Library Issues
Editors: Ann P. Dougherty, Mountainside Publishing; Richard M. Dougherty, University of Michigan, Emeritus
Contributing Editors: Mignon Adams, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia; Larry Hardesty, Austin College; William Miller, Florida Atlantic University; Maureen Pastine, Temple University
Vol. 24, No. 6 July 2004

Changing Role of the Library Director in Fund-raising

by William Miller

A man dies without heirs or charitable interests, leaving an estate of approximately $500,000, plus a condo in Acapulco. The lawyer, who is co-executor of the estate and a long-time acquaintance of both the library director and the library development officer, calls them to say that he is willing to direct the estate to the library, which desperately needs the funds to complete a building project.

The library director and development officer woo the other co-executor, who agrees to the library as recipient. Suddenly, however, one of the trust officers at the bank wants to funnel $100,000 of the money towards his favorite charity, and a struggle ensues, with the library prevailing. Then, further complications develop when the bank will not turn any of the money over to the university’s foundation until the condo is sold, or ownership is transferred to the university’s foundation. The condo is not selling, however, and the Mexican real estate agents are hoping to buy it themselves at a distressed price for later resale. A law firm wants $15,000 just to do the work of turning the property over to the university. The situation remains unresolved at the moment.

The situation above, as bizarre as it might seem, is a real one, and illustrates the complexity in which library directors find themselves today as they attempt to raise funds. There was a time when the public’s perception of an academic library director was akin in some ways to the perception of an academic president, or a college dean: all were assumed to be scholars or absent-minded professors, concerned with abstruse matters and intellectual leadership, rather than with daily operational details. Academic positions have evolved considerably in recent years, and responsibilities are now much more complex and varied for all of these positions. Fund-raising is now clearly an expectation for all individuals who occupy them. Fund-raising, of course, is only one aspect of what is now called “advancement or “development, which includes developing an awareness and appreciation of a unit’s programs and its needs, but fund-raising is probably the most difficult aspect of development.


How the Role has Changed

We assume that presidents and other top academic officers now spend a considerable amount of time doing fund-raising, but it is not universally understood that library directors do the same, usually with much less in the way of staffing to handle the many details of donor and foundation relations. Nor is it generally understood how much time is devoted to this function.

Library directors typically work at fund-raising either alone, or with a staff of one development officer (or perhaps more than one in the largest libraries), and spend anywhere from 10 to 50 percent of their time on donor relations and other aspects of fund-raising, depending on whether or not a capital campaign is currently going on, and on the overall rhythm of an institution’s efforts in this area.

Most library directors have some symbiotic relationship with the institution’s advancement/development office, and work in concert with the director and staff of that area. Sometimes it is with considerable autonomy, although in other cases, the development staff may not allow the librarian much authority in the process. In some institutions, the library is a high priority for institutional efforts, and a constant recipient of annual funds and bequests solicited by central development officers; at other places the library is merely an afterthought, becoming a priority only when a new building is sought.

The library director, like a president or a dean, represents the entire institution in some ways, but he or she operates without benefit of a broad public understanding of the academic library’s role, and without representing a specific interest group. No one has ever graduated from the library, and there is no specific base of alumni from which to work.

Moreover, the library’s role is often seen as much less important than the work of the faculty and the traditional academic programs of the institution, and such perceptions are understandable. Nevertheless, library directors need to raise money to engage in the activities and purchase the materials which support the research of the faculty as well as the academic programs of the institution.

Fortunately, the library is normally perceived as a social good, and a neutral, broad-based area which anyone could support, even alumni who never had occasion to use the library during their studies, as well as family members and others with no particular attachment to the institution who suddenly decide to make a gift.


Purposes of Fund-raising

There are several reasons why libraries may need supplemental funds. While academic libraries should not let their institutions off the hook, in terms of basic support for operations and materials to enhance teaching and research, there are, nevertheless, costs which institutions often can not reasonably provide.

Necessary expenditures. At state institutions, many necessary expenditures such as food and drink at receptions, printing costs for library publications, or the cost of attendance at professional meetings for staff may not be allowable (or affordable) using state funds, and at private institutions, the library’s yearly budget may not be large enough to include support for such purchases.

The cost of fund-raising itself may be illegal or unaffordable without use of previously raised funds; how can one ask a donor for a million dollars without taking that person to dinner at a nice restaurant? Travel and other expenses will also be necessary as major donors in various parts of the country (and world) are courted over a period of time. Fund-raising gives the library director the flexibility to carry out the library’s programs and activities without violating state law, leaving important activities undone, or having to use funds designated for other purposes in order to do them.

