Fundraising in the Downturn: Library Budgets 2010
Recession or not, participants at LJ's Directors' Summit agreed, now is always the time to fundraise
By Rebecca Miller -- Library Journal, 01/15/2010
With the recession, library budgets have been hit hard just as demand keeps climbing, a paradox that creates a resource gap for even the best-off libraries. In their stories, Norman Oder crunches the numbers from LJ's annual budget survey and reveals coping strategies, and Charles London digs into the imaginative responses, and the strains, of serving more with less, in “When Service Matters.” Short term, the recession has library leaders scrambling to find ways to close the money gap and keep core services alive. Long term, it has them thinking about how to stabilize their organizations and prepare them to grow again when the recession ends.
It also brings the problem and the potential of fundraising to the fore. As the attendees found at LJ's Directors' Summit, held November 9–10 at Chicago Public Library (CPL), fundraising may seem like a fix for the short term. Done right, however, it can do so much more than mitigate current budget woes; it can foster the relationships that will anchor the library well into the future.
The summit, sponsored by Gale Cengage Learning, was kicked off by a keynote from Terry Axelrod (see “A Legacy of Sustainability,” below). The following morning, a robust panel discussion among library leaders detailed the state of libraries in the recession. Morning breakout sessions covered topics from running a capital campaign to fostering the right kind of board for fundraising. In the afternoon, participants did round-robin speed consulting with eight experts on everything from donor cultivation to planned giving, corporate sponsorship and feasibility studies to the importance of Friends and foundations. (See the program and literature from the summit at www.libraryjournal.com/directorssummit09.)
The struggle to maintain core services
For some libraries, the impact of the downturn has been brutal. Take Phoenix Public Library, for example. Compared with three years ago, said Director Toni Garvey, “about the only thing that looks the same is how many people are coming.” The city system has had 30% trimmed from the budget in the last year, and that's after a 12% to 15% cut the year before that. Hours have been slashed from 65 to 48 per week, with FTE down 30%, too. The library has scaled back its intensive teen programming, does very little outreach, and focuses on core early childhood literacy and workforce literacy. What hasn't changed, said Garvey, is an emphasis on innovation and great customer service. Still, noted Garvey, “sometimes I wish I could do less with less, but the same people are coming in.”
Also bleak is the view from Chicago, where the library was 30% busier in 2009—on top of a 2008 that was 30% busier than 2007. That demand met with reductions leading to the loss of 53 librarians through attrition and retirement last year, with only one new hire. And the library has laid off 120 pages, so the remaining librarians, according to Mary Dempsey, commissioner of CPL, are “working down,” doing the shelving. Those pressures have meant “we must stick to core programs,” she said.
In Washington, DC, the library has reduced hours and outreach programs and is likely to discontinue interlibrary loan service or charge for it. But the last three years have seen use double, and all 600 PACs are in operation. One not-so-small triumph: “I knew I was getting somewhere when the Washington Post did a story on elevators working in the libraries,” said Ginnie Cooper, District of Columbia Public Library chief librarian. And the buildings are clean. But getting even basics covered is intense. “It's not a finger in the dike,” she said, “but bodies keeping the flow back.”
Where fundraising fits in
In the face of such an assault, some donors can be called upon to step up. According to Donna Bero, executive director of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, donors “don't want to see what they've already given get squandered.” However, by and large, the experts agreed that asking for money to fill a gap in public funding generally isn't the right approach. “People don't want to give to turn on the lights,” said Cooper. “They want to give to make a good library a great library.”
Historically, private dollars have gone toward service enhancements, such as programs, according to Peter Pearson, of the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library (FSPPL) and Library Strategies. As the crisis worsens, though, he said, Friends and foundations are asking, “Should our funds be used to plug the gaps in core services?”
The leaders at the LJ summit voiced concerns about setting new precedents with private money. They described, instead, ways in which the downturn has affected how they think about core services so that private money can enable those services. Phoenix's Garvey, for instance, noted the library's use of private money to pay for a security guard for the building so that after-hours ESL classes could continue.
In Chicago, a corporate sponsorship provided T-shirts for the summer reading program. Those shirts, said Dempsey, are “50,000 walking billboards for the Chicago Public Library.” CPL also funds several prominent programs, Teacher in the Library and Cyber Navigator, with private money. According to Dempsey, if these programs “went away, the public would feel [it] keenly.” Enhancements like this are vital to the library's services, and they make the donors feel and see their contributions at work. “People like to be with a winner,” said Dempsey. “Do what you say and do it well, and report back on what happened.”
It takes Friends, and maybe a foundation
Phoenix Public Library and others have a new, deeper reliance on Friends and foundations, for both fundraising and advocacy support. The groups are “working together like never before,” said Garvey.
In San Francisco, a close relationship between the library and its Friends has protected the library during the recent economic troubles. Thanks largely to Friends' initiative, a renewal of the Library Preservation Fund that passed overwhelmingly in 2007 secured the operating budget at prerecession levels for 15 years. Shy of that kind of crystal ball clarity, the Friends and the library get other key work done by working closely together. For instance, public money pays for SFPL's new buildings, but the Friends are furnishing them neighborhood by neighborhood. This is creating interest and investment in the library, said Bero. Folks start asking, “When will our library be next?”
For libraries without a foundation, said Cooper, “getting one in place sets the expectation that you're doing something for the long term.”
Library Strategies' Pearson explored ways to build fundraising into a library's game plan, from a development office as part of the library to a freestanding nonprofit working with existing Friends to a merged Friends and foundation, which is the model arrived at in Saint Paul. He stressed the need to recruit influential community members to the board—“don't recruit book lovers,” he said. “Book lovers want a book group. We need fundraisers who know the value of libraries.”
A long-term strategy
While any number of tactics can work—from putting a price on the cost of summer reading ($10/child according to CPL) to making a challenge out of big gifts to inspire other giving (as San Francisco's Bero recommended)—the goal of fundraising should be strategic, with an eye to sustainability, as stressed by keynoter Axelrod. Whatever the approach, now is the time to act, said Library Strategies' Sue Hall. “Hunkering down is the last thing you should be doing right now.”
The recession has alerted everyone to the need for all library leaders to think about fundraising—as DC's Cooper said, “It is what we do”—but, recession or no, it should be a long-term commitment to building relationships with donors and getting them engaged in the library and its aspirations, so they can help the library meet today's needs and build toward the needs of tomorrow.
|Rebecca Miller is Executive Editor, LJ|