A version of this article first appeared in the November/December 2021 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine.
This week, the Library launched its new Friends of the Library of Congress program, which brings together a community of donors committed to preserving this nation’s cultural memory. This group is integral in advancing our mission to engage, inspire, and inform and help make everything possible from digital resources to public programming to exhibitions.
We thought it would be a good time to talk to Kaffie Milikin, the Library’s director of development, about the her job and the importance of outside gifts in the overall mission of the Library.
Describe your work at the Library.
In a word — thrilling. Each day, I work with some of the most passionate people who want to advance the Library’s mission. My job and the job of every member of my team is to identify philanthropic resources to support that mission. We seek to connect equally passionate philanthropists with the work of the Library. It’s that simple. It’s also very competitive; there are so many worthy causes and opportunities.
How did you prepare for your position?
I graduated with a degree in international studies and quickly realized that I had confused it with my love of foreign travel. Since academia always appealed to me, I thought being a professor was the right path. I am proudly “all but dissertation.” It was when my father died that I thought about philanthropy. My mother endowed a scholarship at the University of Florida, and it was a therapeutic experience. My dissertation became unimportant, and an opportunity to learn about fundraising opened at the Whitman Walker Clinic in Washington, D.C. From there, I worked at Georgetown University, George Washington University and the Smithsonian Institution, learning from the ground up. So, my nerd background coupled with my professional experience prepared me to take on the challenge of building a strong philanthropic foundation for the Library.
Why is private support for institutions like the Library so important?
Although the U.S. Congress has been the Library’s largest benefactor, support from the private sector amplifies the Library’s core mission; it allows the Library to reach a bit further, stretch in new directions without sacrificing what it does best — preserving and providing access to a rich, diverse and enduring source of knowledge to inform, inspire and engage people everywhere in intellectual and creative pursuits. Our recent success in securing a record $15 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation rested on the collaboration and experience of Library staff and their deep knowledge of audiences and collections and purpose. And, yet, every gift matters from every person whether it is $15 or $15 million. Those gifts educate new interns, allow for the acquisition of collection items, make possible new exhibitions and expand our important public-facing initiatives like the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song and the National Book Festival.
What memorable experiences have you had at the Library?
In my first few days, I was invited to tour the Preservation Directorate. The Library’s head of book conservation, Shelly Smith, showed me Lincoln’s second inaugural address — the handwritten version and the printed copy believed to be the one from which he read. Whew. It brought up some powerful emotions. When we share the treasures of the Library with our donors, whether on a special tour or through one of the exhibitions, we want to evoke those same powerful feelings about the Library, its staff and collections and the importance of its mission.
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