board talk


Help is on the way: Friends groups and Foundations to the rescue!

by Daria Bossman, State Librarian

In this day and age library budgets are tight. There is never enough. Large or small, big city or small village, public libraries are being squeezed financially. We are expected to do more with much less. In South Dakota, only about half the population has a public library card or purports to use the public library's services and resources. Actually that isn't so bad a number considering how little folks agree on things these days. Most organizations would die for interest from fifty percent of a specific population. Last year in South Dakota alone citizens checked out 6.6 million physical items from the local public library and that doesn't even count the thousands of audio and e-books checked out online! Citizens attended thousands of programs conducted in our local public libraries and logged over 700,000 hours on library computers, not counting hours they logged into many library's free Wi-Fi access with their own e-devices. Our public libraries are busy and their resources are stretched!

However, it also means fifty percent of any given population may have little interest in personally nor particularly value its local public library. Therein lays the challenge--- to get those non-users engaged in the common good of the community. However, there is hope. Most professional fund-raisers and advocacy groups will tell you that a certain percentage of those purported non-users can be won over and mobilized. They can also end up giving considerable time, talents, and even donations toward public library events and fund-raising efforts. Why you might ask and how does that happen? Simply, they are leaders with vision and they see the value of a quality resource and community center for their children, the youth of their community and for general economic and community development. Another way to say it: these folks, while they may never darken the door of the library or check out a literary masterpiece, care deeply about the general well-being of their community and its citizens.

They do need you to reach out to them and simply ask for their help. You might be surprised how open they are to learning about the library and its services. Board members and the library staff need to take the time to establish personal connections and a friendly relationship. Why, you might even make a reader out of a few of them! If nothing else, you made a lifelong library convert who now advocates among his peers and friends for the public library's economic health and well-being. Either way, you have gained a friend and valuable support you can call upon for years to come.

How to get started

So how do I get these "friends" of the library organized and where do we start? They may be retired board members, or current board members who would rather serve the library in a more creative way. They may have served on your board numerous times or maybe they are just a friendly face that comes through those library doors routinely or on a daily bases. They may be new to the community or lived there all their lives. If you are older you may not have noticed a new generation of young moms who bring their children to story time or dads who come with their kids to the library regularly. They may be the nice new pastor in town who comes to read the newspaper a couple of times a week or the new guy who is always at the computer. These may be your new library "friends"! Ask them! In some situations, long time board members may wish to "retire" to assist the library in starting a friends organization.

Over the years you may not have felt the need to be formally organized. Folks just pitched in and helped wherever needed, whenever needed. That has worked fairly good in the past, or maybe not so much. Maybe the old crowd is tired or not able to do as much as in the past. But wait, there may be an entirely new generation just waiting to be given some responsibilities and to be needed. Most likely you have a whole new batch of younger folks with good ideas and energy that may surprise you. However, people do need leadership and established goals. Not much gets done, especially these days and especially in the fundraising department without a roadmap. Organization and planning can make all the difference in the world.

About 26% of our South Dakota public libraries (28 communities) have formally organized friends of the library groups and/or a library foundation. However, more are being established every year. They are organized as 501(c)(3) organizations which allow them to receive donations. Donors, in turn, can take an income tax deduction. The four which have both a friends group and a foundation are: Rapid City Public, Yankton Community, A.H. Brown Public (Mobridge) and the Edith B. Siegrist Vermillion Public Library. Ask the State Library if you would like a complete list.

Friends v. Foundations

Why do some communities have foundations, others have friends groups and a couple have both? What is the difference? Both organizations' missions support the library, though in different ways. They are separate entities and have separate boards from the library trustees. However, we recommend that library trustee representatives are typically ex officio (non-voting) members of both boards just to facilitate good communication. First of all, they are not one in the same. Though both focus on helping the local library, their boards, by-laws and goals, even membership may be completely different.

A friends group may have membership fees and members. Friends often volunteer in the library. It operates more like a "club" and has a social aspect to its organization. Its goals are centered on current needs and one-time events. They typically raise smaller dollar amounts through fundraisers such as book sales, themed lunches or potted plant silent auctions. However, we have known friends groups to raise thousands of dollars annually for their local library! Friends groups can fund items not in the library budget, such as a digital camera, a children's story time rug, new technology equipment, or an annual speaker or program.

A foundation on the other hand is a formally organized institution supported by an endowment. It focuses on the long-term growth and vision of the library. An endowment is a sum of money where the principal is maintained and the investment earnings are used to fund projects such as a program series, a building addition, a remodeling project or new furniture. A foundation can also scaffold a capital campaign when the library needs to expand or do a major remodeling. A foundation holds funds separately from the friends, library trustees and any governmental funding authority. The establishment of either a friends group or a foundation ensures that the funding authority doesn't rescind money not spent at the end of the budget year, and allows donations to grow by earning interest. It also gives the library board greater flexibility in moving forward with projects which the governing body may not want to fund or can't afford to fund.

Foundations are relationship builders as they seek donors of large monetary gifts and long-term investments. Those interested in serving on a local foundation are typically experienced in banking and finance, law, and economic or community development and have close ties to a wide spectrum of area and local leaders. And though men and women can serve in both organizations, most especially in smaller communities, having a foundation is an excellent way to engage the men.

Articles of Incorporation

Applying for articles of incorporation sounds so legal and difficult ... and, perhaps, expensive. Is it? In fact, it is relatively inexpensive to get started. It is not a complicated process and the state fees are minimal. The articles of incorporation are part of the paper work required to become recognized as an official foundation or friends group through the South Dakota Secretary of State. The Secretary of State's office has a searchable database of organizations called South Dakota Corporation Search. You can search "library" to see library friends groups and foundations and look at their articles of incorporation as sample documents.

Since each library community is different, investigating options available to your community may be necessary and helpful. Take a look at the Black Hills Area Community Foundation and the South Dakota Community Foundation if you would like to be part of an already established foundation. Talk with your mayor or a city council member. You may already have a community foundation which would be thrilled to add you to their list of organizations they help raise funds to support.

To learn more about establishing a friends group or foundation, contact the State Library. We'd be happy to talk with you or schedule a presentation at your next board of trustees meeting. In this day and age, every library needs some extra hands of support. Even if you are a small library in a rural area, if you are worth remaining open, you are worth your communities' support. Think about establishing one of these organizations within the next year or two. You'll be glad you did! Remember, help is on the way! ---Library friends and library foundations to the rescue!

Additional Resources:


advocacy, board, community, foundation, friends, funding, law, Mobridge, Rapid City, tax, trustees, Vermillion, Yankton




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