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At Dana Library Boot Camp, Library Leaders Build Fundraising Prowess

July 27, 2015
Patricia Bender, a contract and grants specialist at Rutgers University-Newark, addresses participants at the "Fundraising for Libraries: Boot Camp," held over two days at the John Cotton Dana Library. Photo by Mark Papianni

Patricia Bender, a contract and grants specialist at Rutgers University-Newark, addresses participants at the "Fundraising for Libraries: Boot Camp," held over two days at the John Cotton Dana Library. Photo by Mark Papianni

Increasingly, librarians and archivists assume active roles in funding their programs through partnerships, grants, and private donors to offset diminishing government support and budget shortfalls.  Therefore, it is imperative that they learn how to craft and articulate a compelling vision to attract donors and public agencies, highlighting the crucial role of the library or archive as a central intellectual and cultural community hub.

Twelve library executives, primarily from New Jersey and New York, and others from as far away as Ohio and Texas, considered these issues during a two-day program in May at the John Cotton Dana Library, Rutgers University-Newark. “Fundraising for Libraries: Boot Camp” was organized by Consuella Askew, director of the Dana Library, and facilitated by notable library leaders and development experts in addition to representatives from the Institute of Museum and Libraries Services and the Foundation Center.

Much of the work for campaigns that deliver the desired results occurs before the first dollar comes in the door, so conferees had an agenda full of strategic thinking and skill-building. Presenters came from a variety of specialties, including library and special library leadership, development, alumni relations, and research grant- and contract-writing. Instruction provided techniques to assess and effectively articulate the needs of users, as well as to identify, cultivate, and maintain ongoing relationships with current and potential donors. Cultivating a culture of development within the organization was also emphasized, as attendees recognized that fund development will be an ongoing need for libraries and that the responsibility does not have to rest solely with library administrators.

Many attendees indicated that the boot camp met or exceeded their expectations.

The idea for the program arose some 18 months ago from conversations between Askew, then library director at Miami International University, and Elaina Norlin, executive director and regional library manager for the Broward County Library System in Florida. “We were discussing the numerous leadership training opportunities for librarians but the dearth of training that provided practical skills that all library leaders need to be successful,” she said. “This not only included fundraising, but also practical skills related to budget development and management, communicating for advocacy purposes, and project management.

“Many libraries have been impacted by budget cuts, and library leaders seeking funding sources outside their organization--although not always a stated job responsibility--is becoming an expectation,” she continued. “We plan to continue these boot camps in the future, each focusing on a different topic. Our goal is to help fill a niche to provide the practical skills that all library leaders need to be effective and successful.”

By Tad Hershorn