Report urges caution on Cape Elizabeth library fundraising

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CAPE ELIZABETH — A planning study released this week urges a cautious approach to fundraising for a new Thomas Memorial Library.

It questions the economic climate, willingness of major donors, and raises questions about library leadership.

But it concludes that with time, a public awareness campaign and community support, up to $3 million could be raised for the project.

The study was conducted by Demont Associates, consulting firm that provides philanthropic advice to nonprofit organizations. Demont was hired to determine the feasibility of privately raising $3 million of the proposed $8 million to $8.5 required for renovation and expansion of the library at 6 Scott Dyer Road.

The findings of the study are based on 57 interviews in the last few weeks with residents, library trustees, Thomas Memorial Library Foundation directors, members of the Study Oversight Committee, foundation donors and library patrons.

In addition to determining the potential of a private fundraising campaign, the consultants assessed the library’s public image, the perception of the library’s stated needs and whether or not the community would be receptive to such a funding campaign.

The consultants asked about the priority of the project in relation to the respondents’ other philanthropic interests; the level of support from the various library boards and foundations; the availability of major gifts; the availability of qualified volunteers and leaders for a campaign, and the proper timing for the proposed campaign.

The study concludes that with a public awareness campaign and the support of stakeholders to create a proposed “cultural center,” between $1.75 million and $3 million could be raised to help fund library construction.

It also recommends waiting until 2013 for a bond referendum on a portion of the funds, so that at least two-thirds of the necessary private support can be raised.

“Economic uncertainty leads to some hesitation in responses about whether 2012 is a good time for Cape Elizabeth to proceed with gathering support for the library project,” the study states. “There is acknowledgment that most organizations are continuing and succeeding in fundraising, that bond rates are low, and that the needs will not diminish with time. For these reasons, the majority of interviewees generally believe now is the time to proceed with caution with the project planning and campaign preparation.”

Eighty-five percent of the interview participants said they believe the funding method is appropriate for the project, and community and private support through a capital campaign will relieve taxpayers and lower the burden of any bond that might be proposed.

According to the report there is “broad willingness to give to the proposed campaign at some level among all categories of interviewees. Consultants found that potential top donors still need convincing that this project is a real need since other priorities ‘trump their willingness to support the library at this time.'”

There is also doubt that foundation board members and library trustees are “sufficiently strong in terms of their fundraising ability for a major capital campaign.”

The study indicated that more than half of the respondents did not know the members enough to comment, which significantly lowered the scores. But many  suggested leaders who have been involved in the Study Oversight Committee or other groups could help raise awareness and boost private funding.

They determined that ways to enhance the project’s fundraising potential include offering donors the opportunity to pledge over a period of years, further clarifying the vision and programming for a cultural center, and possible naming opportunities.

The report also revealed that despite “reservations about the overall magnitude of the project, interviewees agree that a $3 million private fundraising goal is attainable for the town of Cape Elizabeth, and that the top gifts needed to reach that goal are available.”

The most recent proposed library design plan, supported by the Town Council, increases the overall library space to 23,000 square feet from its current 13,000 square feet by adding a second story that would reduce building’s footprint.

The new design creates more green space around the building, provides connections with the schools and has 50 parking spots. The entrance to the library would be a split-level design, so people can go up to the adult, young adult and children’s areas, or downstairs to the Historical Society and meeting space.

Key library functions would be on the upper level, with a coffee bar, circulation desk and reading areas, while the lower level would contain storage space for the Friends of the Library, mechanical space, a kitchen, rest rooms and conference rooms.

Approximately three-quarters of the people interviewed by Demont said they consider the overall expansion plan appropriate or acceptable with modifications. The study said the “vision and focus on a cultural center rather than a library resonates with many interviewees, as does the need for flexible space to meet the changing needs of technology.”

Town Manager Mike McGovern said the report on potential library fundraising, which was presented Jan. 17 to library trustees and the foundation board, will be discussed further before a recommendation is presented to the council.

McGovern said he will schedule a meeting with Council Chairwoman Sara Lennon and Councilor Jessica Sullivan, who is the council’s library liaison, to review the report and recommendations from the trustees and the foundation board. 

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @amy_k_anderson.

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