Fundraising for the Library: Building Shared Purpose

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The academic library faces increased demand for services and the increased costs of acquisitions, digitization, and facilities upgrades, even as many institutions are trimming budgets. This has led to a growing awareness that library leaders need to devote more energy to partnering with advancement and academic leaders to raise external funds for the library. Yet because the academic library is a central resource on campus and lacks a direct alumni constituency, fundraising for the needs of the library has often been difficult.

We turned to Jeffrey Trzeciak, university librarian at McMaster University, for his tips for success for other university librarians. Trzeciak spoke with us about McMaster University’s unique model that raised more than a quarter-million dollars by involving senior and reunion classes. For this article, we asked him for advice on some of the thinking that needs to underlie such an effort:

  • How to approach partnerships with academic leaders, fundraisers, and donors more effectively
  • How to factor fundraising into the library budget

Here’s what Trzeciak suggests.

Partnering with Academic Leaders

“We need to focus not just on our own funding needs, but also on playing a role in the fundraising for the institution as a whole — even if it means assisting in bringing in gifts that don’t directly fund the library.”
Jeffrey Trzeciak, McMaster University

Trzeciak stresses the importance of founding partnerships on a sense of shared purpose. When approaching the dean of a school, brainstorm together in a way that acknowledges that when pooling your efforts, some gifts may benefit the library, some may benefit the school, and some may benefit both.

“When you visit a donor,” Trzeciak explains, “you never know exactly what they might give toward. You need to speak on behalf of the university, not just the library. Also, the donor may have a specific idea in mind, and you may need to shift gears — you don’t want to lose an engaged donor! Have ideas ready in your back pocket that may not all be directly related to the library, but that are related to the donor’s interests.”

As an example of a successful “give-and-take” relationship between the library and academic leaders, Trzeciak recalls one instance in which the library helped to raise funding for a new facility for executive education for MBA students to meet a key objective of the business school; the funding went toward a learning commons within the building, and helped to meet the overall fundraising target for the facility.

In another case, because of a strong working relationship with the library, the dean of humanities obtained a bequest that included a large donation for the library.

Partnering with Advancement

We asked Trzeciak how library directors can build stronger relationships with advancement. He offered two pieces of advice.

First, make the library visible by attending events sponsored by the advancement office. “Show that you care about fundraising for the university as a whole,” Trzeciak advises. “Attend events that are not necessarily library-related. Show your interest in the big picture. Attend donor announcements, go to alumni events.” Second, consider hosting advancement events in the library. “This gives them opportunities to get to know you and see what you’re doing,” Trzeciak suggests. “It opens conversations and opens doors.”

Partnering with the Donor

“When it comes to asking for funds, often we fall back on collections — needing more books and journals. But think creatively about how your needs for fundraising can be met: think of an exciting thing to fund, and an exciting way to sell that vision. Creatively incorporate your needs into that vision. You need to get advancement excited, and you need to get the donor excited.”
Jeffrey Trzeciak, McMaster University

“Advancement has a lot of exciting ideas to prioritize,” Trzeciak remarks. “If the library wants to be on the list, then your vision needs to be exciting and compelling.”

Here’s an example from McMaster University. Last year, the university received the largest single cash donation ever given to its libraries (a $2.5 million gift from a local family foundation) and its largest gift in kind ($3 million in collections). This gift came as the result of cultivating a relationship with the family, learning about what excited them, and developing a shared vision for how they could make an impact through the academic library. “In this particular case,” Trzeciak reminisces, “the vision appealed to the interests of the family’s deceased parents. The wife had worked with a library, and the husband had loved gadgets. We got their children excited about the library because we talked about our digitization program and what we were doing to digitize our materials and make them more widely accessible.”

In the case of another gift, McMaster University received a donation of corporate archives from a non-alumnus donor. “We explained how his collection could be used across the curriculum, and how we could get faculty and students excited about the materials.”

In other words, Trzeciak emphasizes, rather than approach a donor with your basic needs, listen to the donors’ vision and consider where it might align with yours, and identify how you can bring a shared vision to life.

Fundraising and Your Budget

“I think given the current economic situation within North America, fundraising has to become a more critical component of the library budget than it has been in the past. This is absolutely essential if we are to continue to provide the services expected of us, and there will be a greater expectation going forward that libraries will be more involved in fundraising activities.”
Jeffrey Trzeciak, McMaster University

In practical terms, Trzeciak suggests budgeting always for less than you anticipate bringing in. “Don’t over-budget and under-secure,” he warns. This budgeting strategy will allow the library to move forward in fundraising with optimism and drive but also in a fiscally responsible way.