Tuesday, December 1, 2009

You've got a friend

Over thirty years ago, a group of community-minded citizens got together, determined that their public library should be better. They formed the Friends of Appleton Library (FOAL) and began supporting library programs, working for an improved facility and helping the library develop and grow. FOAL has been helping and giving since 1975. From their beginning, they've provided community to their members, created and promoted programs, and been a voice for our library in the wider community.

The Friends' Building Committee was key in passing the 1978 referendum that led to the construction of our current building. Once the new building was underway, FOAL focused more on program support, and began the FOAL Endowment Fund to create ongoing support for library programs.

In 1985, a group of individuals who felt the need to create more and broader support for the library set up the Appleton Library Foundation. The Foundation undertook a five year campaign and built up a endowment of over a million dollars, with proceeds used as grants for library materials, programs, technology and other innovative ideas. Within a few years, FOAL decided to invest their endowment as a designated fund of the Foundation. Since they began giving grants, the Foundation has given the library nearly a million dollars, while maintaining a strong principle balance in their endowment fund.

With increased support from staff -- especially Elizabeth Eisen, who coordinated volunteers and adult programs -- and a succession of good presidents and committee chairs, FOAL grew stronger, with hundreds of members. They began doing joint planning with the Foundation and helped with fundraisers. The Foundation began funding a library staff person to recruit and coordinate volunteers. The two groups were beginning to move closer together.

In 2008, the Foundation invested their endowment funds through our Community Foundation, leaving their Board with less need to oversee investments. Their new strategic plan called for more collaborations with the Friends. With agreement of FOAL leadership, the Foundation hired Peter Pearson of The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library to conduct a feasibility study of merging the two groups. Pearson's study, in the Fall of 2008, suggested that merger was indeed feasible, provided advice based on the experience of other libraries, and identified several considerations for decision. The two boards continued to discuss the issues, and agreed to hold a joint facilitated planning retreat in the Spring of 2009. The two boards continued to discuss the issues, and agreed on a joint facilitated planning retreat in the Spring of 2009.

Nearly all members of the two boards, including two library board members, attended the planning retreat, and were impressed by the amount of consensus. There was strong agreement on a single statement:

The merger of the Appleton Library Foundation and the Friends of Appleton Library would provide a unified entity which would be more efficient with added functionality, resulting in more resources for the Appleton Public Library – and provide higher visibility in the community and a better utilization of volunteer talents.
It was also agreed the group would work in several areas:
  • Advocate for the library
  • Fund-raise for the library
  • Support programs and services
  • Advise and support library staff
  • Thrive as a membership organization
  • Marketing and public awareness
Deciding that the merged group would be called FOAL, the group charged the two board presidents and the library director with implementing the merger. With generous pro bono legal help from McCarty Law, merger documents and bylaws were drafted and approved by the two groups in the next few months. The initial board of the new FOAL is comprised of all the members of both existing boards who wished to continue, until the membership elects a new board at next year's annual meeting.

After two meetings of the new FOAL Board, they now have: elected officers, a finance policy and budget, an agreement with the Library Board, several committees in place and several in process, and a plan to hire an executive director. They're working on a new logo and thinking about a website, even while several fund-raising events are underway or in planning. It's been a busy time for the library staff, in helping facilitate these efforts, but we're excited and grateful for the thoughtful volunteer efforts of so many good people -- our friends.