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Crowdfunding has become extremely popular in the past few years to help raise money for new ideas or special projects, and popular platforms such as GoFundMe have made it possible for campaigns to reach a wider audience for donations. It is common to see campaigns for nonprofit groups, companies, and individuals, but can crowdfunding work in libraries when traditional means of fundraising are not available? We developed a crowdfunding campaign while working at Cumberland University. In this article, we provide insight about our experience.

AS EASY AS 1-2-3

1. SELECT A PLATFORM. There are many to choose from, including Kickstarter, Causes, and GoFundMe. Some charge a commission. Some will only collect and release the funds if the campaign goal is met. We selected GiveCampus because it was already tested and proven by our university.

2. DEFINE YOUR CAMPAIGN. In addition to writing a succinct description of the goal, which we defined as building a presentation studio, we defined levels of giving and established rewards at each level.

3. PACKAGE YOUR PITCH AND PROMOTE. We produced a video showing the room we wanted to transform and listed what equipment we needed. We then developed social media posts to spread the word.


The Vise Library at Cumberland University was built in 1989 and has not seen any significant changes since it was constructed. The library has also been without a director since 2014, which has presented several obstacles, including both funding and facility development. In particular, we felt that one of the library's study rooms was not being used to its full potential due to its outdated equipment and furniture. We discussed ways to make the room more functional and repurpose the space to provide a facility that was not already available elsewhere on campus. After much discussion, we concluded that the university had no place for students to practice presentations for classes or conferences, and we believed that this space could not only serve that purpose but could also be used for private or collaborative studying and small meetings.

We met with the provost and VP of advancement to discuss the best way to raise money for this project. During that meeting, we discussed what we envisioned for the space and what would be needed to make it a reality--a whiteboard, a podium, a projector, and modular furniture. We asked if it would be possible to raise funds through a traditional donation campaign, but we were advised that traditional fundraising methods were not an option since the university had several upcoming capital campaign projects that quite understandably took priority. However, advancement staffers suggested that we could raise money through a crowdfunding campaign using the platform GiveCampus, which the university had used successfully for small campaigns in the past.

Preparing for the Campaign

We met with advancement staff members to discuss the campaign and were given this advice:

* Run the campaign on a short schedule-only for a couple of months.

* Develop a video (2 minutes or less) that concisely states what the campaign is for and what is specifically needed.

* Offer incentives to donors for various monetary levels.

* Promote the campaign through social media and other means that reach beyond the local campus community.

Advancement staffers promised to assist by placing an announcement in the alumni newsletter and by using the university's PR channels. This would be especially important since the library's social media pages are followed by current students and not the potential donors we were seeking for this campaign. However, as we will explain later, this did not happen.

Based on the advice we received from advancement staff members, we ran the campaign from July 5 to Sept. 1. This meant the campaign would meet the short-duration mandate and give the library enough time to purchase the items for the fall semester. We also determined that $3,000 would be a sufficient amount. This would be enough to purchase furniture and the necessary IT equipment. We also thought that this amount would be easily attainable.

We created incentives for four different donation levels. The first three levels of incentives were at no cost to the library and easy to fulfill--free bookmarks, commemorative bookplates, and social media posts recognizing donors. The highest level of donation (a plaque in the refurbished room) would have some cost associated with it, but not an exorbitant amount, given that we reserved it for those who donated $100 or more.

And then, we started work on the video. Before scripting, we worked on packaging. We first looked for a catchy phrase that would embody the project and came up with "presentation studio," a term that we felt expressed the vision we had for the room. We also felt the video should show the space we wanted to transform, so we set the scene by clearing out the old AV equipment and furniture, leaving it completely empty for the shoot.

One of our librarians drafted the video script. The storyline begins with students studying on the floor and longing for a better space, when a supervisor enters the room and asks them what they need to make it better. It segues into tight photos of the items needed, including chairs, tables, projectors, and a whiteboard. But, alas, as the supervisor points out, no coffee shop is in the cards. This was done to show the fun side of the library and add entertainment value.

Once the script was developed, the next step was to film the video. The video starred library staffers who ran through the script a few days before filming to make sure it flowed easily and that it would come in under the time limit. Advancement staff members completed the taping a few days before the campaign was intended to go live. Luckily, our contact person was able to edit the video the day of filming and set up the campaign a few days early (on June 30). We decided to tease the campaign via social media by posting a picture of us filming our video and a snippet of our script. We were excited that the campaign was ready to go and decided to promote it when we came back from the Independence Day holiday.

