Gathering Your Friends – Again

A vital part of the role of both Friends Groups and Foundations is fundraising and advocacy for their library. However, fundraising for the Foundation or Friends group can be just different enough that it requires its own mindset and its own set of skills and intentions. This is why Library Strategies offers a dynamic range of trainings and retreats (from in-person to virtual webinars) that are unique to the needs of different libraries. We are passionate about helping clients deliver on their missions and achieve their visions for increased community impact.

I sat down with Liz Boyd, Director of Special Events with The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library (SPPL), to have a chat about the way her brain works through the process of putting together a fundraiser for 600+ people. As the events director for The Friends of SPPL’s internal fundraising activities and for those focusing on donors, Liz has unique expertise on what goes into putting on an event like this.

The first thing Liz had to say was that, after two years of running and attending online events, she was ready to return to an in-person event. The connection from person-to-person is important in fundraising. Excitement passes around a room, and even though we, like many organizations, had slightly fewer people attending than we did pre-pandemic, the amount donated per person increased.

Liz attributes this to the great connections the organization has made over the past 70+ years. If you are working inside a foundation with a board and committee, you need to depend on those relationships to get the right people in the room and the cultivation of those trusting and lasting relationships take a lot of time, energy and intentionality. The relationship building pays off in the connections made by your board, and this is where you lean to get corporate donors to fill tables, bring friends, and help you throw the party.

What remains challenging to Liz after all these years is the same thing that Library Strategies sees in community surveys when working with other foundations: a degree of confusion around library/Friends/Foundation support. It is important, Liz maintains, that the event you are running reminds the donors in the room that Foundation support IS library support. The Foundation is often the voice for the library in the city, through grant-writing and through programmatic offerings.

The Opus and Olives video this year featured many of the services available at the library. Sandwiched between two sets of authors speaking about their love of libraries, we featured a video that spoke to community space, technology access, accessible books via the Bookmobile, homework and workforce centers which might have seemed a bit incongruous. However, says Liz, you have to remind your donors that the options for learning and growth offered by the library are each as unique as the individuals using them. Books, social learning, opportunities for new community members to figure out their chosen home,all alongside a place for someone to just BE.

As she was speaking about this mash-up and the way she thought about bringing people together with writers to support the library, I realized that Liz had done a Very Library Thing with her event. Maybe you came for the books. You love the books, but you learned something about your city while you were there, didn’t you?

Liz is pragmatic about what she does. She designs an author event, but the evening isn’t only about books or literary greatness—it is more big picture than that. She wants our community to feel like they’re receiving a meaningful experience for their time and investment, and she keeps the focus on the library. Design an event that centers the work you love to support as a foundation. Keep it simple. Keep it grounded, and center your mission.  

Libraries are vital centers for community connection, collaboration, and inspiration. But libraries must continually hone their skills and adapt to a changing society to thrive. Library Strategies exists to cultivate your potential – so that you can better serve and strengthen your community over the long haul. We strengthen communities, one library at a time.

Are you considering any fundraising and advocacy training for your library? Or perhaps board and staff leadership training? Schedule a free 45-minute conversation with Library Strategies here.

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