Libraries Supporting Social Good: Tools and Tips for Outreach to Nonprofits

Libraries should be engaged with their local social sector community. Social sector organizations are a critical part of the community because they provide much-needed services. They also make great programming partners and library advocates, and they may be part of your referral network for library patrons. The social sector is also a huge part of the economy, accounting for 10.3 percent of all private sector employment.

At our December 2016 webinar we heard from two guests who talked about how libraries can engage the social sector in their communities. Kate Tkacik joined us from the Foundation Center's Funding Information Network. She shared an overview of the social sector as well as many resources available to libraries for information and training. Jennifer Beggans shared her experience as head of the Regional Foundation Center at the Free Library of Philadelphia's Business Resource and Innovation Center. She shared some of the specific tactics they have used to conduct outreach and support the nonprofit and social good community in the greater Philadelphia area.

Kate TkacikJennifer Beggans

Images: Kate Tkacik (left), Jennifer Beggans (right)

What Is the Social Sector?

The social sector includes traditional nonprofits and charities. Traditional nonprofits might serve community needs like animal shelters, after-school programs, and services for those who are homeless. Social good organizations also include businesses and entrepreneurs with an interest in helping to give back to the community and to make the world a better place. These businesses are a part of the community that libraries should include in their services to the social sector. The social sector also includes donors and grantmaking organizations and many other groups that might serve some purpose for a greater social good.

List of Philanthropy and the Social Economy terms - Nonprofits, Churches, C4, C5, C6, Informal Networks, Corporate Social Roles, Sharing Economy, Social Business, Benefit Corps, L3C, Co-ops, Associations, Not invented Yet

Image source: Lucy Bernolz

Information and Training Resources for Nonprofits

Libraries can support the work of nonprofits by providing access to and assistance with information resources. The information needs of nonprofits include prospect research, startup assistance, and referrals to local nonprofit networks and support services.

Prospect research is the process of searching for donors and grantmakers that could potentially fund an organization or project. During the webinar, Kate said that there are over 85,000 grantmaking foundations, but only 10 percent of those have a website. Databases such as the Foundation Directory Online, DonorSearch, and WealthEngine can help in identifying donors. Kate compared prospect research to job seeking or online dating: "You have to find the organization or the individual that makes the right fit" to the nonprofit organization or cause.

Helping New Charities Get Started

Libraries can also help new nonprofits in the startup process. One aspect is finding out what other nonprofits are already doing similar work. GuideStar hosts an online listing of U.S. nonprofits. This information can help new nonprofits identify opportunities for collaboration, and it can also help determine if starting a new nonprofit for that particular cause is really needed.

New nonprofits may also need help learning how to start up, and they may need legal referrals.

Libraries can provide training and programming to help support the work of nonprofits. Areas that are needed most include planning for fundraising, writing proposals, budgeting, and board development. GrantSpace has free training resources and free chat assistance.

GrantSpace website

The Funding Information Network offers an opportunity for libraries to expand or deepen their relationship with local nonprofits. This network, supported by the Foundation Center, comprises more than 450 libraries and nonprofit partners and provides access to a range of nonprofit resources and training. The partnership package includes three core Foundation Center databases, as well as access to a training curriculum that libraries can use to provide workshops to their community.

Funding Information Network map

Engaging Your Local Social Sector — No Need to Do It All Yourself

Libraries can be more effective at engaging their local nonprofits and social good organizations by doing research on local organizations, analyzing trends in what is needed locally, and forming partnerships with local nonprofit service providers. Jennifer shared several tips and tactics during the webinar.

It pays off to do some research on local organizations and individuals. Use a tool like LinkedIn as a way to conduct research and also to connect with individuals. You will want to research who is in the area and what their needs are. You can also research possible guest speakers for programs, or possible partners to work with. You also want to research local meetup groups and events, which you can then attend as part of your outreach to the nonprofit community.

If you intend to offer programs and workshops, remember that you don't need to do it all yourself. Look to potential partners like your Chamber of Commerce or Small Business Administration office as examples of where you can find guest speakers. You can also offer to be a host location for nonprofit meetups, which can help bring in a whole new audience to the library.

workshop participants

Getting Out and Meeting Organizations

In order to analyze data about your services, you will need to gather information about those you are helping. Jennifer recommends using an intake form or appointment request form so the library can see what organizations are coming in and what their needs are. Appointments especially can help in providing a better level of service to the organization seeking assistance. Information gathering can also help the library track and analyze needs over time and identify trends in the community.

One thing Jennifer strongly recommended was to get out into the nonprofit community and cultivate long-term partnerships. "Go out, meet organizations, hand out your business card or materials. You are looking to create mutually beneficial relationships. If you convince someone to come in and do a program once, but you're not offering them anything in return, it's a one-sided relationship, and it's probably going to end. But you really want to create these long-lasting relationships where people keep wanting to come back."

This post provides only a brief overview of the information Kate and Jennifer shared about libraries supporting nonprofits and other social sector organization. Watch the entire webinar here.

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