Donations Solicitations for Public Libraries

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A town municipal public library has been told by the town that the library cannot have a donate to the library button on the library's website. The library hosts its own website, and the donations would go into a library checking account.

The town feels that the library will be seen as fundraising. Is there a comptroller's opinion or NYS Law that states municipal town libraries (or school district or special district) libraries cannot ask for donations on its website?



There is no legal authority in New York that denies the ability of a town public library (or any municipally affiliated public library) to solicit donations.

There is no law that bars it.

There is no regulation that bars it.

There is no comptroller opinion that bars it.

There is no attorney general opinion that bars it.

There is no case law that bars it.

Now, despite all that lack of barring, there ARE many reasons why libraries funded by tax dollars, and operating in conjunction with a municipality, may want to avoid the general solicitations of donations (some previous "Ask the Lawyer" RAQs on this issue is here:, and here: For those reasons (and maybe ten more I could name after a strong cup of coffee), I always strongly urge public libraries who wish to solicit donations to have a precise, defined purpose for soliciting donations...something that is distinct and separate from the core operations of the library.

For example, if the library would like to sponsor local artists to create window displays related to new books and programming, a solicitation could be "Donate to our local artist window program!" Or if the library wanted to solicit funds for extra activities, a solicitation could be "Donate to our 'Kids Jumping into Reading' 2023 fitness program!" Or if the library wants to create or grow an endowment, it could be "Assure our future, donate to our endowment fund!"[1]

And of course, regardless of the purpose, any library receiving donations must be set up to receive, track, and expend the donations per proper fiscal controls. If the money is for a specific purpose (as I have suggested it be), the accounting mechanisms to show it was only expended for that purpose must be in place before the money is solicited. If the money is being solicited online via credit card or other electronic means, care should be taken to select a processor that the library's financial institution regards as secure.

Solicitation of donations are how public libraries can grow non-essential programs, amass a capital funds, and plan for long-range strategic objectives. The extra conditions non-association libraries face when it comes to using donated money--controls on procurement, criteria for investment, and the interplay between public and private money--is why many public libraries designate Friends groups to solicit funds for "extras."

But while a public library may determine that such solicitation is best left to an affiliated not-for-profit, so long as they have the right policies and fiscal controls, there is no bar to a public library receiving donated funds, and no bar on asking for them... or enabling such a request by putting a "donate" button on the library website.

Thank you for a great question.

[1] DO NOT DO THIS unless the library has an investment policy that meets the requirements of both the General Municipal Law and the Not-for-Profit Education Law, and both the library's accountant and lawyer have reviewed the policy and the fund parameters and have confirmed, IN WRITING, that the policy meets the requirements.



Donations, Municipal Libraries, Public Libraries