Chatting Fundraisers with The Duluth Public Library Foundation

Library Strategies believes it is important to listen to the wisdom of our colleagues in the community, as much as relying on the strengths of our own experiences when it comes to doing the work. In the fall of 2022, The Duluth Public Library Foundation worked on a new strategic plan with Library Strategies. During this period, Duluth planned their first large fundraiser since before the pandemic. As it was for many other foundations, it was a great time to reflect on what that meant for “business as usual.” Many conversations were had informally around fundraising and events during the planning process, but we wanted to capture some of Executive Director Erin Kreeger’s insights and share them. Thank you Erin, for your time and thoughtful responses.

Library Strategies: At fundraising events, how do you balance the experience of the attendees with the mission?
Erin Kreeger: Fundraising events are difficult. We know that they bring in a moderate amount for the organization when you factor in costs and staff time. At the Foundation we try to include elements that not only entertain, but have a theme or concept woven throughout that provides information about our mission and values back to the guest. We have also found great success in focusing on a specific project or program whose financial needs can be met with the funds raised at the event. For us, events are a great way to welcome new donors to the community, connect in person with many of our loyal supporters, and engage past and present board members.

LS: If an event is to support Foundation work, how do you center the story of the library?
EK: We are constantly evaluating how we articulate to donors their impact, particularly when they are supporting the Foundation. Ultimately, gifts to the Foundation ensure we have a library offering education, enrichment, and economic opportunities for generations to come. Investment in the Foundation ensures years of funding for the library and supports staff and board work to advocate for the library out in the community. Many of the library programs, services, and updates would not be possible without a thriving library supporting organization, made possible by our generous community.

LS: If you’ve worked with a Board committee to help plan an event, what should their role be? How do you make that successful?
EK: We are lucky to have had a very active Events Committee supporting our staff efforts. They have been a great sounding board in developing programming and activities that people would enjoy, recruiting our speakers, and soliciting items for our live auction and raffles. After setting the theme and goals for the events, we like to assign members tasks with clear deadlines and outcome expectations. However, for this to be successful, staff need to make it as simple as possible for the board members by creating toolkits, sample language, and contact information. It is also important to empower members to get creative. You never know what kind of connections could come from the day-to-day work of your members.

LS: From your perspective, do your current supporters understand the differences between advocacy and Foundation work vs. the Friends in connection to the library? 
EK: I think there remains a lot of confusion about the roles and relationships of the Foundation vs. the Friends in Duluth. We are both supporting organizations with a long history of supporting the library. I think we have a lot of supporters who engage with both organizations because they want to see a strong and vibrant library. This is something we hope to explore more in the coming years, working to clearly define our work and coordinating our roles in supporting the library.

LS: How are you seeing the transition back to in-person events work?
EK: Our supporters are excited to be back in person, which we heard over and over in 2022 with the return of two events that people enjoyed pre-pandemic. However, like many organizations, our attendance numbers have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. I think there are individuals who remain cautious about attending large events, others who now feel comfortable sending in a gift in lieu of attending, and some loss of pre-pandemic supporters who have shifted their philanthropic priorities. The silver lining of returning to in-person events after two years of virtual-only is it gave our team a chance to evaluate our programs and change things to excite our guests and create a new and exciting experience for our supporters. I estimate that it will take us a few years to return to pre-pandemic attendance levels, but I do think we need to continue ways to engage people who want to support the event without attending.

LS: How do you make successful connections with those who are likely to be attendees and donors? 
We rely on our board and other volunteers to be our advocates out in the community, inviting individuals to our events and engaging them in our work. Once we get someone in the door at an event, we are very selective of the information we share, focusing on newsletters, accomplishments, surveys, and event invites. Particularly for attendees that are new to our organization, we wait 6 months to a year before we solicit them. We want those individuals to hear about the good work of the library and Foundation and potentially attend a second event before we begin the annual and major donor conversations.

*The Duluth Public Library Foundation has a staff of three and a thirteen-member board. The Duluth Public Library has a service area of just over 90,000 people.

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