October 1999

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Guerrilla Fund Raising

by Dr.William Taber, NYSALB Trustee

October 1999 issue of Trustee

If you have read my columns in previous years, you may remember that our small library solved its ADA problem partially by winning Federal and NY grants, a real success given the smallness of our budget.

However, I have not yet written about our dismal failures, now three years in a row, in trying to obtain grant support for a preservation project of local historical significance that costs less than 1/4th of the ADA grants. Weeks of work by each of us were chewed up in unsucessful efforts to navigate a minefield of application guidelines so filled with requirements and specifications and ambiguities that its complexity and density would have delighted my old Company Commander. Dismayed and exasperated, we eventually decided that it was impenetrable by our small library, and we turned away bloody, wounded, and defeated by a superior adversary.

But a good guerrilla fighter doesn't give up permanently. When defeated, as was George Washington initially, he or she seeks alternative targets and tactics.

I am sorry for the war-like analogy here, but it seems appropriate as I now review our mood at the time, and perhaps it is generally applicable to the situation of many small libraries. A small public library is certainly not an army of strength. It is more like a small dedicated force dealing with hugely larger forces of influence and power who control them relevant environment.

To pursue the analogy one more step, the guerrilla must grab opportunity without hesitation; must inventory resources with total objectivity; must focus limited strengths tightly upon a mission; must pick the mission with the sense of practicality that defines it as something worthwhile which CAN be accomplished; must dare; and must survive the experience with some resources intact for the future.

I will give away the ending right now. We started a local fund drive. It raised twice as much money as what we had requested unsuccessfully over the years.

Lessons learned? There exists more community support and good will for the library than we had realized, but it needs nurturing. Our opportunity was an unexpected gift to be matched for a worthwhile project. We invested $350 for advice from a fund-raiser concerning orchestrating publicity, a number of media addresses, draft letters and news releases concerning the project, proposed time tables, and brain storming sessions with the board. This gave us some initial direction, and, most importantly, it energized the board members. Then we took the lead and ran with it ourselves.

We arranged a photo session with our state senator who approved of the project and suggested a backup position in case we fell short. The photograph and news release were not sent out until we were nearly ready for the letter phase of the campaign. If you know some reporters or an editor, try to interest them in your project from their point of view ... circulation.

When the releases were sent out, the story appeared in different guises in five regional newspapers over a period of about four weeks. Each paper went at it differently. Three wrote their own story; one sent a photographer; two printed the news release as written. Each week, the Pennysaver carried an ad for our Photographic Memory project.

After this public preparation, the letter campaign was started in earnest. For weeks, board members had researched addresses for three different lists: individuals, businesses, and organizations. Sources can be telephone books, advertisements, word of mouth, real property tax lists (unfortunately not in alphabetical order), and library patron addresses. If you have a really good friend in the post office, that will be of help despite the official frown. For businesses, ask also for the corporate addresses of chains. Don't forget the addresses of former residents -- especially old timers who have retired elsewhere, or survivors of deceased residents.

We sent a different letter to each of the three lists, and the letters were photocopied onto letterhead paper. Our board president, herself a former librarian with extensive knowledge of the people and relationships within the community, wrote by hand in each letter a personal note in the space that we had deliberately formatted for that purpose! Often, she suggested a gift in memory of a particular loved one.

We sent out 242 personal letters (and received 126 donations), 71 letters to businesses (and received 25 donations), and 9 letters to local organizations (and received 7 donations). Some of these donations were large.

During this period, we hosted public programs by an expert in the restoration of old photographs and by an expert in the photographic and digital reproduction of images. They were well attended. At the end of this mission, the survival of our main resource (good will) requires that we maintain our credibility. Our board president again wrote by hand a note of thanks to each donor: we will soon publish the names of all the donors, and their names will become part of the permanent display when it is done about a year from now.

As the result of the campaign, we are able now to accomplish the initial project of preserving and duplicating many hundreds of deteriorating 19th Century local historical photographs that are irreplaceable. Because of its success, we also will initiate a second phase: an ongoing program of collecting and duplicating local historic images from the 20th Century, soon to be history itself. This will be a living and growing local resource for decades to come. Not bad for a guerrilla mission.

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