This post was contributed by Martha Ball, who has served as the Advancement Intern during the Summer of 2021. Martha is currently pursuing her M.S. in Library and Information Science at Simmons University, where she is concentrating in Archives Management. Martha’s internship was part of the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives’ 50th Anniversary Internship program, with funding provided by the Secretary of the Smithsonian and the Smithsonian National Board.
During my undergraduate studies in Washington, D.C., I was fortunate to be surrounded by world-class museums and cultural heritage institutions, often meeting my art history class at the National Portrait Gallery or partaking in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on weekends. As a visitor and eventually as an employee of such places of learning, I began focusing on the people who brought the collections and organizations as a whole to life. I often linger to read the donor wall in the lobby, take each visitor pamphlet no matter how personally applicable, and compare archives visitation policies. My inferences have informed my career as I now seek to learn what connects supporters to an institution, and how to strengthen this relationship to propel both parties into a future of increased impact.
I was first introduced to the concept of an advocate within the School of Library and Information Science at Simmons University. An advocate in terms of a library, archive, or museum is a supporter invested in the work of an organization, who shares our impact with others to organically spread the word. Smithsonian Libraries and Archives advocates are especially strong, as our supporters have connected with our mission so closely that they choose to focus on our organization out of the wide-ranging Smithsonian portfolio.
This opportunity to work with the Advancement staff at the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives has connected my interests, empowering me to explore what makes an advocate. My projects have focused on the channel of supporters, from inspiring interested audiences to become involved to sharing a purposeful path for them to engage further with the Libraries and Archives’ work. I have focused on new audiences by creating a plan to develop the Libraries and Archives relationship with virtual program attendees, allowing Libraries and Archives to share future events and opportunities that fit these guests’ unique interests. Planning and writing stewardship materials, including acknowledgments and our donor newsletter, has encouraged me to understand how to connect with and excite existing donors, building on a relationship that for some has spanned decades. The Stewards of the Hungerford Deed and an upcoming email welcome series are two projects that have particularly expanded my understanding of advocates and advancement as a whole.
One of my central projects was to design and execute the Stewards of the Hungerford Deed campaign. This giving opportunity celebrates the discovery of the Hungerford Deed, which illuminates the history of James Smithson. The unrestricted gift Stewards make is especially important for advocates, as they can support all that the Libraries and Archives does rather than trying to pick between various initiatives. Donors are able to commemorate the special 175th anniversary of the Smithsonian while helping to propel the Libraries and Archives into our shared future. Crafting this campaign, which included five appeals and a post on this very blog, helped actualize my ideas of connecting supporters to a special giving opportunity, developing my understanding of which themes spark action.
The email welcome series is another way to connect intrigued audiences with a purposeful path of involvement with the Libraries and Archives. My research on welcome emails revealed that authentic tone and inspiring exploration of our resources were key to connecting with our community. After deciding the purpose behind our communications, I wrote six emails in total, each featuring highlights from the wealth of engaging content developed by expert staff. For example, to illustrate how our conservators preserve rare materials to be enjoyed by future generations, I featured an excellent video series about Adopt-a-Book. It is my hope that subscribers’ ideas about the Libraries and Archives’ work will expand as they learn the reach of our impact.
My time with the Advancement department has been insightful and energizing, as I have learned from my colleagues’ expertise, tested my hypotheses, and most importantly, engaged with the dedicated community of Libraries and Archives supporters. These interactions have gone from motivating my visits to museums, libraries, and archives to being integral to my daily work and career, and I look forward to seeing where my curiosity takes me next.