Public Library Friends Group or Library Foundation with Assistance from Paid Staff
- Batavia (Ill.) Public Library Foundation
Public Library Friends Group or Library Foundation without Assistance from Paid Staff
- Friends of Hackley Public Library (Muskegon, Mich.)
- Friends of the Troy (Mich.) Public Library
Batavia (Ill.) Public Library Foundation
In 2011, Batavia Public Library Foundation headed the project “Bulldogs Unleashed,” inspired by Chicago’s Cows on Parade. As a collaborative (and strategic) gesture, the Foundation’s board invited two other local organizations — the Batavia Foundation for Educational Excellence and the Batavia Parks Foundation — to participate as equal partners.
“Bulldogs Unleashed” ran from June 10, 2011, when the bulldogs were ceremoniously unleashed (that is, put on display) in downtown Batavia, to Sept. 10, 2011, when a gala auction was held. The planning process, however, began a year and a half earlier, when Library Director George H. Scheetz first presented to the Foundation board a life-sized (17” tall) unpainted fiberglass bulldog, which the library had purchased from Cowpainters LLC of Chicago. The concept was simple: secure sponsors, recruit artists, produce and display the bulldogs, and sell them at auction.
President Lynn M. Elam proposed the idea of “Bulldogs on Parade” as a major fundraising project, which was supported by the Foundation board. Board members developed a preliminary statement of purpose and action plan for the project, which was envisioned as a family-oriented event that would appeal to the spirit of the community. The board decided that the best way to ensure the success of the project was to invite two other foundations affiliated with local government to participate as equal partners.
At a meeting hosted by the library Foundation in April 2010, the presidents of all three foundations and the administrators of all three local government entities (parks, library, and schools) embraced the project. The board of directors of the three foundations adopted the project and appointed a steering committee, which conducted its inaugural meeting on June 10 — exactly one year before the bulldogs were unleashed.
By September 2010, the three partner foundations had adopted a joint agreement to govern the project. A system of subcommittees was organized by the steering committee, each coordinated by one of the foundations. The drive to secure sponsors was underway, and a 30-inch tall unpainted fiberglass bulldog was on display at the Batavia Public Library to promote the project. An inspirational statement of mission — to celebrate Batavia, Ill.; contribute to the economic vitality and quality of life in the community, and develop and awareness of and interest in “all things Batavia” — and statement of purpose were produced; the latter served as the project’s goals.
“Bulldogs Unleashed” followed several key steps from conception to completion:
- Market the project (a thread that ran through each step).
- Secure 25 sponsorships, plus in-kind gifts.
- Issue a call for artists.
- Select designs.
- Match sponsors to designs.
- Deliver bulldogs to (and pick up from) the artists.
- Plan the gala auction.
- Produce concrete bases and plaques.
- Unleash the bulldogs (June 2011).
- Produce guide to bulldogs and artists (as self-guided tour maps).
- Produce merchandise (shirts, posters, note cards).
- Sell merchandise, and as a complementary fundraiser, sell raffle tickets.
- Sponsor guided walking tours of 30 bulldogs.
- Host the gala auction (September 2011).
- Deliver the bulldogs to their new homes — many are still found on public display.
The concept of “Bulldogs Unleashed” was not new, but Batavia’s model — a collaborative approach to raising funds and celebrating community — was fresh and inspirational.
The “Beatles” bulldog by Shelby Anderson was auctioned for $4,300. Sponsors found it difficult to reject a project that simultaneously supported the schools, parks, and public library. Using the stated purposes as project goals, Bulldogs Unleashed was an unqualified success:
- Raise funds to support the work of Batavia’s parks, public library, and schools. The fiscal objective was $10,000 (net) for each collaborative partner; the final overall net total was $75,793.34.
- Celebrate the 100th anniversary of Batavia Unified School District 101, and celebrate the 65th anniversary of the bulldogs. Several designs celebrated Batavia schools, and all “let the dogs out.”
- Draw attention to Batavia as the “arts capital of the Fox River Valley” and promote access to the arts, culture, and entertainment in Batavia. Exceeded expectations, based on reports in the news media, as well as anecdotal evidence.
- Nurture a community in which the arts, culture, and entertainment contribute to Batavia’s economic vitality and quality of life. Based on reports from the mayor’s office and the chamber of commerce, “Bulldogs Unleashed” attracted many new visitors to Batavia.
- Support local and regional artists by providing an opportunity to participate in a collaborative public arts project. More than 40 artists submitted more than 90 designs, and 22 artists were commissioned to paint 30 bulldogs.
Friends of Hackley Public Library (Muskegon, Mich.)
