Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Forget about Grants!

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Forget about Grants!

Article excerpt

A t the 2016 NRPA Conference /% in St. Louis, I shared best practices on how to set your JL. JL.park foundation's cornerstone to build optimally functioning fundraising and engaging volunteer organizations. Setting the cornerstone is code for building a board of directors that works, gives, gets and understands the role and benefits of operating a friends group or park foundation to hone the power of philanthropy to improve your public park system.

Admittedly, there are a host of benefits for creating and operating a park foundation, but the essential function is relationship-building and resource development that starts with the board of directors and membership. Resource development includes fundraising; acquiring in-kind donations of equipment, supplies and land; and engaging volunteers.

Articulating Your Case

An annual fundraising plan needs to be nested within a comprehensive fundraising case statement, which absolutely should align with the organization's vision, mission, core values and strategic plan. No one from the organization should be soliciting funds on behalf of the organization without being intentional and understanding the strategy of multichannel fundraising. Whether you are launching a membership retention effort, a donor acquisition campaign or giving a speech before a 5k about the impact of the organization, all of these strategies, or what we call a "case expressions," need to be spawned from the case statement to ensure consistent communication, branding and messaging.

As rec people, we tend to be program people; we also tend to not be numbers and math people. When we think fundraising, we often default to special event fundraisers and grants. Instead, we need to do strategic planning, first! Then, develop a case statement, then an annual fund development plan followed by a membership campaign and then a direct mail campaign. Then, maybe, and I mean maybe, a signature special event.

Establishing a Resource Development Committee that 'Gets It'

Park foundations and friends groups should establish a resource development committee, led by a board member or two. Otherwise, the committee should largely be composed of members or "friends" serving as volunteers who implement a robust, sustainable annual fund development plan. The board of directors and resource development committee should be acutely aware of the Association of Fundraising Professional's Code of Ethical Standards, Donor Bill of Rights and e-Donor Bill of Rights (http://bit.ly/lcljCHW).

In an article I wrote for Illinois Parks & Recreation magazine, I described the goal of an annual fund campaign as being "to raise enough money to cover monthly operating expenses for the organization... it is better to think of an annual fund as the fund that pays for your organization's annual operating expenses, like a checking account." Author and fundraising professional, Stanley Weinstein, teaches that after we get an initial gift, then we must further our relationship with the donor to repeat the gift and, ultimately, increase the gift in a cyclical process.

When establishing an annual fund, don't rely on one corporate sponsorship or one grant maker or one special event. In fact, put the special events on the backburner for later consideration and forget about grants! If you begin by relying on a grant, then your organization will suffer from what I like to refer to as hand-to-mouth disease. You'll be living grant to grant, wondering how long you can pay your bills. Operating a park foundation this way is unsustainable and shortchanges the power of philanthropy and what philanthropy can do for enhancing your park system.

Planning the Annual Campaign

To hone the power of philanthropy and to effectively manage the annual campaign, you'll need to build a fundraising infrastructure by establishing a gift acceptance policy and adopting a donor management system (DMS). A DMS is an advanced software platform, typically cloud-based, that functions primarily as a dynamic database system that allows you to systematically manage relationships with prospects and donors. …

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