Volume 12 No. 7 Oct./Nov. 1998
Hi $5 Campaign: A Fund-Raising Success Story
by Stephanie Hillman and Jane Stein
Situated in northwest California, about 300 miles north of San Francisco, Humboldt County (population: just over 125,000) sprawls across more than 3,000 square miles of scenic coastline, redwood forest, and rich pasture land. Eureka, the county seat and largest city, is home to just under 30,000. The Humboldt County Library System, composed of nine community branches, one bookmobile, and the main library in Eureka, relies primarily on property tax revenue to provide services to its 82,500 active library card holders. Like California's other rural counties, Humboldt has suffered in recent years because of changes in the way property tax revenue is apportioned between state and county governments, and the library system has experienced serious budget reductions as a result.
It all started in June 1997 after dwindling revenues again forced the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors to reduce the county library budget. In a letter to our 600 members in the Friends newsletter that month, county librarian Judy Klapproth stated, "If every one of the ... library card holders gave us $5.00, we could avoid any cuts for this year ..." This statement rang a bell with the Friends' Board of Directors, which quickly decided to use it as the basis of a fund-raising campaign. Our "Hi $5" slogan was the brainchild of one of the Friends, a retired professor of business at Humboldt State University. By early July, a campaign committee of board members and other Friends had been formed. A campaign logo was designed and donation forms were created.
In consultation with the library administration, we decided that the first $20,000 raised would be used to restore at least some of the hours that had been cut at the Eureka Main Library and the community branches. The main library was open only 4 days a week and our aim was to restore at least 3 hours on a fifth day (and add 2 or 3 hours a week to each branch).
Once news of the campaign had been released to the Friends in our July newsletter, press releases were sent to all local news media. Letters and campaign materials were sent to the branches with requests that they support the campaign to the extent that their limited hours and resources would permit. (All branches displayed campaign materials, but only the main library had a staffed table.) By the beginning of August, volunteers had been signed up to staff the "Hi $5 table" in the lobby of the Eureka Main Library for virtually every hour the library was open. Friends and users were encouraged to write letters to local newspapers.
As donations began to come in, the Hi $5 Committee developed a procedure for handling them. Donors at the Hi $5 table were asked to sign a list, and receipts were available on the spot. Receipts for mail donations, if requested, were sent by the Friends' treasurer, who also maintained records of the total donations received on a week-by-week basis. We kept records of all donations of $25 or more, and the Friends' corresponding secretary sent personalized thank-you notes. The progress of the campaign was recorded weekly on an attractive poster displayed in the lobby of the Eureka Main Library.
This early success encouraged the Hi $5 Committee to explore additional ways to raise money. At our request, the Board of Directors voted to donate to the campaign all proceeds from our September used book sale (one of several held during the year). We also decided to approach local banks and utilities to see if they would enclose our donation form with one of their monthly statements. This activity was ultimately spread over several months and resulted in a bank, a credit union, a local garbage company, and our cable provider sending our forms with their mailings. The response from these was significant, clearly reaching people we had missed with our earlier efforts.
Funds continued to come in with peaks noticeable at times coinciding with the mailings by the banks and utilities. After receiving the first big check in November, the library asked that the next donation be earmarked for the purchase of library materials and that, again, we hold the money until a sizable amount had accumulated and until staff could be assigned to handle the processing of the new materials. By March, an additional $17,000 was available, and on March 17 we delivered that check.
Likewise, a similar mailing in February to nearly 150 members of the Eureka Chamber of Commerce produced less than $500 in donations. It is clear that our campaign was viewed by the public as an appeal to individuals, not to corporate groups.
Contributions had, after 9 months, fallen off considerably, and the committee members, as well as the table volunteers, were all eager to devote their energies to the tax measure campaign. We were also concerned about confusing the public with two campaigns at once, and we certainly did not want anyone to get the idea that the Hi $5 campaign was an adequate substitute for a stable funding source. We decided that we would discontinue all active campaigning after April 15; however, we also decided not to declare an official end to the campaign.
Unfortunately, the proposed tax measure, which required a two-thirds majority of those voting, was defeated with only a bare majority. So the library's funding problems remain. We still have about $3,000 of Hi $5 money to disburse to the library when it is ready for it. We have no plans at present to reactivate the campaign beyond our recent request to the Friends; however, that option remains.
Clearly, the citizens of Humboldt County have taken the idea behind the campaign at face value. Although we haven't kept an exact count, we estimate that the present campaign total of $44,725 represents donations from over 4,000 individuals. Humboldt County is not a wealthy area; unemployment is high and the job market is limited. In spite of, or maybe because of, these conditions, it is clear that our citizens regard the library as a resource worthy of support. The Hi $5 campaign succeeded beyond our expectations, and the all the library's supporters have become its beneficiaries.
Stephanie Hillman is a retired academic librarian, treasurer of the Friends, and a member of the Hi $5 Committee. Jane Stein is a retired school librarian, a member of the Friends Board, and chair of the Hi $5 Committee. They can be reached at Friends of the Redwood Libraries, PO Box 188, Eureka, CA 95502-0188, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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