Your Library is Preparing for a Capital Campaign! Now What?

We’ve seen increased interest in feasibility studies and capital campaigns in the last few months. Given funding opportunities like the American Rescue Plan and the infrastructure bill, we thought we’d take a moment to dig into this meaty topic. Says Library Strategies consultant, David Katz, “Even people who ‘get’ capital campaigns may not ‘get’ the public-private nature of library capital campaigns.” Steering committee prospects, major donors, and the public at large know that their library is funded by tax dollars. Why is philanthropy needed on top? 

This column just scratches the surface, but we hope an introduction to terminology you may hear along the way is useful, and, of course, your friendly neighborhood consultants are always around to help.  

Phase One: The Feasibility Study 

For many library organizations, the first step in the Capital Campaign process is the Feasibility Study to forecast the fundraising potential of the campaign and give you an eye on the scope of the process. This is when you clarify the aspects that will be most compelling to major donors. It’s harder than it looks. “Even residents who have actively participated in capital campaigns for other organizations – maybe for their church, service club, or favorite charity – may not fully appreciate what is involved here,” David explains. “Unlike nonprofits and NGOs, libraries are public institutions, and this fact shapes donor conversations.” 

 In very library terms: It’s story time. The telling of this story has multiple purposes:  

  • Simplify the library’s narrative 
  • Tell the story for many different potential funders 
  • Define the challenges (internal and external) you might encounter before campaign launch 
  • Figure out who you might approach in the community and why – gathering viewpoints through one-on-one interviews  

Your appeal to potential donors will be made through these narratives and case studies. 

Library Strategies will work with your team to learn about the interests of prospective major donors in your community that may impact the success of the capital campaign. Over the course of meetings and interviews with prospective donors, both individuals and organizations, you will learn about what drives their interest to contribute to the library’s project, and engage them with the mission, values, and vision (Hi Strategic Plan lingo!) for the future of the library. The outcome of these interviews and planning sessions is the Feasibility Study Report which gives your library a pointed look at the fundraising potential for your campaign.  

Phase Two: Capital Campaign 

During Phase One, you will convene a Planning Committee to aid with developing those compelling library stories and identify prospective major donors to the campaign. 
Your Campaign Committee should be:  

  • Diverse 
  • Have strong networks in the community 
  • Filled with strong communicators  
  • Passionate about the library and its future  

Be aware, prospective donors may voice confusion, or even have reservations, around writing a large check for a cause that is already being supported by their tax dollars. Committee liaisons need to be trained how to field good questions such as this. Library Strategies will guide the team in discussing the campaign with prospective donors and initiating solicitations. Once all the support infrastructure for the campaign is prepared, the Capital Campaign Quiet Phase is ready to launch. The Quiet Phase should generate 85-95% of your overall campaign fundraising goal – making use of that wider fundraising net developed in the earlier phases.  

Following the Quiet Phase, the Campaign Committee and library bring the fundraising campaign to the broader community in the Public Phase when you get to say: “You know us. You love us. Help us be even better FOR YOU!” Grow the excitement.  

This may sound like a lot, especially if you’re sitting in a smaller community in a chronically underfunded situation. Keep in mind that a major fundraising campaign has multiple milestones and activities. Library Strategies is here not just to help you establish the story you want to tell, but also to strategize with you about how to best map out meeting those benchmarks over the course of the 20-24 months of the campaign (from feasibility study through public phase). Of course, your strongest asset will always be that engaged and embedded committee out there telling your story. 

With the selection of diverse, engaged committee members, detailed research, active communications, and solid planning, you will be on your way to a successful major fundraising campaign!  

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