“Fund-raising gives the library director the flexibility to carry out the library’s programs and activities without violating state law, leaving important activities undone, or having to use funds designated for other purposes in order to do them.”

New buildings and renovations. Building needs in general, and new building construction in particular, constitute another major area of fund-raising activity for academic libraries. Even where funds are available for basic construction, the construction of a new building typically requires considerable outside funding. Renovations of existing space are often impossible without outside support. The possibility of naming either an entire library building or a renovated portion of it, such as a computer or study lounge area, is enticing to potential donors, and represents a one-time opportunity to build or enhance a library. The planning of a new library building or a major renovation means that a library director’s efforts to raise funds will be intense for several years.

Just to take one of hundreds of possible examples, consider the new Engineering Library at Kansas State University. The Fiedler Engineering Library is named for George Fiedler, a 1926 graduate of the institution and long-time professor at several different institutions. Fiedler became wealthy, greatly appreciated his engineering education, and wanted to do something to give back to his alma mater and enhance the education of new engineering students. After his death in 1988, the library director worked with Dr. Fiedler’s wife to enhance what had been previously planned as a simple structure into a much grander design, ultimately costing $12 million, of which she donated half.1

The director’s efforts were crucial to enhancing the library space and the needs of the institution, as well as enabling Mrs. Fiedler to honor her husband in a way that greatly pleased his family and was highly appropriate to his interests.

Acquisitions. The chief reason normally thought of in connection with fund-raising for libraries, of course, is for acquisition of library materials, and this is perhaps the only reason for which the general public would see a need to donate money for library activity. Such funds, especially at smaller institutions, can be crucial, and indeed endowed funds for collections often constitute the lion’s share of money available for library materials; in some cases, such as at Colorado College, they constitute the only money available for book purchases. At larger institutions, endowed funds for materials are important, but they cannot substitute for strong basic institutional funding to support library acquisitions that undergird academic research and study.


Can Fund-raising Replace Institutional Support for Collections?

Academic libraries today find themselves in a situation in which annual inflation in the cost of library materials regularly outpaces the general rate of inflation by a factor of three, while the rate at which institutional budgets for such materials increase, if they do at all, is minimal. This gap in funding has now become a way of life, unfortunately, and fund-raising cannot be the ultimate answer to the problem, despite the fact that it is the first thing that occurs to faculty and others to suggest as a solution.

The ultimate answer to this problem lies in changing the basic paradigm of scholarly publication via commercial enterprises which take without cost the scholarly output of institutions and then charge institutions for access to it. Until that problem is addressed, however, this seemingly intractable problem will remain.

Much of a library’s materials budget cost is recurring, and growing each year, so plugging a gap for one year would not help for future years, unless institutions put nothing into endowment and could count on raising 10 percent more money each year than they did the year before to pay for periodical subscriptions.

Endowment issues. Moreover, money raised for materials normally goes into endowment, unless it is all used immediately to purchase a specific item or collection, and usually, only the interest portion of an endowment can be spent in any given year. Foundations of academic institutions have normally allowed a 5 percent payout, but in recent years that percentage has fallen with interest rates and the stock market. In practice, this means that an enormous endowment would be necessary to generate even a modest amount of money on a yearly basis. Nevertheless, library directors continue to seek support for the collections, in part because it is the easiest “sell to private donors with an interest in a particular subject area. Specific subscriptions may be supported through endowments, and one-time purchases are certainly an appropriate use of donated funds.

The expendable portion of endowment funds carries over from one fiscal year to the next, unlike regular budgetary allocations, and can be accumulated in order to make significant acquisitions that change the character of a library’s resources. Purchases using foundation money can make a big difference to the quality of collections over time.

For instance, at Florida Atlantic University, the expendable portion of endowment funds was used to acquire a major collection of artists books now valued at four times what the library paid for the acquisition. These books now support academic programs in art, literature, history, languages, and other areas. Additional foundation funds were used to build a special suite of rooms, now a showplace for the university, to house the collection. This token of the library’s support has occasioned significant additional gifts of both money and books to augment the collection, from the original donor and from that donor’s family members, including an ongoing scholarship for work with the collection, and a gift of $250,000 towards expansion of the original space, a gift that was matched by the State and which became an important part of the drive to build an overall addition to the general library.


