Five Library Fundraising Strategies To Help Increase Revenue

Libraries are funded through a wide combination of revenue sources, including local taxes, nonprofit and for-profit grants, and individual donors. Public funding has always been the primary source of operating revenue for libraries. However, smart library leaders should explore alternative ways to supplement public funding to experiment and build capacity. Here are five proven effective ways for libraries to connect with donors now. 

Regardless of whether a library is located in an urban, suburban, or rural neighborhood, libraries play a critical role in strengthening communities. To ensure your library can continue to offer opportunities for educational, professional, and cultural development in your neighborhood, use these fundraising strategies to increase and diversify your library’s sources of revenue:

Here are five fundraising strategies—and examples of each method in action—that can be scaled up or down, depending on your library’s available resources and current fundraising capacity.

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1.   Strategically Partner With Others

Partnering with others is a cost-effective way not only to reach new audiences but to support other local organizations and businesses in your community. Here are some innovative ways to raise funds through strategic partnerships:

  • Offer to sell coffee or tea from a local cafe in your library for a portion of the funds.
  • Reach out to local artisans (such as wineries, breweries, and restaurants) to host tasting events—books and beverages are an easy pairing!
  • Ask corporate sponsors to donate goods to your fundraising events; they can contribute big-ticket items in silent auctions, raffle prizes, and book bundles to help drive donations.

 Think about the organizations and businesses in your community and how they could align with your strategic plan, fundraising goals, and areas of interest your library serves. Collaborating with partners is especially helpful for small libraries or libraries with limited resources.

2.   Make The Most Of Your Space

Demonstrate the value your library provides to the community by making the most of the space you already have available. Here are some common ways you can use your space to generate revenue for your library:

  • Rent out conference rooms and other gathering spaces in your library to local businesses, organizations, school groups, or any other community group that needs a space to meet. Charge a reservation fee depending on the size of the space and duration it will be rented for.
  • Host community events with an entry fee. This is especially effective when the fundraising events are team-based. You can host board game tournaments, live music concerts, spelling bees for adults—you name it! You can charge per person or per team, and use a portion of the proceeds to purchase door prizes or awards.

Libraries have been long known for being a great place to gather. Take advantage of the opportunity you have to host more community members while raising funds for your library. 

3.   Increase Your “Paid For” Services

Instead of upping your late fees and book fines to compensate for less funding, find ways to provide additional resources to the community. Here are some ways you can increase the “paid for” services your library offers:

  • Process passport applications and offer photo services. This strategy will take more time and organization to set-up, but once your system is in place, you’ll be surprised by how quickly these service fees add up to benefit your library.
  • Sell a membership or subscription program that offers exclusive access to special collections, study spaces, or computer labs. People who rent out your space more often (for example, a class that uses your computer lab once a week) will save money by joining the program, and your library will benefit from the security of recurring payments.
  • Take advantage of high-demand books, DVDs, and other materials by offering a pay-to-reserve library visitor option.
  • Offer paid, book-by-mail programs.

You may need to prioritize which “paid for” service your library can provide depending on your staff and volunteer capacity. Think about which services would be the most popular in your community, and begin there.

4.   Offer What You Already Have

Use your staff’s expertise and other additional resources you already have to provide a variety of events, classes, and workshops for people to either pay a small entry fee for or give a donation towards. Here are some ways you can use what you already have to host a creative library fundraising event:

  • Host a read-a-thon. This is an effective peer-to-peer fundraiser that encourages people to raise money on behalf of your library. The best part? They do this by reading the books you already lend them! Similar to a walk-a-thon, supporters pledge to give money for every book, page, or chapter someone reads (as opposed to miles) to support your library.
  • Invite local authors to come in for live readings and book signings. Determine a fair percentage of all book sales made that day to go towards your library.
  • Librarians have an indispensable wealth of knowledge! Encourage staff members to offer educational and professional development courses at low cost to the community. This can include creative writing workshops, business writing courses, and even basic technology classes.
  • Get crafty after the book sale. Have lots of donated books that didn’t sell at your last book sale? Sounds like an opportunity to host a “blackout poetry” night! Instead of piling unsold books onto next year’s pile, invite community members to a night of book-ruining fun! Not only will this event help you raise funds, but you’ll also be spending less money on supplies.

Make sure to offer both paid and free events for the community. The more people enjoy coming to events (both paid and free), the more likely they will keep coming back and bringing others with them.

5.   Have A Presence In The Community

Before you can invite the community into the library, it sometimes helps bring the library to the community. Find ways to participate in community events to show that your library is integral to the community’s livelihood and demonstrate the value your library provides. Here are some ideas for what this idea looks like in action:

  • Move your events outside the library walls to benefit a local business. Find a local restaurant and learn what their least busy day is. Offer to host your weekly book club there for 10–15% of the profit made during that time.
  • Reach out to local restaurants and bars to host community events for your library. Invite community members to connect with other book lovers and enjoy live music, reading, spoken word, and more at a venue with food and drink available for purchase. Give attendees the option to donate at the door. This takes the pressure off of you (and is way more cost-effective) to provide concessions, AND it benefits a community partner. Win-win.
  • Participate in community fairs. Even if the community event isn’t directly related to your library's mission, joining seasonal festivals and special occasion fairs can help your library connect with the surrounding community. Secure a booth and do whatever works best for your library: you can sell donated books, offer live reading for kids, or even provide face painting!

Having a community presence is a good way to raise additional funds for your library, but it’s also one of the best ways to build community support and meet prospective volunteers and donors.