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TL v60n2: Brain On!: Using Reference Questions as a Fundraising Tool
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 60 Number 2



 Brain On!: Using Reference Questions as a Fundraising Tool


Kim McAmis, Sarah Frierson, and Damone Virgilio

Memphis Public Library & Information Center


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TLA 2010 Conference Program Abstract: Since 1998 Memphis Public Library & Information Center has hosted the Corporate Knowledge Bowl, a trivia event that encourages corporate participation and crowns the “Smartest Company in Memphis.”  Learn how it’s all put together and maybe even how to incorporate it as part of your library’s fundraising efforts.

Hello, my name is Kim McAmis and I work in Development at the Memphis Public Library & Information Center.  I am here with my colleagues Sarah Frierson and Damone Virgilio to share information about our annual fall fundraiser called Corporate Knowledge Bowl.


The Basics

The Corporate Knowledge Bowl is basically a work-week long competition that tests the brainpower of Memphis-area companies during the lunch hour.  Teams compete in head-to-head matches on a variety of topics such as history, art, current events, science, and others.  This event provides corporate support of the public library via entry fees while giving the participating companies a chance to earn bragging rights as “The Smartest Company in Memphis”.


The event began in 1998 with 4 teams at the groundbreaking of the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library in Memphis.  Since then, it has grown and has featured as many  as 24 teams.

Currently teams pay a $600 entry fee to the Foundation for the Library, which uses the funds to enhance the Memphis Public Library’s collections and programs.  Incentive discounts are given for early registration and entering multiple teams from the same company.

In addition to the thrill of correctly answering the most questions, there are additional team challenges.  These are the Team Spirit Award, the Most Creative Team Name Award, and Knowledge Bowl Idol, which is given to the team that brings the most audience members.


Library staff members are asked to write questions for the event, following guidelines set by a question committee.  One of the most important guidelines to follow is providing two sources per question.  Teams are allowed to challenge questions, and the sources provided are used to quickly clarify challenges.

The question committee compiles, reviews, and edits the questions that are submitted, getting as close to 1,000 usable questions as possible.  The large number of questions helps give plenty of flexibility in case there are rejections or tiebreakers.  Once the questions are finalized, they are printed on card stock for the event. 



Each year a different theme is chosen for the Corporate Knowledge Bowl.  The 2009 theme was “The Biggest Brain”.  This theme is used on all the promotional materials for the even, including posters, brochures, and advertising.


We are fortunate that the Memphis Business Journal has been a sponsor for advertising for several years.  They provide valuable ad space that reaches the business demographic to which the event is directed.


Let the Competition Begin

The Corporate Knowledge Bowl begins with a kick-off luncheon the Friday before the first match.  This allows the companies to meet and greet each other in a casual setting while getting a feel for their competition.  The agenda for the luncheon includes a type of ice-breaker game that helps the teams ease into the competition.


The luncheon is also the time in which teams are placed in the competition bracket.  This way, the teams know who they are playing against, which room they are assigned to, and what time their match begins. Each team member is given a paper copy of the bracket to keep track of the progression throughout the week of matches, and a poster-sized version of the bracket is on display the entire week so everyone is on the same page.

In 2009 we used a double-elimination tournament bracket, which allowed for teams to lose twice before they were completely out of the competition.  In the past, we had used a single-elimination tournament bracket and used one day of competition as a Redemption Round for those who were eliminated the first day.  The Redemption Round was a paper test that gave teams the chance to get back into the competition.  We have found that the double-elimination method is much more satisfactory to the teams, but efficiency of this style depends on the total number of participating teams due to space and time limitations.

So, during competition week teams are slowly eliminated until there is one team remaining.  That team is crowned “The Smartest Company in Memphis”.  Each team member receives a small placard for their achievement, and there is a large trophy presented to the company as a whole.  The runners-up receive a placard for their achievement as well.  Team Award winners are also announced after the final match.



Volunteers are essential to the efficiency of the Corporate Knowledge Bowl.  The three most important roles volunteers serve are as Question Master, Timekeeper, or Scorekeeper.

The Question Master reads the questions to the teams but is also responsible for the flow of each match. This person ensures that the rules are understood prior to the match.  The Question Master is the final decision maker on whether a question should be thrown out or not and also how to handle a challenged question.

The Timekeeper is responsible for keeping the time for the overall match as well as the time allotted to answer each question.  The Timekeeper also helps the Question Master keep track of which team should receive the next question. The Timekeeper gives a five and a one minute warning as well as a last question warning.

The Scorekeeper is responsible for keeping score for both teams. This person uses a white board to write the teams names for each round and record the scores during the match.  After the match has ended, the scorekeeper writes the final scores on a provided form. The Scorekeeper is also asked to write down audience observations, such as how many are in the audience, to help determine the Team Award winners.


In conclusion, the Corporate Knowledge Bowl is a fun way to utilize the library’s resources while raising money for the library’s needs and to gain public support for the library itself.  This event can be catered to each individual library’s community and create a win-win situation for all those involved.  Thank you for coming.
Memphis Public Library & Information Center


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