Click here to learn more about this conference.

Volume 12 No. 7 • Oct./Nov. 1998
Hi $5 Campaign: A Fund-Raising Success Story
by Stephanie Hillman and Jane Stein

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most effective. That's what the Friends of the Redwood Libraries discovered during our "Hi $5" campaign. The simple idea that a donation of just $5 from each Humboldt County Library card holder could solve that year's budget deficit ended up raising almost $45,000 for the library system between June 1997 and July 1998.

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.

Deciding on Campaign Policies

The Hi $5 Committee made several important policy decisions at this point. We agreed that all expenses of the campaign would be borne by the Friends and that all money received would go to the library. This remained an absolute rule throughout the campaign, and was stressed in all our publicity. Over the course of the campaign, the Friends Board allocated $2,000 for campaign expenses; $1,900 was expended. We also decided that the first phase of the campaign would concentrate on soliciting donations from members of the Friends through articles and donation forms in our newsletter, and from users through donation forms available in the libraries. Although the campaign expanded later, these two groups provided the greatest number of donations.

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.

Our Early Success Was Amazing

What happened next was truly amazing. Response from Friends, from library users, and from the media was enthusiastic. Several radio stations asked to interview members of the campaign committee; one offered to let us share its booth at two upcoming local festivals. Several radio and television stations promoted the campaign through public service announcements, and local newspapers took note of it as well. Donations that came by mail and from the Hi $5 table exceeded our expectations. By the end of August, we had already received over $10,000.

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.

Libraries Plan to Restore Hours

As donations approached the $20,000 mark in early October, the library began developing a plan for restoring hours. Klapproth prepared a recommendation for the Board of Supervisors that they accept $24,500 from the Friends and adopt a supplemental budget to add open hours at the Eureka Main Library and six of the community branches. At a meeting well-attended by Friends on November 12, the supervisors accepted the library's recommendations, and immediately thereafter we distributed a press release announcing the donation and its intended use. The increase in hours became effective December 1.

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.

A Few Unsuccessful Strategies

Notwithstanding this success story, there were some strategies that were not successful. In September we mailed letters to approximately 100 service clubs and professional organizations asking them to contribute to the Hi $5 campaign. While individual members of these groups may have contributed in response to the letters, only a handful of the organizations did.

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.

Winding Down the Fund Drive

When the Hi $5 campaign was organized, there was general agreement among members of the committee and the board that this would be a one-time effort covering the current fiscal year. We all understood that it could be no more than a stop-gap solution to the library's funding problems. Consequently, when the Board of Supervisors decided to put a measure on the June primary ballot to increase the sales tax by 1/4 cent, with the proceeds earmarked solely to support the library system, it seemed the appropriate time to stop actively pursuing the Hi $5 campaign.

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.

Final Thoughts and Observations

Perhaps the most important observations we can make about the Hi $5 campaign are these: First, it has been truly a grass-roots effort. And second, large donations-i.e., amounts over $25-have been relatively few in number. By far, the greatest number of donations have been at the $5 level, and larger checks have frequently indicated that they represented donations from several members of one family. Some regular users of the library contributed several times. Conversely, many who could not afford $5 gave what they could. Many of the Hi $5 table volunteers have stories about these donors and about children whose parents gave them coins to contribute or who dropped their own money into the container on the table.

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

• Table of Contents Marketing Library Services Home Page