Open Space and Law of Two Feet

Deborah Schultz has a picture of a poster labelling the every famous “law of two feet” from the “open space” practices of various community developers.

I would like to draw attention to these practices as much as I can. I think they are extremely important to library, and that libraries can be great facilitators of these sort of movements.

Inspiring Words for New Librarians, and My Help too?

T. Scott Plutchak the Director at Lister Hill Library of the Health Sciences, has a highly inspirational entry in his blog about creating and fostering a change-friendly organization. I think there is advice in there for young and not-so-young. As a so-called “accidental library manager” I was glad to read his advice because my position is a) to be the one to give credit to the people who do the work and to take credit when things go wrong and b) to try and establish credibility and to be the one that is trusted enough to be given any task and to come through.

Here are some my words as a new manager trying to evoke change in an organization.

  • You do not have to break the wall to overcome it.

My favorite change analogy is the “brick wall.” As in, “I nearly got <technology x> established in my organization and then I hit a brick wall.” Trying to be “The Other Librarian” now, I say to the myself: “What business did you have trying to run into a brick wall anyway? Didn’t you see the brick wall before you charged into it?”

Organizations need brick walls to survive. Walls are not necessarily a bad thing. Look at beautiful Quebec City: it has walls and is all the more charming because of it.

My mistake earlier on was that I thought the wall was the problem. In fact, it was my own resolve that was the real problem. Maybe a better idea would have been to walk up to the wall, check for loose bricks and then poke a hole in the wall. With that hole, maybe I can make a bigger hole and then crawl through. Maybe I can use the hole to climb over the wall. Maybe I can use the brick to dig a hole under the wall. Who knows? The point is that there are many options to overcome a barrier. You don’t have to play “Juggernaut” every time you want to bring change to an organization.

  • Do not let “Issues” and “Impacts” change your direction.

When you have an idea, you may begin to think “oh but if we do that, then we’ll have to do this, and that has impacts on x, y, and z.” Maybe the issues are money-related or staff time, but, in the end, an “issue” is often another word for “work.” And, (surprise!) “work” is what you were hired to do!

The way around this, is to write the issues down, and separate them from your recommendation. Think about your recommendation in terms of benefits first, then costs and “issues.” If you think the benefits are worth the costs, then go ahead and propose it. The “issues” column will be there to help you plan ahead, but it should not scare you off your idea. Don’t let it.

  • If you can’t make it happen now, what can you do to make it happen later?

Ok. You came up with this great idea that could revolutionarize librarianship forever, but when you proposed it at the last meeting your colleagues looked at you as if you were from Mars. Maybe your senior management team says “good idea, but this is not a priority right now.” The winds are now out of your sails, right?

Hold on. Priorities are important. Libraries have limited budgets and often would rather put them toward a small number of really important things than a whole bunch of mundane activities. But making priorities sometimes means a medium-important thing does not make the list. The good news is that it is not off the list forever.

So, what can you do? Spend a half-hour and create a mini-plan for your idea. Identify the premise of the idea and its benefits, and estimate costs, timeline, target audience. Then put it in your files in a folder called something like “ideas for later.” Then wait.

One day, your boss will walk into your office and say “I just got this pot of money from a grant (or donor or end-of year or whatever) and I am stuck with no plan or ideas on what to do about it.” Or “We just hired this intern and I don’t know what to do with him/her). That’s when you will put your hand in your file cabinet and hand your miniplan to your boss. The plan might or might not be a fit, but having these little plans will go a long way toward convincing him/her that you are a person that will make things happen in your organization.

That’s that for now.

What I’ve learned from a non-librarian about fundraising for libraries

My very favorite non-librarian, of course, is my wife, Wanda. She is a fundraising consultant and has about 10 years of experience in this realm. It is a job for which I have no skill at all.

Wanda is a master networker. She can go into a room, talk to someone for 10 minutes and know everything about her: her family, her interests and hobbies, likes and dislikes and so on. The skill that enables her to achieve this result include not only a savvy question-asking ability and a good memory, but a genuine interest in the lives of others.