Cultivation of Gifts

As anyone involved with solicitation of gifts knows, the activity is multi-faceted and complex. Lacking a specific alumni base, library directors seek support from three primary constituencies.

v Alumni and friends

Alumni are often approached as a group through development office campaigns, and asked to support library needs which are represented as being important for all students. The library is perceived as a neutral, non-controversial entity which makes a good recipient for funds garnered from a general solicitation, often as part of an institution’s annual fund drive. Some libraries gain significant support from annual fund appeals, and depend on this income to support the larger expenses of courting major donors. Annual fund appeals are often handled by the central development office without much active library involvement.

Approaching individuals for major gifts, however, is a relatively new and labor-intensive duty for library directors, who may find themselves traveling to distant locations to get to know potential donors and their interests. In approaching individual alumni, as well as family and friends of alumni and non-alumni supporters, library directors are sometimes competing for the same donors as the deans/development officers and president, and must be careful to clear individual solicitations beforehand. Because most alumni will not be highly interested in supporting library needs with major donations, when such individuals do surface, it is important to cultivate them.

v Community members

Residents of the community surrounding the institution, even when not alumni themselves, may often become supporters of the institution’s library, and if they are not alumni this may ironically be an advantage to the library director because the individual’s loyalty to other areas of the institution may not be strong. Library directors receive a steady stream of visitors with an interest in supporting the library in one way or another, either through the provision of materials or with ideas for cultural or academic activities which could lead to financial and other support.

Friends of the Libraries organizations can be helpful, especially if a cadre of individuals willing to work hard can be identified and galvanized into action. The Friends organization at North Carolina State University holds several used book sales each year, raising funds in the six-figure range for the library. The care and feeding of friends groups can be considerable, and they can be very much a mixed blessing that costs more in time as well as money than would be worth the result. On the other hand, one good lead or introduction or suggestion from a supporter of the library could lead to a major donation, either of money or material, that could make all of the effort worthwhile.

An occupational hazard for library directors, both from alumni and from Friends members (who could be one and the same), is the influx of hare-brained schemes which the director needs to reject but without alienating the individuals making the suggestions. Such people may be valuable, and their ideas occasionally work; the library director must develop the radar to distinguish quickly between useful and counterproductive ideas for support, without insulting those whose offers are rejected. It must be stated also that rarely is such support free, either in terms of the director’s time and that of the staff, or even in terms of financial costs. The offer to sell someone’s book and keep the profits, if it entails both printing and marketing the book, will probably not be beneficial to the library, as puzzling as that will seem to the willing donor.

v Foundations, corporations, and government agencies

Another important dimension to fund-raising is support from foundations, companies, and government agencies. Most of the research and development work that libraries have been able to carry out has occurred as a result of such support.

For instance, the Cornell University Library’s Department of Preservation and Collection Maintenance has just received a grant of $97,554 from the National Endowment for Humanities to develop an online preservation tutorial in Arabic for Iraqi (and other Arabic-speaking) librarians and archivists. No college or university would ever be able to underwrite such a program.

The NEH and other foundations have been responsible for most of the preservation microfilming and digitizing which have occurred in libraries over the last few decades, and skill at applying for such support is now a basic requirement for library directors.

A variety of foundations, both large and small, have an interest in new technologies or the preservation of intellectual and cultural heritage, and support libraries’ endeavors in these areas.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is funding a number of innovative programs. For instance, a $1M grant right now to Rice, Yale, and USC is helping them to make the digital video testimonies of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation accessible and explore their use in research and teaching. They are funding a group of experts to look at interoperability of course management systems, digital libraries, and electronic publishing. They are also funding the DSpace Federation Project, which is in effect a users group for users of MIT’s DSpace.

The Mudd Foundation has been an important funder of library buildings for liberal arts colleges; the Japan Foundation has supported acquisition of materials to support the study of that nation; the National Foundation for Jewish Culture supports films and other endeavors in the area of Judaic studies.

Government agencies continue to be crucial to libraries’ development efforts. For example, the National Science Foundation has supported the Earlham College Library’s instructional initiatives in the sciences, and the Department of Energy has supported the work of librarians creating the particle physics preprints database at Stanford; the Department of Agriculture has supported Agnic and other efforts of librarians to create databases useful to researchers in that field.

