Friends are citizens interested in providing support for the library’s programs and services. They are volunteers that work with the local library staff and trustees to find out how the Friends could help to provide grassroots support of some programs and/or services. Friends groups are limited only by the imaginations of their members and of course by the charge under which they operate.
Friends usually have their own 501(c)(3) designation from the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) and are registered with the Secretary of State’s office, or they can be under the “umbrella” of another group with this designation such as a local community foundation. This gives them official recognition and allows people to make donations that have certain tax advantages.
The benefits to be gained from the activities of a Friends group are numerous. Before a Friends group is initiated for your library, however, the primary mission and function of the group should be determined. Involve the library’s board, staff and committed community members in this important discussion.
The Friends group should not be formed based on a vote by the library board, though the board may vote to allow a member of the community to create the group. If it is created by a vote of the library board it will always be considered an arm of the library and be subject to the same laws and regulations of the library. This will limit the ability of the group to raise and expend funds as it may wish, and may keep the group from achieving 501(c)3 status. Best practices for Friends groups include:
- Obtain 501(c)(3) status and maintain an arm's length relationship to the library.
- Remember that, if independent from the board, a Friends group is not subject to state purchasing guidelines.
- Do not use library funds to set it up the group.
- **Keep in mind that the cost to set up a Friends group is minimal and it is considerably easier to create than a foundation.
- Identify a community member who is well respected to head up formation of the Friends group.
- Create articles of incorporation, bylaws, and appoint or elect officers.
- Contact the Friends of Kentucky Libraries for support and advice.
- Safeguard the use of the library’s name in fundraising and other areas, by considering entering into an agreement with the Friends group regarding the use of the library name and the disposition of any funds collected utilizing the library name or any derivation of that name.
Some of the most commonly cited benefits for the library (and the community) include:
- Increased appreciation of the library
- A better understanding of the function and operation of the library
- Expanded services and programs with the assistance of volunteers
- New bequests, donations, and gifts
- More active campaigns to raise money to purchase library materials and equipment
- Strong support for library issues and challenges (e.g., referendum, intellectual freedom, funding)
- Enhanced community involvement.
** see note on Tax Exempt Status
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