Although I have done effective networking in my life, I will never be able to become a fundraiser because I do not have Wanda’s last quality. Do not get me wrong, I am not particularly self-centred or unemphathetic, but I am more interested in people’s ideas than in their lives. I love to challenge and discuss ideas and I think that is part of what makes me a good librarian. I have often thought that public libraries are much about a person’s possibilities.

I wonder if this emphasis on ideas over lives is a cultural icon of all libraries. If so, it may be a challenge for libraries when they think of fundraising.

Although I will never be a good fundraiser, I am interested keenly in what Wanda does. I love to ask her general questions about how professionals do fundraising and I thought it would be interesting to share what I think I have learned. A standard disclaimer of course: these ideas are my own and not Wanda’s. The first advice I can offer is this: get a professional fundraiser — not a librarian — to handle the fundraising. It’s the difference between making a sand castle on your own or calling an architect to build you a first-class building.

  • Lesson One: Telethons, book sales and community car washes are not fundraising

Well, this is not entirely true. These sorts of activities are called “Special Events Giving.” But I say this is “not fundraising” to say that Wanda is not a telemarketer. If you think fundraisers are just telemarketers, stop now — it’s like thinking a librarian is someone who selves books.

The money that gets raised from special events is small-time in the grand scheme of things. It can boost your collection, or pay a few extra bills, but the real benefit from special events is the community support it builds, and librarians have the community support thing down-pat. In other words, bottle drives, fundraising dinners etc. keep “giving” in the minds of their community, so you can have a positive image when you go out and do “real” fundraising.

  • Lesson Two: The big bucks is to be found from community-minded individuals, not corporations

There’s no doubt that you could get some bucks from a corporation like Microsoft. The thing to remember is that Microsoft’s primary “charity” is their investors. A CEO cannot really just say “sure, have some money because you folks are a great cause.”

Think about what this means. Would you want someone to take your money and just give it away to a charity that you may or may not care about?

So, that they can engage in charitable giving, corporations usually develop giving policies. The good news is that you can read the policy and get a quick idea whether or not the institution will consider your application. The bad news is that this money may not be as much as you think and there could be strings.

The real giving comes from individuals. “Bill Gates,” you say? Well, yes. But remember that everyone knows that Bill Gates has money, so everyone will be asking him. That’s probably why he developed the Bill and Melissa Gates foundation, to help him and his wife manage their giving.

Wanda likes to recommend Thomas Stanley and William Danko’s The Millionaire Next Door to others. The thing she tries to say is that there is some good money to be found in quiet neighbourhoods. Many millionaires are millionaires because they do not have a lavish lifestyle. They choose to save their money rather than live in expensive or lavish communities. Then  they leave large bequests or gifts to an institution or charity that really tugged at their heart strings and did not forget them in their campaigns.

  • Lesson Three: Being a rich person’s friend and being an influential fundraiser are two different things

My home town, Halifax, Nova Scotia has a reputation for hosting an “old boys network,” meaning that many influential decisions are supposedly decided on golf courses, among a small group of people, usually men.  Some people think that they way to make big money (through fundraising or sales or whatnot) is to wine and dine some rich mogul, speak smoothly and suavely and then tell them they should consider parting their cash on some product or charity. This idea of an “old boys network” is very much overstated, but even if there was a group of “old boys” making decisions, this strategy is a poor approach to fundraising.

I know a few people with funds to spare. I have absolutely no influence on how they would spend their money. Think about it. How many of your not-so-rich friends would part with large chunks of their money to the library simply because you asked them to. Ok. So the occasional pin or box of cookies. Or $20 at Christmas in lieu of gifts. What about asking them to up that $20 to $1000, $5000 or $10,000?

Now how do you think that affluent person feels about you asking them to donate big cash, simply because it is your place of work and they have lots of money?

