Online Fundraising Resources Center


Library Fundraising on the Web

Adam Corson-Finnerty,
Director, Library Development and External Affairs
University of Pennsylvania Library

January, 1998

This article is based upon the experience of a small team at Penn that manages a "Friends and Benefactors" homepage for 15-library system. With adjustments, the tips below will serve other libraries and non-profit institutions as they move into fundraising on the Web. 


Major university libraries are recording over 8,000,000 electronic searches a year through their online public access catalogs. Therefore, if your college or university library mounts a web homepage for its main "gateway" to electronic services, you will have one of the best storefront locations on the information superhighway. Here is how you might use that advantage for friend-raising and fundraising:

Create a Library "Friends and Benefactors" homepage that links directly from the main library homepage. Gather some graphics, write some text, and begin building an interesting, interactive resource for electronic visitors. All you need is access to a color scanner, space on the library server, and the time to teach yourself how to "mark up" a document so that it reads well on the web. Or hire a student to do it--many have already taught themselves.

 Keep in mind that you will have several audiences. The first audience will be your campus community, capable of both "real" and "virtual" visits. Your second audience will be alumni and other "remote" users, for whom your digital library will be only a few clicks away. 

Initial Goals:

Here are the key things that you can accomplish at this stage in web development. I have put them in priority order, and suggest that you spend more time on the first items as you develop your homepage.
  1. Donor Recognition:
  2. The web allows you to recognize your donors in spectacular ways. Let's take a book fund donor as an example. In the "old" days all you could do would be to place a plaque in the books, and perhaps put a plaque on a wall somewhere.

    With the web you can create a homepage with the donor's picture. If she is memorializing her father, you can put her father's picture up, along with a short comment on what this gift means. You can describe the purpose of the fund, and create "hotlinks" to other related library resources.

    We have been calling this "electronic plaquing." It allows a donor to have a little bit of cyberspace for recognition, and can be a very powerful motivator for new donors, as well as a strong re-enforcer for current donors (and the descendants of past donors). For example, we have used "electronic plaquing" to recognize the contributions of the Moelis family.

    However, make sure to get the donor's permission before you launch her into cyberspace. Some people who might be comfortable with a plaque may feel queasy about appearing on the small screen. (And some people will love it!)

    And, don't forget about copyright, especially with photos and graphics. A photo supplied by the donor should be fair game; but a scanned photo from a magazine article on the donor would require permission from the copyright-holder.

  3. Major Gift Fundraising:
  4. OK, so now you have some "electronic plaques" to show off. Bring a major prospect to your library and show them how others have been recognized on the Web. Or load these pages on your laptop as local files and show them to the prospect in his or her own home. Or use a modem and their phone line to take the donor "live" to the library for an interactive tour.

    (With "wired" donors, you could send them your homepage address and let them cruise on their own. I don't recommend this approach, since you won't be present to talk about gift opportunities. To alter a familiar fundraising phrase: People don't "give" to the Web, people give to people.)

    The impact of electronic recognition can be very significant. We have received several gifts at the $100,000 and above range that have been nurtured or inspired by use of the Web to attract attention-and give attention!

  5. Corporate Fundraising:
  6. Let's say a corporation has donated equipment for your electronic lookup center. With corporations rushing to set up their own Web homepages, you could recognize this gift by providing a "hotlink" to the donor's page. See, for example, our recognition of a bank's gift to our Lippincott Business Library. See also the banner "sponsor" advertisement at the KUSM homepage.

    Is this "advertising"? I don't think so. Stay away from slogans, mottos, and summary plugs of the kind that our public radio stations are using. Stick to the Corporation's name, perhaps their logo, and let the browser decide whether he or she wants to "click" and see the corporate site.

  7. Build Your Friends Group:
  8. Put your Friends of the Library group on the web. For starters, put up your Friends' Calendar and a description of what the Friends is all about. Then add an electronic "form" which allows visitors to join the Friends on the spot. The form will be automatically emailed to you, or your designee. (Don't worry about credit cards; just sign them up and send a bill through the mail.)

    The Friends Calendar can be as elaborate and attractive as you wish. Use pictures and graphics, as well as descriptive language for your events. You can allow people to "RSVP" on-line. And after your event has occurred, you can put up pictures, and give a little "recognition" to Friends' leaders and VIPs. Just scan the pictures in and add some captions. It can be done overnight!

