Flathead County

Library Foundation Director Resigns

Departure of Charlotte Housel from ImagineIF’s nonprofit fundraising arm is latest in a series of resignations tied to trustees’ actions

By Micah Drew
ImagineIF Libraries in Kalispell on April 24, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The executive director of the ImagineIF Library Foundation resigned Feb. 2, the latest departure of library leadership due to ongoing tensions with the board of trustees.

Charlotte Housel, whose decision to leave the public library’s foremost nonprofit fundraising partner was made public last month, formally announced her resignation Wednesday. She cited burnout as a key factor leading to her resignation, both as a result of leading a prolonged capital campaign for the new Bigfork library as well as from the strained relationship with the board of trustees, with whom she has clashed at recent board meetings.

“The Foundation’s goals are all about solving problems,” Housel said in an interview with the Beacon. “There are concrete problems the trustees could focus on but instead they’re focused on policy or the conversation of the day.”

Housel was among the most outspoken critics who voiced opposition to the recent hiring of ImagineIF’s new library director, Ashley Cummins, whose lack of a master’s degree disqualifies the library from receiving state funding. In addition to her limited educational qualifications, Cummins told Housel she was not comfortable in a position with heavy fundraising demands and explained that she has limited experience overseeing major capital improvement projects.

“From our perspective, hiring somebody without a demonstrated enthusiasm or experience in those fields would really damage our project,” Housel told the trustees at a meeting in January.

More recently, Housel pointed to ImagineIF’s loss of state aid due to the library no longer meeting the Montana State Library’s certification requirements as a potential issue for donors.

“Private donors don’t want to be staunching the bleeding from a self-inflicted wound,” Housel said.

The ImagineIF Library Foundation was incorporated in 1989 to enhance and support the services at the county’s libraries. In recent years, the Foundation has contributed around 3% of the library’s annual operating budget from privately raised donations.

“This has been the most fulfilling work of my career, and I’m so proud of what this organization has accomplished,” Housel said in a press release. “The staff at ImagineIF showed me that libraries are an investment in personal growth, and I’ve seen first-hand how that investment changes patron’s lives in ways big and small.”

Under Housel’s leadership over the last five years, the ImagineIF Foundation has routinely exceeded fundraising goals, and established a permanent endowment. The Foundation also launched the capital campaign for the new Bigfork library building, which recently surpassed the halfway point in fundraising for the $1.6 million building and is working to transfer the property to the county. 

“Charlotte has launched the Foundation into a new level of philanthropy of the highest standards and professionalism,” ImagineIF Library Foundation Board President Sara Busse said in the release. “The past five years have been a period of strategic, sustained growth for the Foundation, and we have Charlotte to thank for the level of expertise and vision she brought to this position and this community. We are forever grateful.”

Housel said that it’s time for someone new to come into the role and begin rebuilding the relationship between the Foundation and the board of trustees. The search for a new executive director is currently underway.

“You only get to accomplish big things when all stakeholders have a shared vision,” Housel said. “That’s just no longer the case here.”

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.