Friends of Hackley Public Library had an exceptional year in 2011. In one year, the Friends reached its goal of raising $100,000 to renovate the library’s children’s department. The Friends worked on a Literary Landmark dedication through ALTAFF, and to help pay for it, competed in a Facebook contest and won a mini-grant from the Community Foundation for Muskegon County. The group increased its membership. The Friends board successfully nominated Director Martha Ferriby for a national “I Love My Librarian” award (one of 10 winners among 1,700 nominees). The Friends theorize that one unique 2011 event, a Royal Wedding Breakfast, precipitated a snowball effect that helped achieve these events.
Friends President Kathleen Snider had the idea for the Royal Wedding Breakfast, hosted by the Friends. Snider received the board’s approval, and formed a committee consisting of three members of the Friends board and two other non-Friends members who she knew would like to work on the project. They reserved a sports bar downtown for the early hours of April 29. The venue had 23 large-screen television sets. For $8 a person, the restaurant provided a buffet breakfast of eggs, sausage, English muffins, scones, tea, and coffee. The committee ordered a wedding cake to be served after breakfast. Several silent auction items keeping with theme were obtained, including English china, a replica of Kate Middleton’s ring, and a book of stamps issued at the time of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding. Snider solicited underwriting for the event, and raised $950 from individuals who supported the library.
The committee mailed formal wedding invitations to Friends members, and the event was publicized through newsletter articles, press releases, and radio interviews. The local newspaper, eager for a local slant on an international news items, gave extensive coverage to the project, with a large preview article that incorporated an interview with Snider, and two half-page spreads of print and photos following the event. In all publicity, attendees were encouraged to wear hats and gloves, and the Friends goal of raising funds for the children’s department was described.
On the day of the event, committee members arrived at 3:45 a.m. to transform the sports bar for the breakfast, decorating with teacups, flowers, linen cloths, white netting, and British flags. They handed out favors of almonds, incorporated the British tradition of the hidden lily, and recruited a greeter and usher in top hat and tails. Doors were to open at 5:30 a.m. for the 6 a.m. wedding, but many guests arrived at 5 a.m. Using a plumed pen, attendees signed a guest book, which was sent to the royal couple along with information on the breakfast — the Friends received a thank-you note from Prince William and Kate. The total number of tickets sold was 140, and 119 people attended. After the wedding ceremony, Director Martha Ferriby gave a short talk, greeting the guests and describing both the Friends organization and the library’s renovation project and goals.
Profits from the breakfast were $3,020. The good community relations generated by the event and the publicity it gave to the children’s department renovation resulted in an increase of donations toward the campaign goal. The Friends membership chairperson kept a list of names and addresses for everyone who bought a ticket to the breakfast. In September 2011, the Friends board sent a recruitment letter to prospective members from this list, and within one month the Friends had 16 new members.
In addition, the breakfast created a greater bond among board members. At the annual meeting of the Friends six weeks later, two new board members volunteered to lead the project of applying to ALTAFF for a Literary Landmark.
To help finance the project, the Friends entered the project in a Facebook-based mini-grant competition sponsored by the local community foundation. Top vote-getters would receive $500 toward their activity. In part because of the good publicity the Friends had received surrounding the breakfast, the Literary Landmark project solicited enough comments on Facebook to be a winner. The Literary Landmark, honoring Verna Aardema Vugteveen, was dedicated on June 12.
Friends of the Troy (Mich.) Public Library
The City of Troy held a general millage election that would have offset declining funding for police, roads, and the library. The millage failed by a wide margin, largely due to a very aggressive and vocal anti-tax political organization in the city. The city then held special budget sessions in which cutbacks were discussed, including defunding and closing the library.
The Friends of the Troy Public Library (FTPL) spoke against closure at every council session, and submitted a petition with 1,000 resident’s signatures calling on council to find alternative solutions to closure. In addition, the FTPL board submitted a letter requesting and suggesting other ways of dealing with the funding issue.
In March 2010, the Troy City Council voted to close the library in July 2011, at the end of the library’s fiscal year. FTPL received numerous phone calls and emails asking what the Friends were planning to do to stop this from happening. The Friends executive board decided that the group would solicit expert advice about how to proceed.
Research was conducted on library funding options, as well as the importance of libraries globally and locally, how they are funded, other millage efforts, and the economic and civic impact on communities. The group also researched the Troy tax code, charter, laws, budget process, and voting procedures. The Friends asked library professionals in Michigan for advice, met with library directors in the region, visited area libraries, and hired an attorney. The Friends met with the city manager and financial director, the tax assessor, the city clerk, and city attorney. The Friends did not have the open support of the mayor and city council because after the February millage loss, there was a lack of political will on their part to support another millage.
