Parks, museums, and libraries are some of the most popular public attractions for people looking to relax, learn, and enjoy their free time. Despite the important function they play in our lives and communities; these institutions often face budget cuts and reduced funding. Whether their funding is reallocated to other projects or to support essential services, it can sometimes spell doom for these organizations.
In communities throughout the country, groups of committed citizens have partnered with local governments to fill this critical gap. They are developing non-profit organizations, sometimes called “Friends Of” groups, that serve to increase awareness, raise money, garner political support, apply for grants, and provide programming for public libraries, parks, and museums of all types. Below are three examples of some non-profit “Friends groups” and how they are working with community government and business leaders to ensure citizens continue to enjoy the benefits of these assets, whether it’s an educational stroll in a picturesque park or the all-encompassing resources of a great library.
Rittenhouse Square is a historic neighborhood park at the center of one of Philadelphia’s original five squares, which was planned by the city’s founder, William Penn, in the 17th century. The park offers residents a place to relax among the trees, walk their dogs, and take in the many beautiful sculptures featured in the park.
The beauty of the park is largely thanks to the Friends of Rittenhouse Square organization’s efforts to “preserve, protect, and beautify” the park. The non-profit was started in 1976 to help bridge the gap between the funds provided by the city and the cost to maintain the park. The Friends of Rittenhouse Square have a public-private partnership with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and, together, they fund and manage the park’s projects, programs, and events.
The organization raises funds through its membership program, special events, private donations, sponsorships, and capital campaigns. The Friends of Rittenhouse organization has raised $2.3 million over the past four years through their programs, events, and donations. The group is closing in on its 50th year of supporting the park and helping to provide the people of Philadelphia with a beautiful place to unwind.
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The Denver Art Museum was founded in 1893 and was originally called the Denver Artists’ Club before taking its current name in 1923. The museum itself is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is funded through the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) tax that is collected and then distributed to nearly 300 organizations in the seven-county Denver metro region. The tax brings in more than $60 million every year which is then divided among the almost 300 institutions.
The museum uses this tax income along with large private donations and membership program fees to fund its operations. With the museum memberships, you also have the added option of becoming a “Museum Friend” or a “Museum Associate” for an extra cost. The extra cost not only supports this great institution, but it also grants “Museum Friends” free admission to talks by scholars, curators, and contemporary artists visiting the museum and access to social and enrichment events.
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The Seattle Public Library was founded in 1891 when they opened a single reading room in the Occidental Building at Pioneer Square. The library has gone through a lot in its 132 years including several moves and even a fire that destroyed most of its collection back in 1901. Although the library was able to survive the fire, World War I, and The Great Depression, it needed some help to stay open.
In 1941, the Friends of The Seattle Public Library was organized with the goal of increasing public awareness and financial support for the library. Today, the Friends group works to “elevate the library and inspire the love of reading in our communities” by sponsoring programs, providing volunteers, and collaborating with other library and civic groups along with their original mission of increasing awareness and financial support. Their support has allowed the library to continue serving the Seattle community for the last 82 years, including support of notable projects such as an initiative to hire a community resource specialist that connects marginalized populations with essential social services. The Friends of the Seattle Public Library organization has raised $1.7 million between 2017 to 2020 through their programs, events, and donations.
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The “Friends groups” mentioned here and countless others were born out of a deep passion for the arts, libraries, and greenspace and an astute understanding of the impact these entities have on education, physical and mental health, placemaking, and revenue generation. These non-profit groups provide invaluable support by advocating for these facilities, organizing events, and generating funds that go towards maintenance and improvement projects. Also worth noting are the city leaders that cultivated an environment that not only saw the importance of these institutions but the critical nature of working with the community to maximize the impact of these city treasures.
In short, these “Friends groups” aren’t just friends to the assets that they support. They are friends to the entire community that those assets serve.