You’ve Got Questions About Friends Groups and We’ve Got Answers

RAILS (Reaching Across Illinois Libraries) is the library system for northern Illinois.  It has a marketing networking group that meets every two months to discuss and share information about library marketing issues.

At the May 29 meeting, the agenda included how best to handle the issues that sometimes arise with Friends groups.  Since the last two posts on Illinois Libraries Matter were on Friends groups, I thought it might be helpful to those who are interested in learning more about how to start Friends groups and how to manage them to post this excerpt from the meeting minutes.

Friends Groups

The discussion began with Friends Groups and a number of issues were raised:

  • Exclusive focus is on the book sale
  • Small number of people involved
  • Struggle for control of Friends’ assets
  • Members dying off
  • Need to get new people in but unsure how to do this
  • Would a “junior” Friends group be a solution?
  • Friends viewing fundraising revenue as “their” money
  • Attitude that the Library doesn’t care about the Friends, so why should the Friends care about the library
  • Excessive restrictions on the use of funds raised by Friends
  • Can you have a Friends group and a Foundation?
  • Tension between the board and the library and the Friends group
  • What legal restrictions are there on funds from a book store that is open every day or a few days a week
  • Do we include Friends groups in Strategic Planning?
  • How do you fire a volunteer?


  • One library that had three fundraising groups brought in a consultant to study the situation and then consolidated the groups, bringing in “movers and shakers” from the community to provide leadership
  • Friends groups should manage themselves
  • By-laws should govern Friends groups and clarify that the Friends mission is to support the Library
  • People put off the “20-second conversation”:  a) Explain what is needed; 2) Say:  “You don’t seem to be able to do that now.  Take a week to think about it and then let me know what you decide to do.”
  • Library volunteers should be separate from Friends groups and should be managed by a dedicated volunteer coordinator
  • When it comes to Friends groups, you get what you get
  • There are some personalities that are difficult to work with
  • Have a strategy meeting: reinforce that their role is to support the library
  • Talk about needs and expectations
  • Have to have talking back and forth
  • Be political; schmooze your Friends; respect them; show appreciation for what they do; thank them, formally and informally
  • Your library director should be the formal liaison to the Friends group although other staff members may attend Friends meetings and an employee should be at every Friends meeting

At Huntley Area Public Library:

  • There are 250 Friends members; 80 are volunteers
  • They have a board; one of their board members attends meeting of the Library board

At Brookfield:

  • The Library Director is the liaison and there is a Board Member liaison and they attend every Friends meeting
  • People are more interested in volunteering when they know their role and mission
  • Saying “We want your opinion,” will make volunteers more receptive to getting involved
  • ILA (Illinois Library Association) can act as a vehicle for Friends revenues for the purpose of donating them to the Library

Elizabeth Neill is a member of the RAILS Marketing Group and lives in Elmhurst. 


Join the RAILS Marketing Group online on their Facebook page.

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