Direct Ask 101: Part 1
#1 Canadian Red Cross raised $ 287,000,000
#2 World Vision Canada raised $ 282,200,000
#3 Canadian Cancer Society raised $188,400,000
All three used a variety of fundraisings programs but all included a Direct Ask, Direct Appeal or Donor Request Program (whatever you choose to call it) to reach their supporters . A Direct Ask is a formal request, usually a letter, asking for a cash donation to support a specific program or cause.
Organizations that have been very successful in using the Direct Ask method to raise money include:
►Universities and their alumni i.e. Western Alumni
►Hospitals and their foundations i.e. Toronto Sick Kids
►Health organizations and their advocates i.e. JDRF
However, in the challenging financial climate public libraries find themselves in with increasing costs and declining revenue, developing a library Direct Ask program warrants consideration.
What makes fundraising for libraries unique is that unlike most other organizations, the folks who use public libraries the most are usually the least likely to be able to give. On the other hand, agencies like the University of Western Ontario are supported by those who can often afford to give. Universities are very successful because they have large alumni bases that potentially have the means to give. Hospitals like Sick Kids in Toronto are very successful with the Direct Ask because they save children’s lives and serve a wide geographic area, so a cash donation seems like a good option for many supporters.
Finding donors for a public library rests on developing a list of local contributors who, although they may not use the library, support literacy and lifelong learning. Although they likely don’t use the public library, they see the library as a desirable part of a thriving community and therefore are prepared to donate.
When does a Direct Ask letter work?
• In a community that already values and supports its library
• In a community that values education and lifelong learning
• When the library has a clear need i.e. $100,000 to renovate a branch
• When there are folks able to donate
• When a community recognizes the need for libraries to fundraise
Over the last two years, GPL has been testing the direct ask and this is what we have learned so far. A Direct Ask program, is:
►challenging because every organization and every community is unique. What opens doors in Guelph, Ontario may not be as successful in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. So, the library board needs to be committed to a three year trial to really asses the community and the library’s capacity.
►not a fix for immediate cash; it is about long term sustainability. If the library has a leaking roof, a Direct Ask program is not your best option if you want it fixed this spring.
►needs a specific, identifiable project that the community can understand and support i.e. $10,000 to purchase shelving and rocking chairs for the children’s department.
►takes time. An annual Direct Ask Program evolves gradually as you build a base of annual donors and look for new donors to bring along.
►takes patience and a thick skin. For every hundred No’s there is one Yes – the goal is to hear fewer No’s and more Yes’s.
►takes knowledge and skill. There is very little formal training available to roll out a Direct Ask program. Too bad, because this would be a great addition to any MLIS program! Direct Appeal programs are currently experientially based….you learn as you go.
►You won’t want to hear this, but if the board won’t financially support the Direct Ask, how can you expect the community to?
So how do you actually develop a Direct Ask program? Stay tuned…
Kitty Pope # 17 April 2014