Magazine article American Libraries

Corporate Sponsorship: The New Direction in Fundraising

Magazine article American Libraries

Corporate Sponsorship: The New Direction in Fundraising

Article excerpt

"Sponsorship is not a new thing," says Christopher T. Dunworth, president and CEO of the New World Symphony in Miami Beach. "Partnerships with corporations go back 50 to 100 years with some symphonies."

For libraries, they go back most notably to the 35-year period beginning in 1889 when 1,679 public library buildings were constructed through the philanthropy of industrialist Andrew Carnegie.

American Libraries recently talked about fundraising to Dunworth and other development experts representing a variety of nonprofit organizations, including libraries, across the country. They all agreed that philanthropy has entered a new era in which "sponsorship" and "cause-related marketing" are the new names for an old game. The central fact that successful nonprofit organizations have to recognize is, as Dunworth put it, "Philanthropic pockets are not as deep as marketing pockets."

Nonprofit/corporate partnerships 1990s-style are still defining themselves, and the entry of ALA into the main arena prompted some members of the Association to question the ethos of sponsorship (AL, July/Aug., p. 657). When Ameritech Library Services sponsored the ALA Annual Conference opening session this year after contributing an undisclosed six-figure sum to the Fund for America's Libraries (see sidebar), the program became the Ameritech Opening General Session and Ameritech CEO Richard Notebaert got five minutes at the podium.

Libraries need private funding

Some members of ALA Council objected to what they saw as the "secrecy" and "commercialism" of the Ameritech deal, despite the explanations of ALA Executive Director Elizabeth Martinez that the Association--and many libraries--have been involved in de facto sponsorship for years, but often on the short end of the stick.

Asked how she would advise skeptical librarians, Sherilyn Thomas, executive director of the Library Foundation of San Francisco, where she managed a $30-million campaign for a new main library, said, "You have good reason to be skeptical because they want something from you, and you are right to be engaged with the question of selling libraries to corporations."

Thomas is quick to add, however, that "there's no question that you are going to need private funding of some sort to maintain good library systems in America in the next decade or two. And if you are going to need it, then become proactive, get trained, work to make sure you make good decisions for your institution and that you are not being ruled by detrimental forces from the outside."

"Companies are going to be knocking at your door," Thomas advises, "and you're either going to be driven by the program or you're going to drive the program, and libraries need to address that in a very concerted way in the next year."

"There are lines we won't cross," Thomas says. "We won't put banners in the children's center endorsing a product, for instance. Sponsors don't get everything they want, but you have to realize they are trying to market a product and you're not going to get the money if you don't give them some marketing benefit. Will we give out coupons in the children's center or products at a special event? Yes we will."

The dollar value of a reputation

"Libraries have to understand that their good name, their good reputation in the community, is worth money," says Maria-Eugenia Cossio-Ameduri, who retired last month as executive director of the San Antonio Public Library Foundation. The foundation's Enrichment Campaign contributed $10 million to the enhancement of the new Central Library (AL, July/Aug., p. 635) by capitalizing on that good name.

"Corporations approach libraries because it is going to be beneficial to them to be associated with a good cause," says Cossio-Ameduri, "but it's up to the library to make it a good cause." Never, for any reason, should a library compromise its good name or its mission, she advises.

David Evancich, manager of donor marketing for the American Red Cross, points out that endorsement works both ways. …

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