Interview with Mary Jo Ketchum
  August 30, 2000

What type(s) of fundraising do you see as the most effective for public libraries?

Again, keeping in mind that we may be talking about operating money or supplemental income, I would make these observations: Public libraries are so diverse in size that there isn't one right answer. However, if any statement is universally true, it is that acquaintance or familiarity with the institution improves the prospect of receiving a contribution from whatever source. So, whether it is to obtain the approval of the voters for stable funding, to seek grants from foundations or the government, or to solicit private donations from individuals, the most essential preliminary step is to have the prospect become well aware of the need.

Local, tax-based support is the most logical funding to pursue. It is potentially the most secure, and the most equitable, in that it comes from the base of people who will benefit from library services.

Organizations of all sizes turn to grants as the most ready source of funding, (in part because it appears easier to ask in that form than to ask an individual!) Grants should be pursued whenever there is a likely match. After all, the grantors are required by law to give that money away! However, grant applications are demanding, and the people involved may find the challenge of completing some applications more than they are willing to endure.

In practice, smaller libraries receive small grants, as well as money from fund-raising events and gifts of every size. Larger libraries may have a foundation established for the purpose of receiving tax-deductible contributions, and seek gifts from annual mailings, and bequest plans, among other fund raising devices.

Events usually are regarded with some disdain because of the time that goes into putting one on, and the relatively small amounts of money raised. Keep in mind that those events are first of all, FRIEND-raisers! Friends will give, then, and later on. Make friends first. Ask afterward.

In sum, there is no simple answer to the question. First an assessment of the resources, both human and physical, of the library is necessary. Can it hold an event? Is there someone on staff or on the board who has the time and knowledge or interest to write a grant? Is there a good relationship with the municipality and community that would engender tax-based support? Are there at least a few folks in town who would write a check to fix the roof or patch the parking lot? Come to think of it, answering those few questions at a board meeting will also give the trustees a clue as to their own ability, readiness and need to raise awareness and money for their library!


Return to Main Page