Library Issues

Editor: Richard M. Dougherty, University of Michigan.
Contributing Editors: Steve Marquardt, South Dakota State University; William Miller, Florida Atlantic University; Sarah Pritchard, Smith College; Mark Sandler, University of Michigan

Update February 1996

Fundraising for Libraries: Four Important Elements

by Joan Hood

A December 1990 article in the New York Times stated that the number one priority for higher educational institutions in the 90s would be adequate funding, or the quest for additional revenues. As we progress well into the decade, most public and private universities and their campus libraries, are experiencing extraordinary budgetary pressure.

In the past, private funds for public institutions provided a margin of excellence, which often took the form of funding for special projects or new technologies. Today, private contributions for many academic institutions are used to preserve and maintain universities, paying some of the essentials costs formally covered by state funding. Thus, many current library programs owe their existence to the availability of private funds.

For years we have heard about the difficulty of raising private funds for libraries. Unfortunately, many consultants assume this difficulty when discussing capital campaigns with university administrators and faculty members—that is, they do not include the library among potential "draws" for private donations. Our experience at the University of Illinois, however, belies this attitude. Since 1991 fundraising efforts at the U of I at Urbana-Champaign have raised more than $50 million for the Library System. This funding did not happen overnight; it was the result of careful planning and implementation.

In our experience, a successful library fundraising effort is characterized by four elements: positioning, access, partnerships, and patience.

Positioning the Library vis-`a-vis the Campus

Although it is often described as "the heart of the university," the library is not always at the forefront of the university's goals and commitments. The library must work hard to establish a central position for itself within the university structure, to ensure that it derives concrete benefits from its central role, and to be included in any capital campaign or special fundraising project mounted on campus.

Campus administrators and leaders should be given many opportunities to interact with the library, to learn about its functions and resources, to appreciate the importance of its collections and services to the entire campus community.

For a number of years, the U of I Library has held small luncheons (in the Library) for donors and prospective donors. These events are hosted jointly by the President, Vice-President, or Chancellor of the University and the University Librarian. We have also involved university administrators in special events in the life of the Library, such as the acquisition of a millionth volume, the official introduction of online catalogs and other technological advances, and the dedication of new or remodeled physical space.

The components of the library system—i.e., departmental libraries and divisions—directly support the teaching and research programs of all campus schools and colleges. It is vital to the success of the library's fundraising program that the various deans and directors not only understand this relationship, but give demonstrable support to maintaining the library's strength. The University Librarian is the key person for building relationships with the deans and directors of colleges and schools, as well as for developing positive relationships with the university's administrative leadership. If campus leaders support the library's efforts, they may be willing to cultivate and solicit donors on behalf of the library.

Having Access to the Alumni/Donor Base

Clearly, the library has no graduates of its own; however, virtually all students and faculty derive benefits from library resources and services, and many will be willing to donate money earmarked for the library. The library should push for access to the university's central donor base, and make sure that this access is granted at the highest possible university level. Access will enable the library to identify, cultivate relations with, and solicit funds from alumni and other donors.

An argument often made against library fundraising campaigns is that the library's efforts will merely act to redistribute funds that would otherwise be earmarked for another school or college within the university. Our experience indicates that the library expands the pool of donors to the university.

Statistics gleaned from the U of I's telefund efforts over more than a decade show that each year, over 55 percent of the gifts designated for the Library were from people who nave never given gifts before to the University. The University tries to contact all alumni for donations; many of the larger colleges request support from their degree holders every year. It has been the Library, however, that has been the impetus for many of these individuals to make a first donation. (The response rate for the Library, about 25 percent, is one of the highest on campus.) We have found that with proper cultivation, these Library supporters will continue to donate to both the Library and the University throughout the years.

Further, research by the University of Illinois Foundation prior to 1993 revealed that two-thirds of all major gifts made to the U of I ($50,000-plus) were designated for an area other than the unit from which the donor graduated. This is a reflection of many alumni's desire to support overarching programs, such as the library system, centers for performing arts, museums, and medical programs, perhaps in addition to giving a gift to their college or division.

A review of annual fundraising figures nationally shows that individuals give nearly 90 percent of the philanthropic dollars, foundations donate around 5 percent, and corporations give less than 5 percent. Thus, at least in our case, it is reasonable to focus fundraising efforts on individuals. Foundations and corporations can be targeted by the library through interaction with the campus fundraising office—a foundation/corporate donation officer can work with the Library to identify and to approach donor institutions most likely to support Library-related projects.

Forming Partnerships with Other Campus Units

The function of the campus library cuts across all disciplines; it supports all academic and research programs throughout the university. The library should develop this mutuality into fundraising partnerships with academic departments or colleges within the university. For instance, the U of I Library has engaged in successful joint fundraising efforts with the College of Engineering, the College of Agriculture, the College of Law, the School of Life Sciences, the School of Art and Design, and many departments.

The Library's highly successful joint fundraising venture with the College of Engineering culminated in an $18.7 million gift for a new engineering library from the Grainger Foundation. The Engineering Library Campaign also established a goal of $7 Million for the operation of the library, more than $4.5 million of which has been secured. In the last five years, $9 million has been raised in a cooperative effort by the College of Agriculture and the Library to build a new Agriculture Library, a College alumni center, and a computer laboratory. In addition cooperative endowment found appeals have been carried out by the Library and the School of Chemical Sciences, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and The School of Life Sciences.

Having Patience with the Process

The development of a fundraising program is a long process—carried out over years and even decades. The library should take a long view of the program, seeing it as a critical investment for the future rather than a quick fix for current library woes. Fundraising activities require commitment and continuity of effort, and a good program will yield steady, albeit slow, progress. This step-by-step progress, especially if buttressed with a few major gifts along the way, will help maintain the morale and enthusiasm of library fund-raisers.

A Few Other Hints

Because historically 80 percent of all endowment funds have been built with planned-giving and bequests, it is important that the library attract planned-giving funds over the years. Some of these bequests will provide funds on a regular basis, allowing libraries to plan with confidence for the future.

Most donors are concerned about two factors in making a gift: Will the money be well spent? Will the money help ensure the continuation of a program, department, or college? Because many people view libraries as basic to the fabric of our society, to freedom of information, to democracy, and to economic well-being, they may feel that a donation to the library carries impact for society at large as well as the academic community. A well-developed library fundraising program should be able to attract external sources of funding based, at least in part, on an understanding of this basic motivation: Donors want to feel that their gifts will make a difference.

Private contributions to public universities are a significant source of funding for many schools. By developing strong programs of their own, linking their efforts to larger campus fundraising programs, and forming partnerships with faculty and administrators to promote the value of the library on campus, library fund-raisers will be better able to tap external sources for much-needed library funds.—Joan M. Hood, Director of Development and Public Affairs, the Library System, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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