Obstacles and Outcomes

However, when we returned to work, we had some bad news: We learned that our contact point in advancement and our link to the PR department had been let go from the university. This development could potentially have had a disastrous impact on the campaign, but we were determined to forge ahead.

At first, we handled the promotion of the campaign on the library's social media channels, and fortunately, a large number of faculty members came to our aid and helped share the campaign and spread the word among their contacts. We did not, however, see our campaign being shared on the university's social media, since the sudden staff departure had left a communications gap that took a while to fill. Eventually, a single post appeared on the university's social media account, but it was not enough to achieve the external reach we needed.

Another effect of losing our designated contact point was that we did not have anyone actively providing updates about how much money donors were contributing to the campaign. The library did not have access to the back end of GiveCampus, so we could only see the overall total raised. This was a little problematic due to the incentives we had offered. We had to contact advancement staff several times to receive donation amounts, and this created a delay in awarding the incentives.

Overall, we raised more than $1,200 for this project. While this was not the amount we set out to raise--and, in fact, fell far short of our goal--it was still a significant amount considering the obstacles we faced. And with some hustle and wheeling and dealing, we were indeed able to obtain all the items we needed to complete this project.

We learned that the school had some leftover furniture available due to the recent closure of a satellite campus, so were able to get some of the items we needed for free. The IT department had an extra projector and a hanging bracket for us. And we discovered that the library had a lectern hidden away that was relocated to this room. These three factors significantly cut down the number of items we needed to purchase and helped us work with a smaller budget. We did buy a large whiteboard and the necessary IT equipment that enabled laptops to be connected to the projector. We had the room painted and new blinds installed to freshen up the space. This left about $500 for future purchases.

Once the room was transformed, we saw students using it more frequently and in the manner we had envisioned. We saw individuals and small groups using the space to interact and collaborate. We saw students using the projector to practice presentations at the lectern. And we could tell everyone liked being able to move the furniture around. In short, we could not have been happier with the outcome.

Lessons Learned

Since we were new to fundraising, we had a very steep learning curve to overcome for this project. The campaign had many obstacles that negatively impacted the outcome. Some were out of our control, such as the firing of our contact point. However, there are a few things we would change if we could do this over, and these tips might be useful to someone else who is considering a crowdfunding campaign.

Get your ducks lined up. Our campaign depended on support from two different university departments: advancement and PR. However, we had a direct contact point with only one. When that person was removed, we were left floundering. Our advice is to make sure during advance planning that everyone you are dependent on is involved from the start. And don't be afraid of being the squeaky wheel when you aren't getting the support you need.

Get real. Maybe our expectations were too high? We thought this campaign would be easily funded since it was something we felt strongly about. We also thought it would not be difficult to raise the money in a short period of time. Unfortunately, things don't always go according to plan. So, don't set your sights too high, and do make a contingency plan. And in lieu of that, roll with the punches.

Get connected. In any fundraising effort, it helps to have friends and advocates for your cause. In our case, faculty members came to our rescue, and their support was both welcome and encouraging. It was indeed heartwarming to see that the faculty members recognized that our project filled a gap and answered a university need. Furthermore, they were willing to back it. Our advice is to drum up some supporters in advance who will lend their names and networks to your cause.

If your library is thinking about using crowdfunding, try not to feel overwhelmed. Remember to choose the right platform for your project, keep the video short, provide incentives for various donation amounts, and specify exactly what you need. Make sure to engage with your donors and share campaign updates daily. (We made sure to post once a week to thank donors.) And last but not least, don't forget to have fun doing it. Remember, this is something that will improve your library for your patrons. Never lose sight of that goal.

To get a better idea of what we did, you can visit our campaign page and watch our video here: schools/CumberlandUniversity/help-the-vise-library. Get in touch with us if you'd like to know more.

Ashli Wells ( works at Vanderbilt University's Alyne Queener Massey Law Library and is responsible for its interlibrary loan service. She has had an interest in resource sharing and access services since she first began working in libraries in 2010. Wells earned a B.S. in psychology and an M.S. in public service management from Cumberland University, and she will graduate in December 2019 with an M.L.I.S. from Valdosta State University.

Amber McKee is a new elementary school library media specialist after spending nearly 12 years in academic libraries.

Caption: The room we planned to transform was emptied for the video shoot.

Caption: We used a still frame from the video in our initial social media post.

Caption: Faculty members helped share the news about the campaign on their networks, thus driving traffic to fundraising page.

Caption: The room shortly after the campaign.
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Author:Wells, Ashli; McKee, Amber
Publication:Computers in Libraries
Date:Nov 1, 2019
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