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Volume 13 Number 2 • March 1999
• Cover Story •
How to Get Money to Raise Money: One Library’s Success Story
by Christine Doyle 

It’s the age-old dilemma: Your library needs to raise its profile in the community in order to obtain more funding, but it needs to get more funding to run a marketing campaign in order to raise its profile! Here’s our library’s story on how we found a way to get private funding that helped us raise public awareness and dollars for our expansion project.

In 1996, the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County, New York, was in the middle of its first-ever capital campaign. A goal of $22.5 million had been set to fund the construction of an addition that would double the size of the facility. Up to that point, we had been extremely successful in getting commitments from our government funders and from private sector corporations and foundations.

Most of the fund-raising had been done quietly, behind the scenes. In seeking out donations, library staff and community volunteers had met one-on-one with potential contributors to secure their commitments. Except for providing naming opportunities in the new facility, little had been done to individually recognize donors. Now, as the campaign neared its final fund-raising phase, it was time to ask the general public to give. The library needed to find a cost-effective way to encourage the community to help us reach our goal and to publicize the coming opening of the new library facility.

Our options included in-house promotion, posters and fliers directed at library patrons, or fund-raising events that would raise awareness (if only minimal dollars). We knew we could rely on the local media to give us a few free plugs, but we’d lack control over where and when our message went out. We soon discovered that we needed a full-scale public awareness campaign, but we lacked the resources to carry it out.

Fortunately, a number of elements came together to provide a creative way to reach out to the community.

TV Station’s Knock Opens Other Doors
Opportunity knocked when the library was approached by WOKR-TV 13, a local television station, asking us to participate in a community advertising project. We soon discovered that even the least expensive participation level was beyond our public relations budget, but the meeting opened the door to further talks. The station’s advertising department brought in its marketing consultant, Betsy Sweeney of Marketing Arts Consultants.

Sweeney had developed a marketing concept for a Midwestern zoo in which its vendors were asked to sponsor commercials to promote attendance at the zoo. While the zoo was the focus of the advertising campaign, each sponsor also received publicity by attaching its name to the commercial. We believed the idea had potential but knew that it would require some significant retooling to make it work for the library’s expansion project campaign.

The TV station’s original plan was to solicit library vendors—everyone from publishers and distributors to equipment suppliers and local utilities. The 30-second spots would be created by the station on videotape; we would work with them to develop the copy and the message. The sponsors would be taped either in person or in voice-over, depending on their level of participation. The station would develop the flight (airtime) schedule for each sponsor and air the commercials accordingly.

Instead, we decided to turn to our list of private-sector donors as potential advertising sponsors. There were two main reasons for this decision. First, our vendor list consisted of mostly small companies (large expenditures are dealt with on a municipal level) who would not be able to generate the advertising dollars needed. Second, the library had already developed relationships with several private donors who had made substantial investments in the expansion project.

Securing the First Two Donors
The library worked closely with the executive director of its nonprofit fund-raising organization, Rundel Library Foundation, to identify donors that would be appropriate for this type of campaign. We selected companies and foundations that were either solid library supporters or were interested in the goodwill that would be gained by publicly supporting the library. To avoid the problem of re-approaching the charitable giving arms of these organizations, we structured the campaign to appeal to the marketing/advertising divisions.

Although we sent letters inviting approximately 60 prospective donors to a presentation breakfast, we also targeted two specific organizations with a more personal approach. In doing so, we hoped to line up some sponsors before the breakfast who then would lend credibility and encourage others to participate.
We personally approached two donors, both well known in the community. We positioned the campaign as an opportunity for the organizations to help the library achieve its goals and, at the same time, to be recognized as community leaders that had committed an exceptional level of support for the project. Both agreed to come on board.

At the beginning of the marketing project, a budget was established to determine levels of participation and to determine how much total participation would be needed to cover the costs of the campaign. We had to remember that we were getting these big donors to cover the cost of reaching out to the public to get individual donors and overall community support. The presentation breakfast resulted in commitments from nine sponsors, ranging from the $1,200 level to $30,000 level.

