Sponsorship 101: How Partnerships Can Expand Summer Reading; Corporate Sponsorship Can Be a Tricky Issue, but If Used Carefully, It Can Help Get More Kids Reading and Using the Library. (Youth Services)

Article excerpt

Corporate sponsorship in public libraries is a scary thing. As public institutions dedicated to free, equal, and untainted access to our services, we get justifiably nervous about alliances with profit-oriented businesses. Yet, thanks to corporate sponsorship, Oregon's 2000 Statewide Summer Reading Program participation was double that of 1997. For the first time, the Oregon Library Association (OLA) sent promotional materials to libraries at no cost, gave libraries grants to hire guest performers, and launched a statewide advertising campaign.

So what led us down this treacherous road? Simply put, we knew we should be reaching more kids and hoped corporate sponsors might help us succeed. Though successful, our 1997 statewide summer reading program was far from perfect. The children's services division of OLA produced materials, then sold them to libraries around the state, hoping to break even. Corporate sponsorship seemed like a possible solution to our financial worries. Our original goal was to find a company to put up the $15,000 or so it cost to produce the materials so we could offer them free to libraries. It sounded simple enough-but that just shows how little we knew.

In 1998 we formed a task force to investigate ways of funding the summer reading program. Although the roster included several excellent, well-meaning library types, we soon realized we knew nothing about how to reach corporate sponsors, how to make presentations, or even how much to ask for. So we found someone who did.

We met with the Metropolitan Group, a Portland public relations firm. The company's president agreed the program could engage sponsorship interest, but he thought we were asking for too little and encouraged us to expand our modest goal of securing printing funds-to decide exactly where we would like our statewide summer reading program to go. Corporations, he explained, are more likely to give a lot of money for a high-profile program that makes a noticeable difference than they are to offer a small amount for a relatively minor result.

The first stage was developing our vision. Using a $6,500 LSTA grant, we contracted with the Metropolitan Group to help us develop a viable plan. Through brainstorming sessions, mail surveys, and e-mail input, we came up wit major objectives for an expanded statewide summer reading program, which included increasing participation, providing performers at no cost to libraries, and mounting a statewide publicity campaign.

Throughout this process we made it clear to libraries that while we intended to use grants and corporate sponsors to achieve our goals, we would be careful. Our sponsors would have to be ones that a consensus of libraries around the state found acceptable. Appearances by members of our task force at conferences and director's meetings, as well as frequent updates through online discussion lists and the 0LA newsletter, helped keep communication open.

The next step was to get the funding. And that's where things got a little nerve-wracking. Firms like the Metropolitan Group do not work for free. And they can't guarantee that any sponsor will commit funds to a project, even one as appealing as summer reading. If we reached all our fundraising goals through grants and sponsors, the Metropolitan Group's fees would be covered as part of the package. However, we would have to pay the public relations firm's bills long before that sponsorship money came rolling in. So we took a risk: We committed $10,000 to the project with the understanding that we could lose the whole amount if no sponsors were willing to commit. The OIA executive board members felt that the potential benefit to children and families around the state was worth the gamble. By mid-September things were getting tense; we had received no commitments and were approaching the $10,000 limit. Fortunately, the Craig Berkman Family stepped forward with a $45,000 donation. The Wells Fargo Foundation, Ore gon Public Broadcasting, and Washington Mutual bank soon followed, and we were in business. …