« Back to Operations

Boutique Fundraising

Sno-Isle Libraries
Go to Website

Innovation Summary

Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation achieved great success in growing a sustained donor base of library supporters by creating a funding model based on boutique fundraising events which focus on the library mission.

Problem Statement

Evaluations of results, from three annual silent and live auction fundraising events, led the Executive Director of the Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation and Sno-Isle Libraries leadership to determine it was time to change the Foundation event funding model in 2009. Auction event donors demonstrated little ongoing engagement with the mission of the library or continuous support for the Foundation. In addition, total cost analysis showed these yearly events yielded marginal net benefits. In the economic downturn and uncertainty of 2009, other organizations saw sharp declines in fundraising effectiveness. Community donors were becoming critical of extravagant donor events and questioned organizational time and expense invested in such events. A different fundraising model was needed to create ongoing positive relationships which would result in a growing community of donors who shared the values and mission of Sno-Isle Libraries.


The “boutique event” fundraising model focuses on providing multiple donor events to connect donors to the mission of Sno-Isle Libraries and the Foundation. “Boutique events” act as the doorway into a long-term donor relationship. We send unique invitations to attend an equally unique event. We ask for donations only if the invitee feels connected to the library mission. And we have seen consistent growth and engagement in the Foundation’s donor base. Rather than auctioning wine, we create programs which partner wine experts with librarians to present library book titles which go best with merlot, cabernet or chardonnay. We hold an event at a local jewelry store and pair the history of jewelry with great history books. We hold a literary shoot-out between Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour to decide on the best western writer. We present a puppet show of Cat in the Hat the way it would have been written by William Shakespeare. An Edgar Allen Poe impersonator invites guests to discuss his work. Literary readings are held to celebrate the publication anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone with the Wind. We even held a birthday party for William Shakespeare! This new fundraising model of donor interaction enables donors to have meaningful discussions about books, authors, movies, library services and programs with librarians and volunteers. The time spent connecting and engaging donors happens at a level which connects everyone with the core mission and purpose of libraries.


The return on investment for the Foundation has been positive, growing and continuous. This, in turn, has helped the Foundation meet Sno-Isle Libraries requests for funding. • Four annual “boutique events” replaced one auction. • Combined “boutique event” annual costs are lower than the previous annual event (43% less in 2010 and 59% less in 2011). • Net proceeds are up (9% more in 2010 and 12% more in 2011) in the past two years. • Attendance is up. More people are attending; many individuals attend multiple “boutique events.” • New donors increased over 200%. • Donor retention rates are at almost 50%. • More communities within the Sno-Isle Libraries District are reached through multiple events compared. Four annual events in different locations quadruple the opportunities for library users to become library supporters. • Staff time costs have fallen dramatically from 1,350 hours previously for a single annual event to approximately 200 hours per year for four “boutique events.” These events have become very popular. Attendees look forward to the next event in the series and sometimes announce their intention to attend a year in advance. Donors share their experiences on social media and even offer ideas for future events.