The Funding Experience of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
In 2003, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP )—an open-access, online reference work—partnered with library organizations ICOLC, SPARC, and SOLINET to build an endowment of $4.125 million to sustain the SEP for the long-term (a 5% annual payout from which would cover the SEP’s $200,000/year budget). The plan called for $3 million to be raised from the world-wide library community and for Stanford to raise the rest from private individuals. Academic libraries would support the plan by paying voluntary one-time membership dues to join a membership organization (SEPIA = Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy International Association) in return for member benefits. One innovative part of the plan was that the money received from the libraries would be protected and invested in a special escrow account in Stanford’s endowment (for the sole use of the SEP) governed by the condition that dues would be returned to the contributing libraries should the SEP project ever terminate, together with any unspent interest and appreciation.
In many ways, this plan was successful. Many libraries at institutions around the world have contributed funds to support a freely available publication. The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded us a Challenge Grant, promising $500,000 in matching funds if the library community reached half its goal. During the years 2004– 2008, when library budgets were hard pressed but before the economic downturn, the world-wide library community raised $2.3 million (including the $500,000 from the NEH) towards its $3 million goal. Stanford University met its goal of raising $1.125 million from private individuals for the SEP. So by the end of our official fundraising period in 2008, the SEP had raised $3.425 million of its $4.125 million goal, and the library community had only $700,000 left to raise. As an incentive that is part of our funding model, the library community will gain representation on an SEP Governing Board when they reach their goal.
But since 2008, few libraries have joined SEPIA, despite our library partners’ best efforts—perhaps partly due to the economic downturn. Also, the shortfall has grown to $1 million because the complete endowment was not raised within the original four year period. The SEP has therefore developed a new way to supplement its annual income while remaining open access. We formed a membership organization (Friends of the SEP Society) for individuals, and in return for modest annual membership dues ($5/year for students, $10/ year for associates, and $25/year for professionals), members receive access to specially-formatted PD F versions of SEP entries, which are freely available in HTML on the web. While this raises about 5–10% of our budget, it doesn’t fully close the funding gap. Fortunately, the Stanford administration has been covering our budget shortfall each year.
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