1 August 2022

As costs rise across the entire economic playing field, libraries are feeling the squeeze on their budgets.  One way to help mitigate a tight programming budget is to foster and maintain community partnerships.  Working with the businesses in your community is a winning solution for everyone involved.  Libraries get exposure to potential new card holders, while businesses get “free advertising” to prospective customers.  Often, the business community does not think about the library as a potential partner, so it is up to the library’s marketing or programming lead to initiate these relationships.  Establishing a relationship with a community business partner may seem daunting, but it is relatively easy if you follow a methodical approach.

  1. Make a list of all the potential business contributors in your community.  Ask family, friends, and co-workers for suggestions, as well.  Think about all the places you and your patrons go in the daily course of their lives.  Those locations are all potential partners.  Do not skip anyone, even if you don’t think they would be interested in participating.  The unlikely candidates might surprise you.  Unless you ask, the answer will always be “No.”
  2. Before you reach out to the businesses in your community, decide what you want from them and how you are going to use it.  Be specific.  If you want them to donate tangible goods, ask for the items by name, the exact quantity you would like, and how the items will be used.  Offering donations as prizes for an event or program participation tells the business that the recipients will be “working” for their reward.  This increases the implied value of the donation in the eyes of your patron.
  3. When asking for items or coupons, ask for “loss leader” items – things that will get the customer in the door, leading them to spend additional money.  If you are negotiating with a restaurant, a free appetizer or dessert will entice the customer to the restaurant, but they will probably spend more on dinner or drinks to go with the free item.  A $5 or $10 gift certificate for a store will help a customer pay for a wanted item, but they will have to make up the difference out of pocket.  Businesses are more likely to give away these “enticement” items because they know that they lead to greater profits for the company in the long run.
  4. Let the business know exactly how you are going to promote them.  Tell them all the ways you are going to promote their business and show examples whenever possible.  If you are going to promote their involvement on your social media channels, be sure to tag the business.  Many times, the business will share those posts on their own feed.  If you are going to offer print advertising, whether it is a sign inside the library or the inclusion of the business logo on handout materials, have a sample of the signage or flyer.   
  5. Be ready to provide tangible metrics on the number of people who could potentially be exposed to the free advertising you are offering.  Know your door count and circulation numbers for in-house signage and print material distribution.  If you will be running your own ads in local newspapers or magazines, have those circulation numbers handy, as well.  Most businesses will already know the reach of local publications, but if you know the potential impact also, it demonstrates to the company that you have done your due diligence on their behalf.
  6. Provide ways for the business to advertise the library.  Have signs or flyers for the business to display, advertising their involvement and support of the library.  Signage and flyers should include links or QR codes the customer can use to get to more information or registration for the library program.
  7. If the business donates coupons or gift certificates, check in with the business during your program to see how many customers have redeemed their awards.  Follow up with the businesses after the promotion is over to determine the overall reach of the donation.
  8. Keep track from month to month or year to year of what a particular business has donated.  When you ask for subsequent donations, you might not be dealing with the same person as last time, so letting them know what the business has done with previous donations can offer a guideline for both parties on what to ask for and what to expect.  This information will also help you be wary of “going to the well too many times.”  Businesses are more inclined to help if you only ask occasionally.
  9. Once your program or promotion is over, be sure to thank your partners!  The best way to do this is with a handwritten “Thank You” note.  Many businesses display these notes, cards, and letters for their customers to see their involvement in the community.   
  10. Continue to foster these relationships by including community partners whenever possible in potential programming.  If a beauty salon donates a gift certificate for a haircut, ask them if they would have a stylist who might be willing to lead a program on hairstyles patrons can do at home (From my personal perspective, if the library had offered a class on how to braid hair, I would certainly have signed my husband up when I broke my hand!).  Banks that donate cash to programs might also be willing to send a loan office to lead a class on applying for a first home or car loan.  Arts organizations may be able to lead painting, jewelry-making, or other classes at the library.

Community partners can help alleviate budget strain when they eliminate the need for the library to purchase materials or pay for program presenters.  They reinforce the position of the library as a vital community entity, and they expose potential customers and patrons to new resources within the community.  To paraphrase the immortal words of Humphrey Bogart, ‘This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.’