Virtual Fundraiser Spotlight: Encouraging Supporters to Turn a New Page With The Calgary Public Library

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At CanadaHelps, we have the privilege of seeing first hand the incredible ways Canadian charities are both responding and adapting to fundraising virtually for their causes in light of the social distancing measures brought about by COVID-19. We want to share these inspiring stories with other charities who are debating—or are in the midst of—planning their own virtual events.

Recently, we (virtually) sat down with Courtney McLaughlin, Special Projects Manager at the Calgary Public Library Foundation, about their aptly named Shelf Isolation Read-a- thon. This event is a peer-to-peer fundraiser that encourages supporters to combine their favourite things—reading, community, and supporting the Library.

Here’s our interview:

Q. Tell us a bit about the Calgary Public Library Foundation and what your organization does.

A. The Calgary Public Library Foundation empowers people to make a difference in their community. Calgarians support their Library for many reasons—they might be active members themselves or know that the Library provides resources for free to their neighbours. Our job is to connect donors (more than 1 in 100 Calgarians!) to the Library where donations cultivate innovation and bring the Library to those who need it most.

Q. Could you tell us a little about the virtual event you are running? What creative ideas and ways have you used to take your event online?

A. Like many charities, we have had to postpone several fundraising initiatives planned for 2020. This leaves us with an anticipated fundraising shortfall of $160,000—and that’s only taking into account activities planned for April. We’re proud of our reputation as a donor-centric organization and, recognizing that our donors and all Calgarians needed something to lift their spirits, we decided to create the Shelf Isolation Read-a-thon.

This event encourages supporters to set up a fundraiser’s page, set themselves up with a reading goal (For example, “I promise to read 1 book for every week that I am away from school/work” or “We promise to read for 30-minutes before bedtime each night”), and share the page on social media. They can encourage their friends and families to set their own reading goals and, if they are able, support them with a donation to the Library Foundation.

We don’t know how long these measures will last, but we do know that curling up with a great book brings the world into our living rooms and helps us feel less alone. CanadaHelps’ Peer-to-Peer tool was the right fit to get this set-up quickly and help with supporting our fundraising in this challenging time.

The funds raised through the Shelf Isolation Read-a-thon will support the highest needs of the Calgary Public Library. We’ve already seen a 130% increase in children’s eBook and audiobook lending since the Library closed, prompting the Library to invest an additional $300,000 in their digital resources.

Q. We know you’ve just launched this initiative. How’s it going so far?

A. We are really pleased with the positive feedback we’ve received from donors and participants. It’s been nice to see the range of people signing up to create fundraising pages – from young children to provincial library technician groups to book clubs. Participants are sharing their reading goals and providing book and eBook recommendations to the community, which we’ve been sharing on our social media channels. It’s a great benchmark for us to receive feedback about how much the Library means to Calgarians during this difficult time. We’ve been able to use some of the feedback in other digital reports and social media pieces.

Q. What has been the most challenging aspect of your virtual event?

A. We’re all feeling a bit overwhelmed with the amount of information coming at us in our inboxes and on our social media feeds, so rising above the noise to promote this initiative has definitely been challenging. We’re being creative with our social media promotion, creating interactive content for our Instagram stories and tagging local celebrities for their book recommendations on Twitter. We’re also being as inclusive as possible—anyone can join and set up a profile, regardless of whether they choose to fundraise. This is a community-building exercise, and while we’re always actively fundraising for the Library, now is a great time for everyone to come together to share and read stories.

Q. What advice would you give to charities thinking about setting up their own virtual fundraiser?

A. Don’t stop doing what you do best: fundraising. Take advantage of the many resources out there for charities; there are organizations and consultancies that offer newsletters, blog posts and webinars for free that are specifically geared towards weathering this challenging time. Also, be patient and adjust your expectations. These are uncertain times and your response rate might be lower than it normally would be.

We are finding joy from the comments we are receiving from donors and taking time to notice donors who are continuing to give, or who have come back after a lapsed period to support our cause. This is an ideal opportunity to take a look at our donor stewardship and enhance it; we know that donations made during this time mean so much to everyone involved.

Q. What technologies are you using to adjust to the new normal of working virtually?

A. We’ve been living on Google Hangouts and Google Chat! We have a really collaborative team, so being apart has been tough. Video calls make it feel as though we are together at the office…almost! The tools provided by CanadaHelps are very helpful. Knowing that donors are receiving tax receipts right away is a comfort to us and we appreciate the ability to adjust the messaging on our profile to reflect the current situation.


Want further inspiration for virtual fundraising ideas? Check out 7 Creative Virtual Fundraising Ideas You Can Use To Replace Your Cancelled Event, for fundraising ideas that can help you raise much-needed funds and engage your supporters when in-person events just aren’t possible.

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