Nothing Typical Here: Broome County, New York Struggled to Plan, then to Finance a New Library.
By Frank H. Oliver, CFRE
Over the years I have learned that every capital campaign is somewhat unique, but as I drove into Binghamton for the first time, I knew that something would be very different about my service to the Broome County Public Library. Turning onto Court Street, I passed a massive new construction site. It was fall, 1999, and a huge new structure was already under roof, which would make it possible for work crews to finish during the winter months. I remember thinking that beginning a campaign with the new library already enclosed will add some urgency to the program, but it also left the impression that I was already behind schedule.
During a typical capital campaign an organization focuses its collective energy and attention on its future and on the strategies and operations that will take it there. Typically, there is a long-range or strategic plan crafted through countless hours of difficult work by administrators, trustees, and others constituents involved in the life of the institution. And typically, the organization is responding to increased demand for services at a time when their capacity to do more is limited by some lack of resources.
When the three individuals who founded the Broome County Library Foundation gathered to assess their state of affairs that summer, there was a collective recognition that their situation was not typical. One of the Founders, Lynne Lacey, remembers, “We were a unique situation for a variety of reasons. Our new facility was planned and constructed by private developers, which they would eventually sell to the County for use as a library. Library trustees, who are politically appointed, and administrators had no input into that part of the planning process. In fact, we required special permission to even discuss the project with the developers until the County officially took possession of the new building. We actually completed our search for a new Library Director while the developers prepared the site for our new facility.”
Over the years the library had to cut its services, and circulation was actually in decline. Dee Golazeski, a second founding member of the Broome Library Foundation, remembered “the available space no longer supported the demands for services and programs. Programs for adults had been eliminated entirely because of lack of space. Several children’s programs had been limited for the same reason.”
The Library was diminishing as a public amenity in the eyes of the community. Acquisitions of new books and other media had to be scaled back because there was little if any space for additional items. Children’s audiovisual materials and books on tape were kept at a location two blocks away from the Central Library. The administrative offices were housed off-site from the Central Library as well. “We needed room to grow and to consolidate,” Ms. Golazeski summed up the frustrations. “Our community deserved better — new technology, more space for library programs — our old children’s room could hold fifteen people. That’s ridiculous.”
The need for a new library in Binghamton, New York was pressing and well understood by the community. The Broome County Public Library was housed in a building constructed in 1904 with the help of a gift from Andrew Carnegie. Located on a side street across from the busy county Courthouse, traffic congestion and parking made it generally inaccessible to patrons.
Since the turn of the century, Broome County had grown from a population of 69,149 to a very sophisticated and literate population of 212,061. The library’s collection expanded from 14,000 items to 173,837 items! Nevertheless, apart from minor changes, the old library facility still functioned within the same 20,000 square feet of floor space.
Several years earlier, the Library commissioned a campaign planning study to test interest in constructing a new central library in Binghamton and the capacity of the community to support such a project. The study, conducted by Goettler Associates of Columbus, Ohio, found that a goal of $2.5 million would be possible, but that the library’s leaders should wait until the location, total project cost, and funding mix of public and private dollars was established before launching a capital campaign.
John Goettler, President of Goettler Associates, reflected “I think we gave them the right counsel, we just felt that such detail was a minimum amount of information philanthropists would require to support such a project. But honestly, we never thought it would take five years to develop.”
Agreement on a new facility’s location, capacity, and scope proved to be a difficult matter. Binghamton’s news media documented the public wrangling as city and county officials kicked the political football back
and forth for years. “As it turned out, all the attention was probably a good thing, and by the time we began campaign direction services the community was well informed of the project,” according to Goettler.
Getting the Project Done
The prospect of the Broome County Library falling behind in its service capabilities eventually became unbearable to a group of community leaders and entrepreneurs. Two prominent Binghamton families, the Akels and the Lanes, put together an investment group to construct a new facility on Court Street less than one mile from the old Courthouse, a location that had become undesirable in the city. George Akel pointed out that a new library could serve as a catalyst for neighborhood development. “The people of this area were enlightened enough to now the value of a library. The public came to realize that this building could be an integral building block to the region’s future,” said Akel.
After careful, in-depth research, the developers fashioned a plan for a new library building. After sale of the building to the County, the library (a department of the County) would then define the interior of the new facility into functional areas that would sustain traditional library services and introduce enhanced, contemporary services. Other additions included computer equipment for internet access, computerized checkout technology, teleconferencing equipment, but most important was space. Space was needed in the form of community rooms for lectures, meetings and education, space for the library’s historic collections, space for children’s activities, space for administration, and even space for the new Foundation’s offices. The plan provided for all the functions a modern state-of-the-art community library might require, and the Foundation had to raise the dollars to pay for the interior of the building.
The developer’s resources were not infinite. Broome County officials had $7.8 million accumulated in tax revenue from prior years, and there was no plan for further borrowing to finance the project. Ground was unceremoniously broken in November, 1998 for the new construction. The total project cost was estimated at $11.3 million. As the founding members of the Foundation awaited their tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service, they quietly composed a request for a grant from the city’s largest private foundation.
The Campaign According to One Perspective . . .
