A few Mondays ago, I started my day with a 7am, three hour drive from North Carolina to Florence, South Carolina. Ambling south through lush coastal landscapes and sprawling tobacco farms, I finally arrived at my destination.
Slowly driving up to the main entrance I thought: no, this isn't it. I was looking for the Florence County Public Library. My GPS had brought me to an absolutely massively gorgeous neo-classical limestone building that couldn't be more than twenty years old. But there across the entrance it read, the Doctors Bruce and Lee Foundation Library. THIS is the library?!
I made my way to the employee entrance where I met Aubrey Carroll, information services manager and Foundation Center Funding Information Network (FIN) supervisor at the library. We had a quick meet and greet and then jumped directly into teaching an Introduction to Proposal Writing class for 30+ attendees.
The class participants were absolutely fantastic: deeply engaged in problem solving for their community and ready to learn how to improve their grantseeking skills. Most of the learners found out about the class through Aubrey's connection with the local community foundation--the community foundation is a partner in marketing the library's programming and resources for local nonprofits.
The whole morning made for a wonderful experience. In little over an hour, I saw first-hand how well the social sector intersects with the local library, providing not only the needed resources for nonprofits to thrive, but also a (unexpectedly impressive) physical place for those nonprofits to convene and make meaningful connections.
The stop in Florence was one of eight I made during the course of a week of travel down the east coast in June. At each library I met with the library professionals responsible for the social sector resources, and each time I was impressed by the library's space and resources as well as the librarians' dedication to service.
How FIN Libraries Help The Social Sector
It may have been a long time since visiting your local library, and that's just fine. But it 's worth letting you know: many libraries are thriving. And many libraries, like the one I was lucky enough to visiting in South Carolina, have the resources and the people power to help you advance your work in the social sector. Here 's how:
- Libraries are everywhere. So are many Funding Information Network (FIN) locations. Foundation Center 's network includes more than 450 libraries and nonprofit resources center equipped with Foundation Center 's grantseeking databases (including Foundation Directory Online) and our basic training curriculum. Find the FIN closest to you.
- Libraries are awesome because librarians are awesome. At libraries--and at our FINs--you won't just find a collection of books and databases; you 'll find people to help you. They won't be able to write the grant for you, but there are many librarians out there, just like Aubrey, who can help you get started on your research and can help you connected with other key community organizations, like community foundations or consultants.
- Libraries are free. Well, sort of. We know that public libraries are usually funded through local tax support. So go take advantage of the resource you are funding! At any of the libraries or other organization in our network, you can access Foundation Center's databases for free. You can develop your first prospect list with FDO or check out the state of funding in your area on Foundation Maps.
- Libraries are deeply connected to the social sector given the very nature of their missions. Libraries exist to serve the needs of their community. They are a natural partner to nonprofits and philanthropists. Libraries are a great place to try out programming, establish a referral network, and connect with like-minded community leaders.
- Libraries aren't just book centers, they're also business centers. Beyond nonprofit resources, you might find a plethora of other support for your nonprofit or social good startup. From meeting spaces to patent assistance to 3-D printers for prototyping, libraries are extending their services far beyond book groups.
Foundation Center has a long history of partnership with libraries--we were even originally called a library, founded as the Foundation Library Center. We continue to hire many librarians (myself included) to support our work in our offices and innovation hubs. Our relationship with libraries will only continue to deepen.
We were recently awarded a Knight Foundation News Challenge grant, which will give us the ability to build a custom data visualization tool specifically for libraries, to help them identify new funding and to help library supporters strategize their funding initiatives.
With increased funding, more libraries will be able to better serve their communities--and the more likely you'll find the support you need at the library in your neighborhood. More on that project in a forthcoming post.
In the meantime go on, pay your library a visit, and see how they can help you strengthen your work in the social sector.
KATE TKACIK is manager of the Funding Information Network at Foundation Center. Kate provides leadership on the strategic engagement and growth of this network of 450+ domestic and international partners. Find her online at thelifeguardlibrarian.tumblr.com and @lifegdlibrarian on Twitter.
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