Reimagining Membership: What it Means to be a Friend of the Loft


What does it mean to be a member of the Loft?

Since I started as the Loft’s development associate in 2021, I’ve frequently been asked this question, and it’s a valid one.

The word “member” generally calls to mind images of exclusive clubs and societies. Think of how people join fraternities, unions, and gyms by paying dues. They gain special access to exclusive communities and services.Up until this year, anyone who donated at least $1 a year was considered a member of the Loft, with benefits that included a bi-monthly newsletter, discounts to local bookstores, rental privileges for our writer’s studios, and more. Donors giving $60 or more annually also received discounts on Loft classes and programming.

Beyond these perks, the true benefits of membership extended to the entire community. While a donation to the Loft can pay for itself in the long run for frequent Loft students or bookstore patrons, in most cases, our donors are giving with no expectation of personal benefit. They donate because they’ve benefited from the Loft’s programs over the past 50 years and understand the Loft’s crucial role in sustaining a vibrant literary community in Minnesota and beyond.

The Loft has never been a place of exclusivity. From its early days, the Loft welcomed writers and readers from all social and economic backgrounds to learn, share, and build community. To this day, we strive to keep our programming as accessible as possible by offering pay-what-you-can ticketing models for many events, free resources on our website, and access funding for our classes. We don’t profit from our programs — any revenue generated allows us to pay our teaching artists and presenters equitably. While not perfect, our programs are among the most affordable in the country, largely thanks to Loft donors.

In our fundraising, we aim to embody community-centric fundraising (CCF) principles, a movement led by BIPOC professionals to re-examine who and what is prioritized in fundraising. CCF principles highlight that nonprofit fundraising has traditionally focused on the material benefits for donors and institutions rather than the needs and autonomy of the funded communities. For true transformative work to happen, ALL members of the ecosystem must be valued equally, whether they be donor, staff, volunteer, teaching artist, or board member. In many ways, membership implies paying a fee for certain services or privileges, which differs from how we view our relationship with our donors—a partnership of mutual trust and service to our broader community.

Given this perspective, 'member' no longer seemed the right term to use. As Lofties, we are all members of this beautiful, shared literary ecosystem. Each person who enters our space – virtually or in-person – contributes to the Loft in some way, whether it’s with their time as volunteers and participants, their talent as teaching artists and presenters, or their treasure as what we now call Friends of the Loft. As a friend, you will still receive all the same benefits you did as a member, and we encourage you to view the support you’re providing with your donation in the context of this wonderful community we’ve built together. Whether you’ve given $1 or $1,000 this year, your hard-earned dollars have allowed us to keep our doors open, to fairly compensate our teaching artists, and to underwrite the costs of our programming and offer reduced tuition to make them accessible for all writers and readers, regardless of income.

As Cynthia Fee and The Golden Girls put it best: thank you for being a friend.

Become a Friend of the Loft today!