Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Park Foundations Can Prove Valuable Partners

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Park Foundations Can Prove Valuable Partners

Article excerpt

In early 2015, the Virginia-based Fairfax County Park Foundation (FCPF) Board of Directors inquired if there were established norms in the park and recreation industry concerning required donations from board members, the funding source of foundation staff and membership programs. Unfortunately, they found no centralized source of information about park foundations, so answering these questions was more challenging than expected.

Stepping up to fill the informational void, FCPF staff performed an in-depth electronic literature search and conducted telephone interviews with NRPA staff, the executive director of the National Association of Park District Foundations (NAPDF), a fellow of the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration (AAPRA) and numerous park foundation executive directors. Following is an overview of the results of that work.

Preliminary Findings

Research found no industry-wide best practices, benchmarks, mission statements or fundraising activities for park foundations. None of the contacts even had a consolidated list of park foundations, nor did they have suggestions for developing a comprehensive list. Comments were offered such as: "If you find any, I would be surprised" and "I'd be interested in your research results."

Because of the significant absence of information about park foundations, additional research was needed. To ensure that the research would not be solely based on staff opinions and comments of national award winners, efforts were made to identify additional park foundations.


The researcher developed a list of park foundations using the Internal Revenue Service list of exempt organizations, Guidestar USA Inc. and NAPDF's 390 Facebook friends. The universe was modified by eliminating international park foundations; national, state or special-interest park foundations; and entities that were considered too small (less than $800,000 annual contributions and grants) or, on the surface, did not appear to be comparable to FCPF. Seventy-one park foundations were reviewed.

Using GuideStar, income tax returns were obtained for each park foundation in the sample. The park foundation's year of formation; website information; number of directors, staff and volunteers; annual revenue; staff salaries; total fundraising expenses; and fund balances were gathered and analyzed.

Attempts were made to contact park foundations by telephone or email so that detailed information could be gathered. The park foundation websites or Facebook pages were scanned for noteworthy information to answer the questions posed by FCPF's board. Park foundation representatives were cooperative, but frequently did not have answers to some of the specific questions being asked. Follow-up contacts were made but not all park foundations responded to all of the questions. While the results are not statistically valid, they provided sufficient information to respond to the initial questions that prompted this research.

Research Results

Eight of 19 park foundations (42 percent) responded that they require a minimum donation from their directors. The required level of annual donations ranged from $500 to $25,000. Several responders commented, however, that serving as a director involves other resources than making a monetary contribution. Directors have a wide variety of valuable experiences and abilities to offer the park foundation board. …

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