A brief guide to Suffolk Libraries member groups

Helping and supporting their local library. Also known as ‘friends’ groups’ and ‘community groups’, a library member group consists of volunteers who help and support their local library as well as raise money to enhance and improve it. They organise events, activities and fundraising initiatives to raise the profile of the library in the local community and to raise funds. They liaise with the library manager about how to spend the money they raise.

Part of the structure of Suffolk Libraries. There are 44 static libraries in Suffolk and therefore there are 44 member groups, each of which is formally a ‘member’ of Suffolk Libraries. The board of Suffolk Libraries consists of volunteers who are elected from the community groups, by the community groups at the Suffolk Libraries AGM. You can find more details about the structure of Suffolk Libraries and how community groups fit into it by clicking here

Each group has a ‘membership’ and a group of ‘trustees’. Library community groups encourage library customers to support their library by signing up as members of their group. Some groups don’t charge for this while others make a small charge, usually of £1 or £2. Each group also have trustees who are elected from the membership – although there does not tend to be a need for an actual election as the number of members wanting to be a trustee of a group rarely exceeds the maximum number allowable.

The trustees are the ‘management body’ or ‘steering group’ of the community group. The trustees drive the activity of each community group. The number of trustees in each group varies – usually between 6 and 12. They meet on a regular basis, the frequency of which varies. Some groups meet once a month, some bi-monthly and some less frequently. They discuss ideas for events, activities and initiatives that they can run to help support their library, as well ways in which they can spend money to support the library.

The library manager is a key link between the library and the community group. It is a requirement of Suffolk Libraries that the library manager is an ‘ex-offico’ member of every friends group and they play a pivotal role in steering the friends’ group towards activities and initiatives that will benefit the library. They also play an important role in deciding how the group should spend their money.

Each community group should have a chairman, treasurer and secretary within their trustee group. These three roles – often referred to as ‘officer’ roles – are key to the successful running of the group. The roles are:

  • The chairman helps to steer the group and chair meetings.
  • The treasurer is responsible for keeping a record of all the finances.
  • The secretary is responsible for taking and circulating minutes and preparing agenda

Note that there are guidelines on this site around financial management which will be of relevance to treasurers.

Community groups manage their own finances and have their own bank account. Each community group is an independent organisation with their own bank account. They are responsible for deciding how to spend the money they raise, with the guidance and direction of the library manager.

Community group activities are covered by Suffolk Libraries liability insurance. Suffolk Libraries public liability insurance policy has been extended to cover the activities of all community groups to save them from having to take out their own insurance.

Most community groups are ‘unincorporated charitable associations’, which is the least formal structure available. The quickest, easiest and least formal charity structure is that of ‘small unincorporated charity’. Most library community groups have opted for this structure. It does not involve registering with the charity commission or the submission of any annual accounts. Suffolk Libraries provided groups with a template constitution for this structure which most groups tailored to their needs and adopted. Note that this structure is only appropriate for groups whose annual income is under £5,000. 

All library community groups have a constitution. This is the governing document for your group – kind of like a set of rules. For those groups that are unincorporated charitable associations, we provided you with a template constitution to adopt when you were formed. You can find guidelines on your constitution here

Trustees of small unincorporated charities are financially liable. Trustees of small unincorporated charities should be aware that they are technically liable for any financial commitments that the group make. The risk of this is minimal because it’s unlikely that a scenario would arise where the group has committed to pay for something for which they don’t have the funds. One potential scenario is that a group receives funding to carry out a project and the funding is somehow stolen before the project is paid for. If that were to happen, the funder would still expect the project to be delivered and paid for and the trustees would be liable for that. In such a scenario, Suffolk Libraries would not expect trustees to pay out of their own pocket to cover the cost of the project and would step in to help out, probably by lending the group the amount of money they require to fulfil their obligations.

Community groups aren’t expected to contribute towards library running costs. As already mentioned, the money that community groups raise tends to be used to enhance and improve the library. They aren’t expected to contribute towards the general running costs of Suffolk Libraries, although they are welcome to do so.

Some community groups have become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO). Some groups have decided to adopt a more formal status and become a CIO, which involves registering with the charities commission. There are number of advantages to this, including:

  • Trustees are not individually liable as they are with small unincorporated charities
  • They can claim gift aid
  • Being a registered charity opens up more funding opportunities as some funders will only support registered charities.
  • The group is not restricted to £5,000 per year income.