The Friends announced in the paper and newsletter that the general annual Friends meeting would discuss alternative library funding and various ways libraries could be established in Michigan. The event drew 200 people and the press. Two additional public forums were held. The Friends produced six pamphlets titled “Friends Facts” to advocate for the importance of libraries in a community, and to educate the public about the kinds of funding available to libraries in Michigan.
The Friends board agreed that Friends would advocate for a millage that would establish an MCL PA 164 library in Troy. The group contacted Friends of Michigan Libraries and United for Libraries (then ALTAFF) for input on what the advocacy role of the Friends should be. The group made certain during the process to stay within the guidelines of a nonprofit and to protect the organization from scrutiny in the increasingly politically divided community.
A member of the FTPL Board, acting as an individual, set up a ballot questionnaire committee (Citizens to Save Troy Public Library, or CSTPL), along with a volunteer treasurer who was a CPA. Fundraising for CSTPL and other campaign efforts emanated separately from the Friends. A steering committee was recruited from interested people in the community who had already reached out to FTPL. During the city budget sessions in the spring, they encouraged library supporters to wear red shirts when going to the meetings and speaking. Thus, the mayor and city council members could easily discern the large number of library supporters in the audience.
The first event of the campaign was a “Save the Library Rally” held June 10. Approximately 300 people attended over three hours, and the event had good press coverage and persuasive speakers. Volunteer contact information was collected, as were signatures for the ballot initiative for an independent library for 10 years. The necessary number of signatures was collected that afternoon.
A communications consulting company was hired to direct and assist efforts. This was a key component for putting together a cohesive strategy and executing activities in a timely way. Voter records were obtained from the city clerk, and more targeted voting information was purchased for walking and mailing. The group built a robust field organization that was vital to educating the public. An FTPL board member with campaign experience headed the field operation; she put together one or two volunteer captains in each of 31 precincts, and assisted coordination of walkers and callers in all precincts.
Efforts included the following:
- Walking all precincts in Troy at least once (most twice).
- Mailing to absentee voters three times and all registered households six times.
- Sending an educational mailer dispelling rumors and focusing on documented facts about the library and library funding.
- Purchasing two full-page ads in the local newspaper.
- Conducting an ongoing letter to the editor campaign.
- Giving out 100 t-shirts with the group’s logo.
- Purchasing and delivering 1,000 yard signs to supporters
- Distributing 300 red rubber bracelets to children and adults that said “Save Troy Public Library.”
- Delivering more than 80 speeches to community groups.
- Participating in a televised panel discussion sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
- Utilizing social networking tools.
- Mailing fundraising requests to more than 300 local businesses.
- UnManaging a dedicated website that allowed for donations via PayPal.
The FTPL board was key to the millage effort through their critical participation. Full time management of the campaign was done by the president, the field organization was done by the membership chair, the fundraising was done by the member at large/community liaison, the tech support was done by the IT chair, and all members contributed to ground efforts. The important task of keeping FTPL’s two fundraising entities operational during the time was done by the vice president.
As an organization and as individuals, the Friends were somewhat unprepared for anti-tax/millage/library sentiment that was running through the community. They did not expect political obfuscation and negative campaigning by the opposition. It created a more difficult environment in which to make the case for the library, but the group managed in some measure to use that to it is advantage. By continuing to stay on message, the group was able to solidify the support base to rally with even greater resolve.
The FTPL stayed focused on the value of the library as an asset to the community, and worked diligently to avoid the ancillary political fray that grew out of the contentious political climate in Troy. The group developed an enhanced advocacy role model for the community as well as TPL patrons, because funding will continue to be a hot-button issue in municipalities going forward. With the current library millage funding in Troy ending in five years, it will be a short turn-around before the issue will be faced again.
It took two library millage elections to save the library in Troy. The first millage originated by the FTPL/ CSTPL would have created a PA 164 of 1877, seven-days-a-week library at .9885 mils for 10 years. It lost by only 677 votes (out of more than 30,000 cast). The second millage (initiated by the city) would maintain the library as a city department, opened six days a week at .7 mills for five years. It passed in August 2011 with 58 percent of the vote.
The people involved in the library ballot millage initiative created a second organization to continue the battle that the Friends began. They are Troy Residents United for a Strong Troy (TRUST) and were integral in the passage of the second millage. From the groundwork laid out and the lessons learned by FTPL, they were able to take a more aggressive approach than the nonprofit could. The Friends and subsequently TRUST have been able to create an important and influential voting bloc in the city.
As the Friends develop a three-year strategic plan, advocacy is the group’s number one priority. The Friends realize that advocacy must be integrated into every action, event, or activity the Friends do or support. It is important for Friends groups to learn and know who they are reaching and who they need to reach. There is nothing more critical to the Friends than the long-term security of the community library.