The tried-and-true methods of fundraising — bake sales, car washes, magazine subscriptions, lemonade stands and candy — all have their place. But moving into the big leagues, such as coming up with successful fundraising ideas for city parks is a whole other ball game. It takes a type of grassroots fundraising on a much larger scale that is community-based with shared goals.
Spencer Grigg, director of the Moses Lake Parks & Recreation Department in Washington, shared some of his thoughts on park fundraising.
“I believe that city park fundraising is going on in just about every city in America,” began Grigg. “We all take slightly different approaches, but in the end, there are usually gaps in what our budget appropriations will cover. As a result, we all try to stretch our options by seeking outside funding. In our immediate area, I believe that you will find fundraising going on in Ephrata, Quincy and Othello to name just a few.”
Ten years ago, Grigg originated the first rendition of Moses Lake “Parks Gifts & Memorials Catalog,” which has been updated multiple times since the beginning. The catalog was created and uploaded to the parks website as a .pdf file; however, the department also keeps a few copies in its office.
To maintain awareness of the catalog, Grigg said the department will sometimes promote it on an as-space-is-available basis in the seasonal activity guides.
The catalog offers color photos, the department’s mission and the city’s policy for accepting gifts and memorials. The catalog lists a variety of items needed for donors to choose from, along with a range of their approximate costs. When the public sees these items’ photos and text information, they can immediately view what their gift will be like and easy pick an item in their spending range. When items are illustrated as such, it brings the donor much closer to a purchase of a gift or memorial. Another benefit for donors is that all donations and gifts are tax deductible.
“Most of our donations that are generated out of the gift catalog are smaller items like a park bench, a tree, a flagpole or maybe a drinking fountain,” said Grigg. “Recently, a former parks and recreation advisory board member, who also served as mayor a few years ago, donated $65,000 for a beautiful new picnic shelter and the completion of the redevelopment of a small local park. He saw the catalog and desired to do something on a larger scale. As a result, the community got a brand-new beautiful picnic shelter.”
Asked if he had ever run into an issue with the first amendment in selecting signage for ball parks and other places, Grigg answered no.
“All our signs and banners are required to comply with city regulations,” said Grigg. “And when we receive a gift donation, we are legally required to create a resolution from the city council accepting the donation/gift. Additionally, I always write a letter thanking the individual or organization for his/her generosity.”
One of Moses Lake’s smaller parks is the dog park, and according to Grigg, his city was fortunate to have a friends of the dog park group, “which was instrumental in identifying local donations and support for that specific project and enhancements to the original project (i.e. the dog park). We operate the dog park as part of our parks maintenance operations.”
As for obstacles, Grigg observed, “The biggest challenge we’ve encountered with donations and volunteers is finding more of each. It seems to come in cycles, so for a few years, we see lots of both (donations and volunteers) and then it kind of drops off and eventually there is resurgence for interest in both.”
It’s a good idea to take stock on what is already strongly in place before seeking more funds. For example, if a park is already equipped with invasive plant removal; has bat houses installed; and offers well-maintained trails, paths and pollinator gardens, it is easier to follow these guidelines for financial and political support for park enhancements. Promote parks at public gatherings. Apply for grants. Encourage your friends of the parks groups to form partnerships and sponsorships with community organizations and businesses. These friends can also raise money by selling branded shirts, caps and other items during ball games and other public events.
Make a list of needs or wish list items to share with the friends of the parks groups and hold consistent meetings to discuss these needs. Provide a meeting place and staff time to reinforce community participation, funds and volunteers. “Keep asking and don’t only ask for the little stuff,” said Grigg. “Traditionally, we as an industry seem to be inclined to ask for someone to donate the cost of basketballs when we should be asking for a gymnasium or at least the whole backboard, basket and the basketballs. Remember, the answer is always ‘no’ if you don’t take the time to ask! (It may still be ‘no’ but at least now you know where things are at.)”