The Broome Library Foundation engaged Goettler Associates to conduct a campaign for $3.5 million. Because the feasibility study was five years old, my first call was to my friend and colleague of more than fifteen years, Kent Harris. Kent conducted the interviews for the first planning study, and I wanted to involve him in the development of a plan and a general approach to the campaign. We all agreed that conducting a series of informal meetings with our top twenty prospective donors would be a prudent first step. We wondered if the community’s leaders were still interested in supporting such a campaign after five years.
My conversations affirmed the community’s interest and provided some important quotations for our Case for Support document. Judith C. Peckham, Executive Director of The Stewart W. and Wilma C. Hoyt Foundation told me “Libraries are . . . the most pervasive, democratic institutions we have. A library has the potential to reach people like no other; it is truly there for everybody.”
Donna L. Bechdel, Executive Director of the region’s largest private foundation told me how the creator of the Dr. G. Clifford & Florence B. Decker Foundation loved libraries, and why she thought her Board approved a $1 million challenge grant to the campaign. “We’ve hoped for a new library for many years, and we are pleased to participate in the campaign to complete this project.” These and other powerful statements led me to believe that the campaign had the potential to be successful.
What it lacked was an office, a staff, equipment, furniture, a prospective donor list, and a Board of Trustees with philanthropic instincts (our trustees were politically appointed). The two remaining founding members of the Foundation, the Library’s new Executive Director, Donna Riegel and I began to put the pieces together that would assure the campaign’s success. Lynne Lacey is a civic leader in Binghamton and she was able to provide information about key relationships and other knowledge of the philanthropic community. Dee Golazeski is a professional planner with the neighboring community of Johnson City, who knew her way around the political land mines of the region. Between myself and Donna Reigel, we had our team to enlist campaign leadership.
While we looked for office space, ordered equipment, and advertised for a campaign manager, I began to read the interview reports written by Kent Harris five years earlier. One individual, John Keeler, kept being suggested by those interviewed as an important community leader. Our team decided to ask John Keeler to help us identify and recruit a General Campaign Chair. Over lunch, John agreed to help us with the task of recruiting a Chair. After some discussion, we decided to recruit alocal up-and-coming executive, Ron Goodwin, Vice President of NBT Bank.
Ron took over the reigns and with his own style and personality led the campaign to eventual success. He created a relatively small Steering Committee that took responsibility for soliciting prospects with the potential of pledging in the range of $10,000 or more.
Just five short months later, the campaign was ready to broaden its base and plan for its public announcement or kick-off. Ron and Lynne looked to the next generation of leadership in Broome County when they recruited leaders for the community phase. We enlisted two “thirty-something” leaders. Stephen P. Feehan, a financial consultant, and Jeffrey A. Loew, an attorney, agreed to do the job. Together they put in place a volunteer organization of more than sixty people of all ages.
The kick-off took place in the new Library three months later in April, and gave everyone — volunteers, donors and prospective donors—the opportunity to see the new facility. Even without carpet, furnishings, and defining walls for spaces, the new building was spectacular and its promise undeniable. The event took place in the Dr. G. Clifford & Florence B. Decker Community Room. Lynne Lacey presented a video on the new Court Street library for the first time. Ron Goodwin called attention to the spaces that had been named in honor of early donors to the campaign, including the Stewart W. and Wilma C. Hoyt Children’s Library and the Mary F. and Roger L. Kresge Children’s Storytelling Room.
. . . But Only One Perspective
In the end, more than $4.7 million has been raised for the Broome County Public Library through the Growing Smarter campaign. Use of library services and circulation has increased by more than 25 percent, and positive changes are beginning to take place in the neighborhood.
My perspective on its success focuses on leadership and pace-setting commitments. In twenty-three years of campaigning I have come to believe that they are the most critical elements for success. But mine is certainly not the only way to view our positive outcome.
Looking back I am reminded that we all brought our own fund-raising experiences and biases to the campaign. That was typical about the Binghamton assignment. A consultant’s job is to forge all these perspectives into a common focus and direction.
If my friend Lynne Lacey were to write about the campaign, she might focus on the excellent public relations work the campaign featured. That is clearly her expertise and one could understand her perspective. The campaign had a logo created by the famous B.C. cartoonist Johnny Hart, who lives in Broome County. Lynne produced an excellent campaign video with the help of WBNG, a local television station. She produced television commercials, created billboards, and spoke to countless community organizations about the new library and our campaign.
Donna Reigel, who has extensive experience opening new public library facilities, might have a different feeling about the program. Her perspective would come from the grass roots of the community. I recall that the first time I met Donna she immediately declared the campaign would be a huge success. “Everywhere I go people tell me we’re going to be successful; don’t you know everybody loves libraries.”
While I understand Donna’s passion for libraries, I’m grateful for John Keeler, Ron Goodwin, Lynne Lacey, Dee Golazeski, Stephen Feehan and Jeff Loew, leaders who understood and accepted the standards of giving our campaign plan suggested and went out and asked for the money. To paraphrase Si Seymour, “Blessed are the fund raisers; their place in eternity is next to the martyrs.”
It’s just one perspective.
Goettler Associates, Inc.
580 South High Street
Columbus, Ohio 43215
Telephone: (614) 228-3269