Friends in small and rural areas are often tempted to use the modest size of their library, community, or member roster as excuses not to “think big.” Friends of the Elmore Public Library are proof positive that, with pluck and ingenuity, small Friends organizations can accomplish truly great things.
Located an hour south of Mankato along the Iowa state line, Elmore is a farm town of only 600. Unsurprisingly, as of last year, membership in the local Friends was among the lowest of any organization in southern Minnesota.
Consequently, many in the community voiced doubts when the Friends announced their intention to organize a large book basket silent auction as part of Elmore’s summer Horse and Buggy Days weekend celebration.
“Someone on our Board of Directors had seen another library do this sort of fundraiser, where they created baskets themed around a book title,” explained secretary Kristin Travis. “We decided to expand on that idea, by reaching out to the business community and asking them to donate either baskets or money for a silent auction.”
While the partnership opportunity sounds straightforward enough on paper, it is a tall order for Elmore – a town with no grocery store, no bank branch, and little commercial activity to speak of. At present, Elmore sustains only six active businesses.
Hoping to cast a wider net, “our Board brainstormed what businesses in nearby towns and cities benefit from the residents of Elmore shopping or patronizing them – or anyplace connected because owners or employees are alumni,” Travis recalled. (Elmore High School ceased graduating seniors in 1994, but Faribault County is full of town alumni working in various leadership positions.)
In total, the Friends compiled a list of 88 recipients for a letter requesting basket donations for the library’s silent auction. Impressively, 53 of those contacted wished to take part!
Kristin Travis attributes this response in part to flexible participation options. Donors did not have to devote time and effort to a themed basket if they did not want to. A cash donation option eliminated that barrier. In those cases, the Friends assembled an appropriate basket.
All these efforts reaped a range of dividends. Exposure helped the Friends boost their profile and nearly double the size of their Board (from 5 to 9). Every auction item sold during Horse and Buggy Days weekend, allowing the Friends to buy a computer and needed software for the library. Moreover, “Basket Book-nanza” raised so much that the Friends had enough left over to buy the facility a new Cricut machine and about $200 worth in DVDs.
This last acquisition brought with it an encouraging ripple effect. Elmore Public Library recently weeded its outdated VHS collection but had little to offer by way of new and in-demand DVD titles. This post-auction donation helped change that situation. DVDs now in rotation account for nearly 50 percent of the library’s entire circulation. “It has also fueled an interest in community members willing to donate movies,” noted Travis. (Approximately 1,300 are now available, up from just 100 last July.)
Friends of the Elmore Public Library is eager to try their hand at this fundraiser again – but next go around, they aim to reach out to an expanded contact list of nearly 150 businesses.