out the donate button. This brings in more donations that help offset the program costs. It is a win-win. 

The KCLS Foundation holds a Gala each year with a keynote author. Attendees have the chance to mingle with more authors and bid on small, unique author experiences. Big-name draws have included Colson Whitehead, Melinda Gates, Lee Child. What has the impact of canceling the Gala been? 

The Literary Lions Gala was scheduled to take place on March 7, 2020, so the KCLS Foundation was one of the first to cancel. It was not an easy decision to make at the time, and we ended up canceling 3 days before the event date. In retrospect, it was the right decision. We were still able to reach our net fundraising goal – partially because we had fewer expenses, but also because we received donations despite the cancellation. The majority of ticket purchasers donated the value of the tickets, and corporate sponsors remained supportive. 

A big impact was a reduction in the acquisition of new donors. We always get a significant group of new donors who attend the event each year. And, we were poised to not only meet but exceed our fundraising goals with the event in 2020. Tickets were sold out with over 800 guests expected, the largest group in the history of the event.

As you’ve changed your fundraising approach, what’s worked well? 

  • Continuing to engage donors with e-mail updates and social media posts. 
  • Sending out handwritten notes and making check-in phone calls. It’s important to keep connected with donors who prefer to engage offline.
  • Moving all board and committee meetings to a virtual platform. We’ve been working hard all summer/fall to plan the virtual 2021 Literary Lions Gala.  It was also helpful to have a strong match pool to inspire giving for Library Giving Day.

Did anything not work the way you expected? Is there anything you wouldn’t do again in a virtual environment? 

  • It was an adjustment having to cancel the Gala and move everything from our team meetings to board meetings to donor meetings to an online platform. We did the best that we could and were thankful for tools that enabled us to quickly adjust and continue to bring in funds from both donors and corporations/foundations. We are projected to exceed our budget goal for 2020 and are set up for success in 2021.
  • We put out a series of author videos after we canceled the Gala. While it was great content, it was fighting for attention with every other author video series. We’re glad that we tried it and that all our messaging wasn’t COVID related, but we would do that differently. 

Do you have any general tips or best practices to share with other libraries? 

  • People need connection right now. Not everyone is online, so make sure you’re still reaching out to people in the same way you did pre-COVID.
  • Phone calls and handwritten notes are particularly valued right now.
  • It’s a great time to try new digital strategies. But it still takes work and cultivation, so don’t expect your followers to sky-rocket overnight. 

King County Library System and its 49 libraries serve a population of more than 1.4 million residents across 36 cities and 2,200 square miles of King County, WA. Libraries of all sizes can establish a more involved social media presence and send handwritten notes. The important thing is to consider how your library can continue to meet fundraising goals within the current landscape.

How has your library adjusted fundraising in 2020? Share your ideas in the comments below.  

This blog post addresses ALSC Core Competency VI.4  Administrative and Management Skills.

Writing this post for the Public Awareness Committee is Angela Nolet. The author is an Online Library Services Librarian at the King County Library System (KCLS). This commentary reflects their opinions and thoughts, but does not officially represent KCLS.

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