Highlights, Takeaway Messages from Drafting the Blueprint '13

Seventy-five Library Friends hailing from all corners of the state congregated in Mankato, Fergus Falls and Mountain Iron, Minn., last month to take part in MALF’s 2013 summer workshop series, “Drafting the Blueprint: Building Friends.”

MALF’s second annual Drafting the Blueprint season was predicated on a problem statement, of sorts. “How do we retain and recruit Friends, and maintain and increase fundraising numbers, at a time when Minnesotans have more demands on their time and money than ever?”

This is a tall order, to be sure; exploring it fully took a full day. For maximum effect, host Ann Walker Smalley (director of St. Paul-based Metronet) split the day’s itinerary into two halves: a lecture-style presentation in the morning, followed by illuminating panel discussions and participatory activities in the afternoon.

All who attended reported the experience to be both informative and fun. For those who couldn’t attend, we are pleased to provide, by way of summary, a few takeaway messages and other highlights.


Building Friends

“Building” implies forward progress. For Friends, it can take any of many forms. Advocacy and public relations efforts, fundraising, and special event planning may top the list. Critically, though, your success in these endeavors is totally contingent on the competency and cohesion of your organization. You must, in effect, be brilliant at the basics.

To this end, Ann Walker Smalley offered up “Ten Commandments for Building a Successful Friends Group.” These are, in full: 

1. Secure the interest and support of the library’s director, staff and board of directors

2. Make sure that these parties – and your members – understand the role each group plays in the overall success of the library.

3. Keep the Friends organized, and keep your programs on track.

4. Whatever your resources, take care to manage them effectively.

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Keep your member base and the public apprised of what you are doing.

6. Money is only part of the equation. You must also budget time effectively. Do what you can to ensure that officers, members, and other volunteers make good on their time commitments.  

7. When possible, nurture relationships with community groups and other Friends groups in your region. Synergies are sometimes possible.

8. Focus on volunteers – particularly ‘non-Friend’ ones. Help them in their work whenever possible.

9. Be willing to learn and share with other Friends.

10. Evaluate and evolve. A dynamic organization takes a regular look at itself to evaluate its successes and looks at ways to grow and change.

Ann offered a bonus commandment, too:

11. Stay informed about library happenings, including trends affecting the industry at large. If you do, you can offer positive ideas and solutions in support of library operations.

This session closed with these words to remember:The most successful groups are those where everyone feels their contribution is important to the group’s success.d

During and after a working lunch, workshop attendees then dove into “Phase 2.” Two open-format panels anchored the afternoon.

Keeping the Flame Alive
Phase 2 opened with an overview of the generations we find (or don’t?) in our Friends groups, and the relevant characteristics of each. Understanding this gives you an idea of why people in different age cohorts act the way they do – and why working across generations can sometimes be difficult. 

Recruiting younger members (particularly “Millennials”) is difficult to do without a robust web presence. Few if any of the Friends groups represented in the audiences used Twitter, Pinterest, or Tumblr. A larger minority had an active presence on Facebook and their associated library’s website. Going this extra mile is imperative, however. Young people (and increasingly, all people) rely on online resources to keep them up-to-date on the things and causes they value most.

A host of other ideas were voiced. Some were geared toward larger libraries, and others to their smaller counterparts. Some were most appropriate for urban areas, and others best suited for application in rural library systems. In contrast, as Ann Walker Smalley noted, the value of a robust web presence is universal to all Friends of the Library groups.

Beyond the Book Sale
For some, “Friends of the Library” is essentially synonymous with “book sales.” While in most cases the assertion will be only partially correct, the book sale fundraiser is indeed alive and well. Popular expansions on the traditional, once- or twice-a-year event include: installing and stocking permanent bookshelves to sell de-accessioned library materials year round; adding greeting cards or other items to your “product line”; and, selling rare or like-new items online.

Other fundraising ideas floated during the panel included: silent auctions, gift basket sales, quilt raffles, coffee carts, food sales at community events, clothing sales, and library “galas” or other ticketed events, and too many more to mention here. Imagination and fun were the bywords of these ‘non-book’ sale events.

If you would like more information on any or all of the above, see the workshop PowerPoint that Ann is making available to all our readers on Slideshare. Visit http://bit.ly/1ai3t3S.