Success: The Wyoming Public Library Endowment Challenge
Government and community partnerships are powerful forces for keeping libraries fully funded.
Admittedly, the phrase “endowment challenge” doesn’t necessarily spark excitement for everyone. But in Wyoming, an endowment challenge begun in 2008 is coming to an extraordinarily successful end — and that’s worth knowing about.
Challenging Libraries to Build Their Own Endowments with Matching State Funds
The challenge began in early 2008 when the Wyoming State Legislature voted 60–0 to pass the Public Library Endowment Challenge Program. The bill provided an endowment of $9.1 million to the foundations of the state’s twenty-three public libraries. The endowment allowed various libraries to raise funds, which would be matched anywhere from $1–3 per dollar raised from the endowment. Those funds were unrestricted, allowing the library foundations to use these endowments to develop more extensive collections, create new or continue funding existing programming, add staff or equipment, and other possibilities as needed.
The twenty-three libraries immediately went to work setting goals and then working to achieve them in order to use the matching endowment funds. The endowment proved an excellent motivator; by 2012, the Albany County Public Library Foundation was the first to reach its goal, with several other branches close behind. The legislature amended the bill in 2013 and 2015 to extend the deadlines for the library foundations to continue working to earn the match and to allow the libraries to form partnerships with other organizations for their fundraising.
The libraries got creative with their approaches to finding matching funds. They held fundraisers, solicited memorials, required dedicated annual donations, put out collection boxes for pocket change, and even accepted money from kids bringing in their piggy banks. The Sweetwater County Library Foundation brought in the Harlem Ambassadors for a fundraising game against the Read’n Rebels, which helped the county raise more than $24,000, matched by the state endowment.
They also focused on helping each other succeed rather than only driving toward their own goals. As some libraries reached their goals, they began lobbying the legislature to amend the bill to allow them to help other library systems that were running behind on their fundraising. That amendment was passed in 2015, and by the end of that year, Weston County Library met its goal with assistance from the Laramie County Library System. In 2016, Converse County Library met its goal in partnership with Natrona and Laramie County libraries.
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By the end of June 2022, every library foundation had met its goal and received matching funds from the state. The state, in turn, added additional matches over the years. By 2022, the private funds raised across the state totaled $9,071,032—100 percent of the libraries’ goals. They earned an additional $1,809,352 from partnerships, $16,125,923 in the state match, and $2,269,073 in additional incentives.
When the state partners with county library foundations, and the foundations reach out to their communities, amazing things happen over time. That level of determined, dedicated progress toward eventual success made EveryLibrary thrilled to announce a 2022 partnership with the Wyoming Library Association to develop a new public-facing digital advocacy and outreach campaign, training and support for library leaders around communications and partnerships, and new systems of support for association policy and funding priorities. Working together with libraries can reach levels of outreach and engagement previously only dreamed of.
Visit www.everylibrary.org to learn more about our work on behalf of libraries.
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