    Put your Friends Newsletter on-line. Put up the catalog from your most recent exhibition, or your current one--or the one coming up. Publicize Friends' gifts and recent acquisitions. Allow the visitor to send comments and suggestions to the President, the Library Director, and to you.

  9. Education About Library Goals and Gift Opportunities:
  10. Start putting up the "picture" of where your library is headed. I don't recommend that you start with your 40-page Five Year Plan, but you could easily put it on for anyone who cares to read it.

    Think short-attention-span. Think pictures. Think lively language. Think playfulness. In a real sense what you will be creating is a huge advertisement for the library.

    On the web, advertisers have to draw people in. They have to create attractive pages and clever inducements for visitors to "keep clicking." Cruise a few web advertisements and corporate homepages to see what I mean. Check out the playful ads Philadelphia Online (, a site sponsored by the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Daily News. Want to see some really inventive uses of the web? Subscribe on-line to Hot Wired ( magazine.

    How about a "virtual tour" of the library? One where you show off recent accomplishments and describe what you hope to do next? If you have an artist's view of what a new facility will look like, scan it and put it up for everyone to admire. Set up clickable floor plans, allowing visitors to check out each new room.

    If you are pushing endowed positions in your library, put up a picture of the person who currently holds the position, along with a biography. The possibilities are only limited by the number of fundraising projects you care to manage.

  11. Broad-based Fundraising:
  12. Most people think of "fundraising on the internet" as somehow gathering on-line gifts and pledges. While this is technically possible, I would not suggest that a library put any great emphasis here. First of all, it is not clear that people will line up in any significant numbers to make pledges based upon your electronic pitch. Record companies may sell CDs over the net, but it seems unlikely that you'll sell a $250,000 library renovation to someone cruising your site.

    Your web homepage will be an aid to your efforts -- much as a well-written brochure might be -- but it won't do your work for you!

    There is no reason not to experiment, however. Public television station KUSM in Montana takes on-line pledges at its home page. And a number of non-profit organizations have signed on to a site called "Reliefnet" where they can make their case and take gifts via credit card.

    Electronic commerce is increasing at a rapid pace. As people get used to making purchases over the internet, so will they come to make donations in the same manner. Start advocating now for your college or university to develop a method for on-line giving.

  13. A Surprise Bonus:
  14. One of the surprises of developing your web homepage is that you will also be preparing everything you need for your next brochures and publications. After all, you will have written text, gathered pictures, employed graphics -- all the things you need to do to prepare a written piece. So here is your first "gift" from the web: Taking the time to develop your web site does not detract from your publications program; it complements and enhances that program. 

    Some Interesting Addresses:

    Now that you are fired up and ready to develop your own Library Homepage, take a few hours and cruise the current sites for ideas. Take a serendipitous approach; go where your playful instincts lead you; see what "draws you in." Most web cruising software has a "what's cool" and "what's new" facility that quickly take you to interesting sites. Check them out.

    For a sampler of sites that relate directly to library fundraising, try:

    1. Extensive library fundraising pages:

    2. Penn:
    3. Library Friends homepages:

    4. Vermont:
    5. Donor recognition:
    6. The Nature Conservancy (

    7. Note front page link to the Heinz Foundation
    8. Piers Anthony and Carol Jacob at USF-Tampa (
    9. Penn Library Benefactors (http//
    10. Mitchell Multimedia Center:
    11. Special Collections:

    12. Tulane:
    13. Library Special Event/Special Project sites:

    14. Univ. of Va.:
    15. University Alumni and Development homepages:

    16. Pitt Alum:
      Ga. Tech Alum:
    17. Sites that promote a university or library capital campaign:

    18. University of Illinois Foundation:
    19. On-line Pledging sites:

    20. ReliefNet Homepage:
    21. Credit Card Gifts

    22. The Nature Conservancy (
          Or start at the homepage:
      American Red Cross (

      The team includes Laura Blanchard, who did most of the designing and HTML (Web) "mark-up", and Barbara Bradley, who manages our online Friends calendar and our E-Friends Newsletter.

Send comments to Adam Corson-Finnerty or Laura Blanchard