Monday, May 8, 2017

Why Aren't More Big Donors Giving to Public Libraries?

Why Aren't More Big Donors Giving to Public Libraries?
Inside Philanthropy: 5.06.2017 by L.S. Hall

Andrew Carnegie's giving to create thousands of public libraries around the United States is one of the more well-known stories of how philanthropy has improved life in America. Most of those libraries are still around today, and even in the age of the internet, libraries remain very popular institutions that play a variety of vital roles in U.S. life. Seniors, parents with young children, students, veterans, the unemployed and immigrants all make big use of America's 9,000 or so public libraries.

Which often leads us to wonder: Why don't we see more gifts to libraries? Sure, we've seen some such gifts, but not many as you might think at a moment when so many new donors are showing up in philanthropy looking for places where their money might make an impact. Libraries could certainly use a boost. In many cities and towns, public libraries are hurting because of budgetary cutbacks—and more cuts may be on the way with the Trump administration targeting federal library funding.

One appealing feature of supporting libraries is that because they do so many things, donors can find a piece of that mission that speaks to their own interests and concerns.

Consider a $20 million gift to the New York Public Library that was announced earlier this year by a prominent couple, Merryl Tisch and her husband, James, to help the library expand its educational programming.

This is a perfect example of the important role that libraries can play in a community. Yet while we see a steady stream of eight-figure gifts going to institutions such as hospitals, universities and cultural organizations, libraries rarely attract the kind of money that the Tisches gave. What's more, we can't think of many top foundations that make grants to libraries as part of their programs.

One problem here may be that libraries are perceived as public institutions that don't need private support. Of course, other public institutions attract big gifts—such as parks, public universities, and public hospitals. Another reason may be that the wealthy just don't make much use of libraries and don't develop loyalty to these institutions. The same could be said for many other Americans. One recent survey  found that the percentage of people visiting libraries has fallen in recent years. Whatever the reason, libraries just haven't excited many major donors—despite the different goals donors can advance through these institutions, as the Tisch gift demonstrated.  READ MORE @

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