Figuring Out Friends and Foundations

Along with recent, reinvigorated interest from libraries hoping to update their strategic plans, Library Strategies hears from many Friends groups and Library Foundations looking to verify that they are aligned to best support their public library. Friends and Foundations have distinct roles, characteristics, and expectations in their communities. Both types of organizations engage the community to raise funds and increase awareness of the library, but they usually differ in target donor groups, messaging, or activities. Friends groups are often most visible through used book sales, ongoing community donor programs, volunteer coordination, and financial contributions to the library to support existing programming and collection activities. Foundations frequently host major donor events and coordinate financial campaigns to provide funding for library facilities, major new initiatives, and special events for the library, outside the scope of a standard Library budget.

The kinds of questions Library Strategies receives from Friends and Foundations often revolve around the relationship between those two groups. If they are two separate entities, the organizations want to ensure each is performing the roles best suited to its size, connections, and means. They also wonder whether it is a good idea to merge or separate these similar yet different library support organizations.

While every community and its public library are unique, there are a few questions that each organization can explore. When we speak to libraries, these are often our starting points for conversations to develop clarity:  

  • What is the mission of the Friends and the Foundation organization related to the library? If it is determined that both organizations are needed, it is useful to define the unique roles of each, figuring out which unit will be best suited for the following:
    • Supportive day-to-day fundraising
    • Major donor engagement
    • Volunteer coordination
    • Another, complimentary, “face” of the library in the community
    • Leadership for capital campaigns
    • Ongoing and special advocacy efforts
  • Would a Foundation be able to establish long-term relationships with enough unique major donors and have sufficient funding opportunities to warrant a separate organization?
  • What would make a Friends organization most effective in our community?

Regardless of the history your Friends group or Foundation have with the library, with each other, and with your community, there is always value in examining how these important groups of library supporters are working together to provide uplift, awareness, and yes, funds to your library.

If you would be interested in speaking to Library Strategies about your Friends group or Foundation, please reach out. As a consulting organization operating inside a library Friends group that is a Foundation, we see the features of the system daily. We’re here to help.

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