Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Another Thing I Didn't Learn in Grad School: It's All About Relationships

I've talked before about the kinds of things I didn't learn in graduate school, but there's one I've been thinking about a lot lately - and that's the need for relationship building skills. Everything I do almost every day gets down to building relationships. Writing my blog? That's my relationship with the profession. Creating and watching over the budget? That's my relationship with the finance office, my staff, and many others. Teaching? My relationship with faculty and students. I didn't understand that when I was new in the field, and it's taken me years to learn. I've made lots of mistakes, including accidentally burning a bridge that it took me about a year to rebuild. Since one adventure in relationship building recently bore fruit, though, I thought I'd share.

I've been trying to build a connection with the Vice President for Institutional Advancement (VP of IA) ever since I first showed up on campus. (I know IA is a fairly widely known term in higher ed circles, but for those of you who are in public or special or other kinds of libraries: institutional advancement is what colleges and universities typically call the people who do fundraising for the institution. By "advancement" we mean financial advancement.)

When I was brand new, I tried to meet with as many departments as possible, to share my ideas, to see how I could help them and their areas, but mostly to say hi. With the VP of IA, I opened with a few small scale ideas - things that could help IA in general, things that could benefit both IA and the library, and so on. We chatted about the major fundraising push he was shepherding at that time, and left it that we would check in again at some later date.

Though the tone of the meeting was fairly negative, I didn't get discouraged. I went out of my way to help people in his department. I reworked the library's process for taking in book donations to make it as easy as possible for IA to handle their part of the process. We don't have an archivist and our archives are in need of a lot of work, so when IA staff needed materials from the archives, I helped them. I kept in touch with the VP, but in casual ways - chatted with him whenever I saw him at campus events, asked for his advice on something related to the aforementioned form, and so on.

Then, a few months ago, I got a great idea from my mentor: she suggested I create a wishlist of items, naming opportunities in the library and the like, and bring that list to the VP of IA.

He loved it.

So, almost a year after I met with him originally, the VP of IA asked me to write a letter that his department could then send to people who had given to the library in the past. In the letter I talked about the library's recent efforts, focusing on our successes. I shared my ambitions for the library, and thanked past donors for their support. The letter included the wishlist, with a range of giving opportunities from books all the way up to having the archives named for the donor. IA edited my letter, then I wrote a brief message and signed each one by hand (and we're talking hundreds of letters... my hand hurt for a couple of days after).

The letters were mailed a little over a week ago, so it's too soon to know if this first effort will yield anything. I have hopes that this will be me soon:

Mo' Monies! (Source)

Realistically, though, we'll be lucky if we get much right now. Even if we don't get anything, it will still have been worth my time. People who have had the library in mind in the past are being reminded that giving directly to the library is an option. Also, staff in IA have a specific list of library related giving opportunities in case a prospective donor mentions something like, "I can only give $1000 right now, but will that have much impact?" Most importantly, though, I have strengthened relationships across and beyond the campus walls. All this because I took my time, cultivated connections, and heard the VP of IA's initial negative response for what it really was: it was a "not now."

I know there are plenty of people who read my blog who don't work in academic libraries. I also know the majority of you aren't administrators. Think of it this way: libraries are all about relationships. What kinds of relationships could you be building right now? Who can you help who might, later on, be able to help you? 

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