2021 Evy Nordley Spotlight #3: Austin

Flamingoes may be native to Florida and the Caribbean; but over the past year, the distinctive pink birds have made quite a squawk across Austin, Minnesota. Bewildered and amused residents have the local Friends of the Library to thank.

Board members Elizabeth Carlton, Morgan Carlson and Kristie Mickelson devised their alliteratively named “Flockin’ Flamingoes Fundraiser” in fall 2020. They did so with two goals in mind. Foremost, the Friends wanted to raise awareness for both their organization and the Library itself. Second, they hoped to add a little levity to their community in a year defined by a pandemic and contentious election. On both these counts, springing roving bands of gaudy birds on unsuspecting neighbors proved as effective as it was creative!

As a secondary benefit, Flockin’ Flamingoes also proved a surprisingly lucrative fundraiser. “We were able to borrow the majority of our flamingoes, which really helped with our overall budget,” explained Carlton. In all, the Friends purchased only 40 of the iconic yard decorations, but mustered a gaggle of almost 100.

Donors had the opportunity to “hire” flamingoes in batches of one, two or three dozen – up to a maximum tier of 60 plastic birds. They then selected a friend, family member or co-worker to be the recipient or target (depending on one’s point of view) of this avian attention.

Friends of the Library maintained the deployment schedule, and shuttled the flamingoes where they needed to go in the dead of night. They also designed weatherized, corrugated signs to accompany the birds, explain their purpose, and inform passersby where they could learn more.

For its pilot season, Flockin’ Flamingoes Fundraiser ran from October 12 to November 22. In that time, the Friends took no break days and fulfilled a total of 79 orders. “We actually had to stop accepting orders around October 26, because I had serious concerns about not being able to complete them all before the ground got too hard,” Carlton shared.

Austin Friends of the Library’s experiment netted $1,985 in proceeds and considerable buzz in the community. As one metric of the latter, flamingo-focused posts on Facebook consistently reached 500 people a day – a significant boost over normal levels.

Unsurprisingly, the group is already laying groundwork for the return of the now-infamous Flockin’ Flamingoes Fundraiser. Among other tweaks to the model, they intend to start earlier in the summer, to get the most out of their “birding season” before the first winter snowfall makes staking impossible.