The library director will typically be the principal investigator and have a major hand in contacting the foundations and government agencies, and writing grant applications, even in libraries which are large enough to have development officers or grant writers. Corporations can also be approached in similar fashion, and often make funds available for facilities renovations, especially when their name can be affixed to the area.


The Need for Library Development Officers

Larger academic libraries will often have a development officer, sometimes paid for by a central development office, sometimes by the library itself, and sometimes in a cost-sharing arrangement. Regardless of how this development officer is paid, he or she may report to the central development office, exclusively to the library director, or jointly to both areas. As in most situations, anything can be made to work provided that the individuals involved are flexible and cooperative.

This development officer can focus on donor relations, cultivate people over a period of time, and do the myriad of small as well as big things, from thank-you letters to major social engagements, which take so much time but which are so crucial to a relationship with a donor. A development officer may meet or be referred to an individual having a passionate interest in a subject, cultivate that person, and ultimately work with that person to donate funds or materials important to the library. At one library, the development officer struck up a relationship with her mother’s next-door neighbor, and that relationship ultimately led to the funding of a documentary film and the donation of a multi-hundred thousand dollar endowment to purchase materials in support of the study of Judaica.

Development officers can also work with the Alumni Association and the overall Development Office, on things which have no immediate applicability to the library but which are ultimately important to the overall climate of advancement at the institution, such as institutional anniversary celebrations and inaugurations, and capital campaign events. Such work deepens the library’s credibility and involvement with the institution’s overall advancement activity, and increases awareness and support for the library within the institution.

Development officers can be extremely valuable for their specialized knowledge in areas such as bequests and annuities, and for their patient attention to donors’ needs and eccentricities over a period of time. On the other hand, development officers are not necessarily knowledgeable about the work of the library and its programs, and must take direction and work under the leadership of the library director, who will typically provide the ideas and impetus for the development officer’s work. If a new building is the goal, that is readily understood, but if digitization of a specialized collection is the goal, the development officer will have to work in concert with the library staff members who have the subject expertise in order to be successful.


“Development officers can be extremely valuable for their specialized knowledge in areas such as bequests and annuities, and for their patient attention to donors’ needs and eccentricities...”

In smaller academic institutions, the library probably cannot afford the luxury of having a development officer, and the library director necessarily carries out that role to the best of his or her ability, fitting it into a schedule already crowded with other tasks. In such situations, much of the work will probably fall to the institution’s overall development office, because there are limits to what one person can do, given the multiplicity of roles that person is being asked to play.


Fund-raising: Art or Science?

Fund-raising is as much an art as it is a science, and while much specific and technical knowledge is desirable, in areas such as charitable remainder trusts and IRS regulations, the director can lean on others for this factual knowledge and learn it over time.

What probably cannot be learned, however, is the most essential part of the activity: the skill to interact well with a wide variety of people and interest them in the library and its programs. Such skill is being given much more prominence in searches for directors today than was the case ten or more years ago. Institutions are increasingly seeing their library directors as integral parts of the whole development picture. Given the squeeze on higher education in general, and on library budgets in particular, that is probably a very good and a very necessary development indeed.



1 Alice Trussell, “Breaking the Mold: Building a New Engineering Branch Library Focused on Electronic Delivery of Information.” Science and Technology Libraries 24:3 (2004; forthcoming).

Suggested Readings

Atlas, Michel C. “Development in Academic Libraries: A Review of the Literature.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 20 (May 1994), pp. 63-70.

Martin, Susan K. “The Changing Role of the Library Director: Fund-raising and the Academic Library.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 24 (January 1998), pp. 3-10.

Martin, Susan K., ed. “Development and Fund-raising Initiatives.” Library Trends 48:3 (Winter, 2000).

White, Herbert S. “Seeking Outside Funding: The Right and Wrong Reasons.” Library Journal 117 (July 1992): 48.

Comments and Ideas from the Field

If You are Working with the Campus Development Office…

Only the rare small private college or university can afford the luxury of a dedicated library development officer. This leaves the library director at most small institutions to carry out the tasks of identifying possible fundable projects, potential grant or funding opportunities, and writing the grants.

Finding and approaching donors is typically a delicate matter controlled by a “look, but better not touch institutional policy. The territorial hoarding of prospects makes it virtually impossible for the library director at a resource- and donor-constrained institution to approach potential donors without the blessings of the institutional development office. Given the intricacies of practicing successful grantsmanship, it’s understandable that small institution library directors, left to their own devices, have miserable track records as fundraisers.

