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Burlingame's book on library fundraising
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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 14 July 2017


See also Advocacy | Applying for grants | EBooks | Library committees | Print ordering | Research Portal for Academic Librarians

" ...Fundraising can be time consuming. As the cost for electronic resources increases, hospital librarians must develop innovative strategies to supplement budgets..." — Gorman, 2006

Fundraising is a vital activity for the long-term sustainability, viability and stability of all libraries. For academic and health libraries, new sources of funding are much needed to sustain good robust service models and collections in the digital era. Given newer collaborative and shared fiscal models, this may require the creation of directed fundraising initiatives and programs. During the global recession of 2008-2014, academic libraries learned a lot about reduced buying power and budgets, and the result was deep, dire fiscal restraint within institutions. Some libraries reduced and scaled their hours and services back, and cancelled swaths of print materials. While economies of scale can be achieved by transitioning libraries online, there is a significant problem around funding this transition in the socio-economic context in which many libraries operate. In fact, in many cases, moving to the digital versions of medical journals and textbooks is incrementally more expensive. To complicate matters, funding levels in many academic and hospital libraries have not kept pace with the costs of providing digital access. Part of this rise in costs is due to the infrastructure, expertise and skills needed to curate online content.

Some administrators believe it may be time to devise radically new information services and funding models for academic and hospital libraries. The goal of proposed models, however, should continue to see authoritative information as the sine qua non of research in the 21st century. Academic librarians must also articulate why the information ecosystem is so complex, and why collecting materials is still important. The value of authoritative information must also be framed within the context of easily-searchable content on the web. Available readable formats must also be considered and deemed suitable for researchers on the go. In the case of health care, the information must be evidence-based. Moreover, academic libraries should not rely on government funding alone but seek to build additional sources of revenue and funding accordingly.

Academic libraries can assume that institutional funding will probably grow minimally in the next few years, and may even decline. If this is true, academic libraries must develop fee-for-service models, or seek endowments for the long-term viability of digital access to information. Part of the answer is doing philanthropic work and partnering with other campus units, and friends of the library. In doing so, academic libraries must be prepared to articulate what it is that they bring to the scholarly enterprise, and their value proposition.

Where to begin?

For academic libraries that do not have their own fundraising programs, a reasonable starting point might be the use of a professional fundraising consultant (Rooks, 2006). Furthermore, it is absolutely critical to place your fundraising program firmly within strategic planning efforts. Academic libraries may want to consider partnerships with their institutional development office if they don't actually create their own fundraising arm. This may be particularly important during periods of economic restraint and where the academic library may need help in getting started. One of the first things a library fundraising unit should consider is whether any endowments are currently available, and whether they generate sufficient funds annually to sustain transfers to library budgets. Clearly, throughout this process, the university librarian should be prepared to be involved in advocacy for the library, and articulate a compelling vision for library services. According to Pritchard (2011), more substantive studies should be done to assess what funding models are most sustainable and what the return on investment is for library fundraising. There will likely be a continuing demand for fundraising professionals in libraries for the foreseeable future.

Steele and Elder (1992) suggest that fundraising programs follow a five-step development cycle: identification, cultivation, solicitation, stewardship and resolicitation. Each of these steps involves a number of contacts with the donors, and follow up - this can take several years. Moving beyond the ultimate goal of raising money is the identification and cultivation of potential donors, two critical steps in the success of any program.

Health libraries' fundraising

One of the problems in health libraries is that professional staff have limited skills in fundraising, perhaps because they are not systematically taught in library schools. However, fundraising should follow the demonstration of the library's value to the organization, and the vital role librarians play in the delivery of information. This can be accomplished by participating on clinical teams or in research groups. However, the advocacy role played by library committees is of paramount importance in order to ensure adequate funding and political positioning of the library. Library committee members are increasingly asked to play strategic roles in the survival of health libraries. Some health librarians take specialized training in advocacy in order to be effective. This training is meant to support health libraries, and to create library champions as well as to engage in delivering the library message to funders and friends of the library.

In the 21st century, the role of social media in fundraising cannot be overstated. Health care managers & social media is a file worth perusing for those managers who want to learn more about the use of social media in raising the profile of the library.

Recommendations for effective fundraising

  • Fundraising is now an expected activity of librarians but is a slowly growing part of their education
  • Successful fundraising depends on clear fundraising goals, effective communication and interpersonal skills, donor follow up and regular collaboration with development staff
  • Use every opportunity to promote the work of the academic or health library
  • Never underestimate the importance of client relations, and building cross-campus relationships (Clark, 2011)
  • As much as possible, project a positive, professional and forward-looking view of libraries
  • If possible, work with other fund-raising partners to create a current database of library supporters (Reid, 2010)
  • Use the university or hospital's fundraising entity as the preferred repository for all library-related donations (Gorman, 2006)
  • Establish strategies and policies regarding the management of donations, and donor relations
  • If possible, ensure that your library is a space where you can hold open houses and events (Eaton, 1971)
  • Create materials to recognize donations such as personalized bookplates, bookmarks, donor walls, donor plaques
  • Seek out new sources of library funding
  • Rader (2000) suggests looking at fee-based services, and taking an entrepreneurial approach to fundraising
  • Ensure that the library is viable in the long term through development and fundraising


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