  • Fundraising is 75% research, 15% networking, 9.9% planning and 0.1% asking for money.

Ok. Think about giving $1000 to one charity. I’m saying $1000 because I know this is a fairly large (but not impossible) chunk of change from a librarian’s salary. Where is the money going to go? It’s not going to go to your friend’s charity I’ll bet — not unless that friend has demonstrated to you that that charity is going to address something that is extremely important to you.

So now think that you want to ask me, Ryan Deschamps, for $1000 for a charity.  Any one. Let’s say it is not a library for now.

What might you do?

Well, if you are smart, you will find out as much about me as you possibly can. So, you ask around, search the Internet and so on.

What kind of information do you need? Well, how about finding out what charities I donated money to previously? I believed in them before, why not now? What are my big policy interests? Community Development? Education? Health and Fitness? Young People? World Peace? What are my personal constraints? Am I renovating my house? Are my kids starting college? If so, you might consider waiting a little before asking me.

Then you might say “hello.” If you are like Wanda and have a genuine interest in the lives of people, you will ask me to talk about myself and share my interests. You might here my say something like “Man, literacy is such a big issue. Kids are coming out of school these days and they can’t even write a half decent report!” or maybe “This city needs more ideas to get things cooking” or “wow. Diabetes is such a killer, it’s so scary and yet so preventable too.”

Ding-ding-ding! You now have a better idea of what pulls my heart strings.
Once you know my interests, have met me once or twice, then you come up with an asking strategy. Are you going to call me directly or are you going to get my wife, a good friend, or a co-worker to ask me? Are you sure that $1000 is the right number to ask? Might I be willing to put more in? Might I think that $1000 is a crazy insane amount of money to put into a single charity and then not even give you $100?

After all this work — this is when you ask. And chances are, it is your only shot at my $1000. If I say “no,” you can’t really come back and ask for more or less or for support in another cause. That would just be annoying to me and I would tell you to “get lost.”

These are a few tips I have created based on the 1%  I know about Wanda’s job. My hope is that it puts a different spin on fundraising for librarians old and new.

I do have to say — yet again — get a professional to help you out with any big campaigns.

At the beginning of this entry I said I am not a good fundraiser and that might be because I am a librarian. I always think about people for their possibilities. I want to open the doors of knowledge to people so they can be what they want to be.  This is the attitude I get from alot of other librarians too.
The money collected from fundraising may be about possibilities, but the actual fundraising is not. Fundraising is about the lives of donors. A major gift (ie. not Girl Guide cookies) means something to the people who give them. It is not a social activity or an exercise in invention, but an attempt at self-actualization. It is one of the truly great ways to say “I am a human being and I care.”

Maybe marriage is a good analogy for a major gift. A major gift is a marriage to a good cause. It needs to feel like “the right thing to do” at the pledge, the point of giving, the morning after that, and for every anniversary hence from paper to diamond. People give because it makes their lives more whole. As iconic as those achievers of the “Great American Dream” appear, they are still human beings who are in need of fulfillment like everyone else. For some givers, libraries may just be the source of fulfillment they are looking for.

Internet Skills and Gender

An article from Popular Science: women think they are less able to use the Internet than men.

The study, co-authored by researchers from Northwestern and Princeton universities, identified several trends in Internet adeptness that made perfect sense (younger users were better than older ones; more educated trumped less educated). But because the Internet is a relatively new tool, researchers hypothesized that men and women would be equally skilled surfers.

Not so, their study shows. True, women and men are on an equal playing field in terms of skills. But when asked to rate themselves, women consistently stated that they were less able than men. At the same time, men as a group rated their skills significantly higher than women’s.

This perception is a killer in the library field, and not just for women. No one benefits when a stereotype like this develops in a society.

Women out there! You know as much as the men do about technology (especially Web 2.0). Don’t let self-doubt hold you back.

Men out there! Don’t underestimate your female colleagues to the point that it keeps them down. Make some room at the tech table thankyouverymuch!