Sponsors’ contributions ended up covering the total production costs and air time for the community outreach ads. Rundel Library Foundation also used funds budgeted for a contributor brochure to instead produce donation envelopes that would be distributed through the newspaper and through the donors’ business locations.

Creating an Advertising Campaign
The next development in the project resulted from the foundation director’s concern that the commercials be high quality, preferably shot on film rather than on videotape. However, the cost of film was prohibitive and would take production out of the hands of the television station. Again, we were able to come up with an innovative solution. The library had earlier commissioned Oxford Production Company to document the expansion project, using grant money available from the City of Rochester. The company had proposed doing the project on film in order to meet our archival requirements. Eastman Kodak Company, headquartered in Rochester, had donated the needed film in return for a sponsor credit. So we went back to Oxford, and the production company agreed to do the commercials for an additional $15,000. This covered four 20-second “image” commercials and up to six 10-second sponsor tags, as well as unlimited graphic tags.

Meanwhile, Oxford used its connections to involve a local advertising firm, New York Design, which suggested linking with the daily newspaper, the Democrat & Chronicle, to increase our advertising reach. A $25,000 package was created that would result in nine quarter-page print ads running at intervals throughout the campaign. The newspaper also agreed to produce two special editorial sections on the library expansion project, one when the new building opened in May 1997 and the other when the old facility was renovated and reopened the following September. It also added a hotlink from its digital newspaper to the library’s Web site.
The ads and  special sections would run in Sunday editions, which hit more than 200,000 households in the community. The library worked closely with New York Design and the newspaper to develop the print advertising and to tie it into the entire campaign.

With the help of Oxford’s owner and creative director, Jerry Serafine, we developed a theme that would be used in every ad: “The Central Library is more than just a building—more than just steel—or glass—or stone—It’s imagination, it’s knowledge, it’s ideas.” Taglines were customized for each sponsor, but all included the library’s call to action (filling out a pledge card or calling a special number to make a pledge) and its final message of, “Together, think what we can do!” For these TV ads, Oxford used shots of the building construction interspersed with diverse images of people using the library to read, study, or work. (These shots had already been taken as part of the archival film project.) When shooting  our project sponsors, Oxford strived to contain costs by scheduling as many as possible in the same day.

The Ad Campaign Is a Success
The campaign kicked off in late January 1997. The press conference announcing the start of the campaign was held in the newly completed underground tunnel that would connect the two library buildings. That would also be the location of the library’s donor wall. Most of the sponsors attended the press conference and spoke about the importance of supporting the library.

The advertising tools were scheduled to lead up to the new building opening in May, drop off during the summer, and then build up again in September to focus on the reopening of the Rundel Memorial Building. The campaign concluded in early October 1997.

While the direct impact of advertising and public awareness campaigns can be difficult to analyze, our library did see 600 new names added to its donor base and a total of $515,510 raised for the expansion and renovation project between January 15, 1997, and October 7, 1997. Of that amount, $390,510 came from the private sector—our targeted audience for the public awareness campaign. Also, one of the major foundation gifts we received during that period came from an organization that had previously turned down a request.

All this came during the final phase of our overall capital campaign, usually the most challenging period in fund-raising. This was especially true in our case, when the new building had opened in the midst of this effort. Much of the community had then considered us a completed project—one that was no longer in need of their donations. The public awareness campaign made continued fund-raising possible, and enabled us to meet our goal. It also provided a tremendous opportunity to recognize donors and it strengthened our connections to them.

Mutual Support: The Key to Success
We believe that this approach to funding a public awareness campaign would work for many other libraries. One of the strongest advantages a library can offer in the advertising world is its reputation as a beloved and valued community institution. Sponsors will always benefit from their association with a library, and a library will benefit from their support and help in reaching out to the community. After all—working together, think of what we can do!

Christine Doyle is the director of public relations and marketing for the Rochester (New York) Public Library and Monroe County Library System. She was responsible for coordinating all public relations, marketing, and advertising efforts for this recent expansion project. Doyle has more than 11 years of experience in public relations and marketing, primarily in the area of nonprofits. Her e-mail address is

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