At these institutions the library director needs to exert extra force to get the library onto the fundraising radar screen. The process usually requires the Provost or Vice-President for Academic Affairs to take responsibility for making the necessary connections between the library director and the development office.

At least once a year the library director should meet with a development officer to review projects with funding potential. An annual screening of a grants database should be conducted to identify foundations funding library projects. At least one development officer should be familiar with the library’s projects needing funds, and be well equipped to move quickly to capitalize on opportunities to fund those projects. Much of the grunt work in identifying project and possibilities will remain with the library director, but the institution must acknowledge that even a minimal level of professional support is required to up the odds of success.

Steven Bell
Philadelphia University


Small Gifts can Make a Difference too…

A small gift of a hundred dollars or less may seem like more trouble to accept than not. Some libraries, however, have developed procedures so that donors feel that their funds have made a difference with little costly efforts on the libraries’ part.

For example, many libraries accept donations and have bookplates on hand that can be personalized and put into a book already on order. One library goes a bit further and has standard packets made up that can contain a photocopy of the bookplate and the book’s title page to present to the donor. A small outlay of time and money, but the donor feels appreciated and has a concrete record of his or her gift.

Other libraries have preprinted sympathy cards that announce that a book has been purchased in memory of someone recently deceased.

Development offices often receive small unrestricted monetary gifts that they would like to handle as good stewards. If those in the office know that the library is set up to make good use of the funds, they may well choose to direct the gifts to that purpose.

Mignon Adams
University of Sciences in Philadelphia


Fund-raising Activities return Benefits that aren’t necessarily Financial…

As an example, the Gustavus Library Associates is an active friends group that has raised millions in endowment for the library of Gustavus Adolphus College. But it’s also a community of library and book lovers who enjoy getting together for events throughout the year that aren’t geared toward raising dollars so much as they are for talking about books and authors and library-related issues. The membership, mostly alumni of the college, work hard to improve the library’s financial situation; events that are more social than philanthropic are payback for their hard work – and contribute to the library’s goal of supporting lifelong learning.

In a similar way, the process of writing a grant proposal can help strengthen bonds between the library and its constituents even when it doesn’t secure funds. Our first attempt at proposing a research and demonstration project for an IMLS National Leadership Grant wasn’t funded, but the focus groups we held revealed things we never would have known otherwise. What we learned by writing the proposal set our agenda for collaboration with faculty in the disciplines. On our second attempt we secured a grant, but even if it hadn’t been “successful we would have benefited from the way the process sharpened our focus and opened avenues of dialogue with faculty.

Barbara Fister
Gustavus Adolphus College


If Your Alumni are Still Young and New…

Even in institutions that seem to support the same array of library collections and services, the nature of the development program, and thus the role of the library director, may vary widely. It is somewhat like institutional demographics: age, “nationality (public/private), and geography (urban/rural) have a heavy influence.

In a young university, one whose founding dates back 50 years or less for example, the alumni group has only barely reached the age and capacity to make major gifts, and they may not even have had much institutional loyalty when they were first students. If over the course of the university’s history its mission and level have broadened from an undergraduate to a research focus, the earlier alumni may even feel alienated. Younger alumni, on the other hand, may have a greater variety of interests that can be met in the library, not only by traditional collections but with technology, digitizing, and partnerships with local businesses or community organizations.

A strong research unit is needed in the central development office to surface prospective alums and friends with potential, especially if the alumni database itself has not yet been well articulated. If the director is not given access to this information, or if it is only given when the donor prospect already has the word “library flashing in neon lights (rare), it is difficult to develop the program creatively and proactively. The library director and the library development officer, if there is one, can be effective in such situations by seeking collaborations with the development efforts of other campus programs. Examples include:

• linking a library book fund to new endowed professorships or faculty research institutes;

• funding innovative student-centered 24-hour technology centers in libraries;

• supporting faculty/library public programs on topics like scholarly communication or some strength in the special collections.

There is great “town/gown value to be found in keeping the library in the development picture for the whole university. The accessibility of the library to the community often helps overcome the perception (especially for a research university) that what the university does is elite and remote to the concerns of the local community. The library may do a good deal of community outreach that may not seem as “important” as major gifts solicitation, but in fact is. The library can be a great opening, and in so doing, it can raise funds not only for itself but improve positive relations with the community and the university overall.

Sarah M. Pritchard
University of California, Santa Barbara


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last modified: July 2004


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