Guest Column: How We Used a Literary Pub Crawl to Raise Money for Literacy

Posted by Erin Cataldi, Heather Howard

This guest column comes from Erin Cataldi, a teen/adult librarian at the Johnson County Public Library, and Heather Howard who serves as Access Services Supervisor at Butler University Libraries.


Fundraising can be a big pain in the rear. It’s time-consuming, stressful, and sometimes… boooring. We decided to think outside of the box to raise money for one of our favorite literacy nonprofits in Indianapolis—Indy Reads. While I’m sure both of our libraries could use the money, we felt very strongly that we should be fundraising for the underdog, a literacy nonprofit that doesn’t benefit from student loans, taxes, friends of the library, etc.

Indy Reads relies on volunteers to provide basic literacy tutoring to illiterate and semi-literate adults. Their mission is to promote and improve the literacy of adults and families in Central Indiana. Their programs include one-on-one tutoring, small group sessions, English-as-a-second-language instruction, and “Literacy Labs” at neighborhood centers. Basically, they are a fantastic organization. Plus, raising money for Indy Reads would free us up from having to get permission from our respective libraries. (Public libraries aren’t known for their drinking fundraisers.) We have successfully hosted the Indianapolis Literary Pub Crawl two years in a row, and each year it has sold out. In 2013, we sold 125 tickets and raised $1,800, and in 2014, we sold 200 tickets and raised $3,000.

We could ramble for ages about this event—and, trust us, we have—but, in order to keep your attention, we’ll try to keep this concise. So, here are some tips and guidelines to use when planning a pub crawl.

1. Start planning early.

We started planning our first Indy Literary Pub Crawl in the spring of 2013. (Erin had just graduated with her MLS and Heather was still in the midst of graduate work.) Over drinks, we started to get a basic outline together. Before we got ahead of ourselves, we contacted the director of Indy Reads to make sure that he was cool with us hosting a pub crawl as a fundraiser. Thankfully, the director, Travis DeNicola, was on-board and very encouraging.

Next, we decided in which neighborhood we should have the crawl and which pubs to include. We spent the next few months narrowing down our choices and meeting with bar owners. Once we had our route planned, we began soliciting prize donations for a raffle at the end of the crawl.

At this time, we also decided that we would like to kick our event off with a talk from an author and contacted Dan Wakefield (Going All the Way, Kurt Vonnegut Letters). As a friend of Indy Reads, he agreed to donate his time to speak at our event.

In 2014, we realized we needed to start even sooner, so we started planning in April. We also switched locations, to accommodate a larger crowd—we sold 125 tickets in 2013 and 200 tickets in 2014—and we got another bestselling author, young adult author Mike Mullin (Ashfall), to kick-start our event.

2. Market yourself.

This has been integral for the success of our crawl. When we started this, we didn’t know if it would be just people we knew going drinking with us, but, due primarily to our marketing, it has turned into so much more.

We were fortunate in that Heather’s husband is a Web designer and graphic artist. So, he signed on as our Marketing Director. He made our amazing logo, website, and posters. Once we had our logo, we used it on everything—website, social media, T-shirts and other merchandise, posters, etc.

Get yourself out there and get recognized. Stay consistent with your branding and invest in a good logo. Don’t settle for crappy clip art. Trust us, it will be worth it in the long run. Making good use of social media has also been essential. Facebook and Twitter have allowed us to broadcast updates as they develop, promote our sponsors/partners, and connect with our crawlers in a more direct manner.

3. Form partnerships.

We have been blown away by the generosity of business. We form partnerships with the bars on our route, local businesses (restaurants, book stores, tattoo shops, salons, etc.), other nonprofits (namely The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, The Indiana Historical Society, and Indiana Humanities), national businesses (Out of Print Clothing, Postertext), local ride share organizations, so pub crawlers don’t drink and drive (Lyft has given free credit to attendees both years), and practically every brewery in a 60-mile radius.

These connections are invaluable. Without them, we couldn’t pull off this event. We started by asking businesses we knew, and then we just started hitting up everyone. Another essential partnership has been with our photographer, Elise Rorick of Lusicovi Photography. In our first year, we put a call out on Twitter for a photographer, and she answered the call. She has been the perfect fit for our event and has provided us with pictures of the event, donated prizes, and in 2014 also set up a literary-themed photo booth. How amazing is that? Working to form these partnership has also been great publicity for Indy Reads, as many businesses had never even heard of them.

4. Organization.

Our event is highly structured for a pub crawl, due to the different events that occur throughout the evening. Here is the general outline:

  • Sign waiver, receive welcome packet (this could include badges/lanyards, a copy of the author’s book, brochure with info about the crawl, swag from our partners, etc.), sign up for crawl group (first year these were based on Hogwarts houses, second year Game of Thrones houses).
  • Stop 1 – Author talk
  • Break into small groups, visit stops 2, 3, 4 in these groups led by volunteers
  • Stop 5 – Everyone comes back together at this stop for our raffle and costume contest

Things to note:

  • All of the bars created literary-themed cocktail specials for our crawlers.
  • Some of the bar stops also had literary-themed activities that crawlers had the option of participating in, such as DIY poetry, “Pin the Toe on Hemingway’s Six-Toed Cat,” etc. We recommend that you find bars with ample space or private rooms and get an outside organization to plan and run this for you. Trade School Indy, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, and Indiana Humanities came up with some great ideas and helped keep the crawlers entertained.
  • We kept the groups at around 35 people, so as not to overwhelm any particular bar.
  • Waivers are very important in order to CYA!
  • Costume contests encourage people to participate with your theme and also bring more attention to your crawlers the night of the event.

5. Assessment.

If you are planning on running an event more than once, assessing how you’ve done in more than an anecdotal way is important. Year one we thought it was a one-time thing—and, quite frankly, we just wanted to collapse once it was done—so we didn’t do any assessment. We regretted that when attempting to put things together a second time. We have since implemented a Google form with questions about the crawl that is sent to every registered email after the crawl. This has given us amazing information that will help us modify things to be even better in future years.

6. Lessons Learned.

The main lessons we learned on the crawl have to do with specific logistics for our event (make sure you have a working microphone/PA), but some things we’ve learned can definitely be carried over for anyone else attempting to plan an event like this.

One of the most important things we wish we’d done more of is to utilize our volunteers throughout the planning process. We took too much on ourselves when there were plenty of people willing to help out.

On a related note, you need to stay on top of your contacts more than you may think. You are not a bar owner’s first, second, or even third priority, and it will take a lot of communication on the part of the crawl planners to make sure everything happens. We also found that when you quickly grow an event—as we did when we went from making 125 tickets available to 200—that it changes more than you would think. You will have growing pains!

Which leads to the last lesson we learned—don’t be too hard on yourself! Putting together something like this is hard work, but it is exceptionally rewarding. Remember that some things will go wrong, and that is ok. We found that even with a few snafus, everyone still had an excellent time and, in the end, we raised a lot of money for a good cause.

To learn more about the Indy Literary Pub Crawl please visit:
Indy Literary Pub Crawl | Facebook | Twitter | Email

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3 Responses to “Guest Column: How We Used a Literary Pub Crawl to Raise Money for Literacy”

  1. Joseph Cataldi

    This is a great cause! I am interested in receiving newsletters, as well as hearing about any upcoming special events.


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