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Crowdfunding: Will It Work for Your Public Library?

donations-1041971_1920Looking to fund a particular event or resource for your public library? One option worth evaluating is crowdfunding. Popular among entrepreneurs and artists, raising donations through online platforms such as Fundly or Indiegogo can be an exciting and effective method to fund projects.

Crowdfunding offers public libraries a way to gather donations from a large number of people, who each give a small amount. When donors give enough to meet a campaign’s fundraising goal, the nonprofit receives all the donated funds.

But creating a crowdfunding campaign isn’t as simple as posting your project on one of the many online platforms. Andrea Levandowski, Project Manager for Small Business Development and Technology at the New Jersey State Library, has given several talks about how nonprofits can take advantage of this approach, and she has assembled a very useful guide to crowdfunding on the New Jersey State Library website.

While public libraries can use crowdfunding to support annual events such as reading programs or to raise donations for their library foundations, running a campaign requires a significant investment of time and resources. Because many nonprofits don’t raise any money at all, public libraries should learn as much as possible about this method first.

That’s because crowdfunding isn’t always right for nonprofits, and Andrea recommends considering all other options first, including seeking grants and gifts from big donors, holding traditional fundraisers and using direct mail.

But for those intrigued by the idea of crowdfunding special initiatives, here are five steps to follow for setting up your campaign.

Find the right platform for you.

There are dozens of online crowdfunding platforms, and some are better suited for nonprofits than others. Research each carefully to find the one that best fits your purpose and your budget. Focus on features, not a platform’s popularity, and be sure to understand each platform’s pricing structure. Typically, they will charge a percentage of each transaction for payment processing plus a flat fee.

Understand the limitations upfront.

Crowdfunding and peer-to-peer fundraising platforms usually require nonprofits to use the money for the purposes stated in the campaign. Keep in mind that in many cases, funds are not released unless your funding goals are reached.

Time spent planning is well worth it.

Be sure to put together a comprehensive marketing plan before launching your funding campaign. This should include:

  • Goals for the campaign, including funding goals.
  • A budget, including costs for marketing, advertising, design work and incentives.
  • Incentives for each level of donation. For example, small donors might get a thank you in the library newsletter, large donors may get late fee forgiveness for a year. Or, consider partnering with a local business who can donate items to be used as incentives.
  • Length of campaign. Shorter is often better because it creates a sense of urgency, and it’s less of a strain on resources.
  • Legal and financial considerations. Be sure to review and understand the legal risks and financial obligations. It’s a good idea to seek professional counsel before kicking off any campaign.
  • Timing of campaign. Avoid scheduling the campaign at the same time as other fundraising efforts. Doing so may limit the success of both campaigns, and it can stress resources.

Put one person in charge.

To ensure that things run smoothly, Levandowski recommends putting one person in charge of the campaign. Crowdfunding requires constant attention. A campaign or project manager can keep all activities on track and prevent important tasks from falling through the cracks. Because campaigns typically run 24×7, the project manager will need to assemble a team to handle social media and answer donor questions.

Communicate after the campaign.

Be sure to follow up with all donors. Of course, you’ll need to deliver on each incentive, but saying thank you is important for energizing and building a community. You’ll want to continue your relationship with your backers, to make it easier to approach them for the next campaign.


For more details about how to run a successful crowdfunding campaign, be sure to visit the library guide. And if you want to see the elements of a successful crowdfunding campaign supporting a local library, visit the Indiegogo page of the Roseland Village Library in Sonoma Valley, Calif.

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