Berklee VP takes on BPL fund-raiser role

The Boston Public Library’s nonprofit foundation has tapped a Berklee College of Music vice president to add some fund-raising muscle as the city’s cash-strapped library system struggles with budget cuts and faces the prospect of closing the Copley Square branch on Sundays.

David McKay, who has served as Berklee’s vice president for institutional advance for 12 years after stints at Trinity College of Vermont and Vanderbilt University, started his new job on May 4.

“I have a view that the library is one of the city’s crown jewels,” and it should be treated similarly to “other crown jewels” like the Museum of Fine Arts, McKay said in a recent interview.

His hiring comes as the library system is strained by a steady decline in state aid amid a recession that has caused an uptick in library usage, both at the various branches and the library’s online home.

Though the Copley branch could be shuttered on Sundays if there is no additional aid from the state, the fiscal 2012 budget Boston Public Library trustees approved in March keeps all 26 branches open and staffed. That was a reversal from last year, when four branches, including the one in Lower Mills, were set to close before community outcry caused BPL officials to back off.

At the time, opponents of the branch closures criticized the foundation for not fund-raising more, pointing to the extensive networks at libraries in other cities.

According to a financial overview prepared by BPL officials for the trustees, the foundation along with friends’ groups and others raised $2 million for library programs and services in fiscal 2010. Since 1992, when the foundation was first created, it has raised $80 million.

Library advocates view McKay’s hiring as a step forward. “The Boston Public Library has to play a role in seeking those funds,” said City Councillor At-Large Felix Arroyo, one of several councillors who joined neighborhood residents in opposing the closures.

Tasked with cultivating new donors and nurturing relationships with current ones, including individuals, corporations and foundation, McKay said there are some similarities between Berklee and the Boston Public Library Foundation. “When we began, we were raising small amounts of money,” less than a million a year, he said.

So Berklee’s fund-raising arm set a goal of increasing fundraising by 10 percent every year. “We managed to go over those goals considerably,” McKay said.

In the first five years, they raised $11.4 million when the goal was $8.8 million. The next three fiscal years, between 2004 and 2006, they set a goal of $7.7 million. They raised $9 million. His tenure ends with a successful $50 million fundraising campaign.

At the library foundation, McKay, a Malden resident, said he hopes to build up the pool of donors and a stronger presence in city’s neighborhoods. “I don’t think it’ll happen overnight, to be honest about it, but I think we’ll make some good headway,” he said.

According to the library foundation, donors since 1992 have included the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, the Norman B. Leventhal/Mapping Boston Foundation, Bank of America, Fidelity, John Hancock Financial Services, Robert Pozen and his wife, the Boston Foundation, the Boston Red Sox, the Gillette Co., the Heinz Family Foundation, Raytheon, Reebok, and other donors, including some who wished to remain anonymous. The list of donors, posted on the library system’s website, does not delineate who gave when, and groups various people and organizations under a range of dollar amounts.

In a statement announcing McKay’s hiring, Mayor Thomas Menino said, “In the 21st century, libraries have never been more important. The Boston Public Library is both a world-renowned center of learning and a vital element of the neighborhoods of Boston. David is well qualified to lead the Boston Public Library Foundation and truly propel the advancement of the BPL.”