What is—and isn’t—critical thinking

and how we can use it to improve ourselves and those around us

Whenever I’ve talked about the need for critical thinking, I’ve noticed that those who need it most are usually the ones who agree most—but for other people!

Maybe this stems from our volatile society, but our collective exasperation (outrage?) at others’ points of view is certainly exacerbated by a lack of critical thinking by all parties.

I don’t consider myself a master critical thinker, but at least I can see how most political ads break every rule of sound and fair reasoning. (Of course, their purpose is to vilify opponents with innuendo, appeals to irrational fears, outright lies, distortions and half-truths; and a creative lack of depth, breadth, clarity or fairness. For that, they do a pretty consistent job—however unprincipled!)

But let’s start with clarity.

What critical thinking is not: using a judgmental spirit to find fault, assign blame, cancel, or censure.

What critical thinking is: using a disciplined thought process to discern what is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.

After all, we are what we think. Our attitudes, feelings, words, and actions are all determined by the quality of our thinking. Unrealistic thinking leads to disappointment; pessimistic thinking spurns joy; practical thinking builds productivity; grateful thinking grows appreciation; and affirmative thinking leads to possibilities and opportunities.

Our brains do a pretty good job in identifying patterns and fixed procedures that require minimal consideration. It allows us to function efficiently in familiar zones and predictable routines. And hardwired in all of us is a prioritized egocentric core to protect our personal interests. But increasingly, our progressively diverse world and its unrelenting pace of change requires analytical thinking that is more vigorous, more complex, more adaptable, and more sensitive to divergent views—if we are not to degenerate into the dystopian futures of our movies!

That kind of elevated thinking is reasoning, which draws conclusions about what we know, or can discover, about anything. To reason well, we must intentionally process the information we receive. What are we trying to understand? What is its purpose? How can we check its accuracy? Do we have a limited, shaded, or jaded point of view? What is fact, what is evidence, and what is interpretation? What is the question or problem we are trying to solve? What assumptions are in our inherent biases, and how can we move away from them? What are the ultimate implications or consequences?

Our reasoning, therefore, needs standards with which to measure, compare and contrast all the bits of information in order to come to a meaningful and fair conclusion. Such intellectual standards include clarity, precision, accuracy, significance, relevance, logicalness, fairness, breadth and depth.

In the absence of these reasoning standards, we default to our self-centeredness, which inevitably leads to gnashing of teeth, biased irrationality, and social regrets. But when we vigorously apply these standards, we develop a capacity for fairmindedness, rational action, and healthy societies. This intellectual clash for the mastery of our own minds frames two incompatible ends:

Virtues for fair-minded rationality          Vices inhibiting fair-minded rationality
intellectual humility                                        intellectual arrogance
intellectual autonomy                                    intellectual conformity
intellectual empathy                                      intellectual self-centeredness
intellectual civility                                            intellectual rudeness
intellectual curiosity                                        intellectual apathy
intellectual discipline                                      intellectual laziness
intellectual integrity                                        intellectual hypocrisy

Here is a starter set of questions for better thinking and reasoning, drawn from the critically acclaimed book Critical Thinking, by Richard Paul and Linda Elder:

Clarity: Could you elaborate or give an example?
Precision: Could you be more specific?
Accuracy: How can we verify or test that?
Significance: Which of these facts are most important?
Relevance: How does that relate to, or help with the issue?
Fairness: Are my assumptions supported by evidence? Is my thinking justifiable in context?
Logicalness: Does what you say follow from the evidence?
Depth: What are some of the complexities of this issue?

Informed reasoning leads to better self-management, better understanding and relationships between people and groups—and ultimately, a better, more cooperative society. And let it begin with me.

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The Case For Keeping It Simple

We all want to put our best effort forward when we serve our communities. Often we can get wrapped up in dreaming up ways to make our programs and events bigger, and therefore better. While this instinct is natural, I’d like to posit some ways that keeping recreational opportunities simple can have benefits such as promoting inclusivity and equity, preserving your (and your team’s) sanity, and ultimately help you achieve your programming goals.

Note: For the purposes of this blog post, the words “program” and “event” will be interchangeable.

Promoting Inclusivity and Equity

Running programs require resources, which require money. While each municipality may have a different philosophy on the role of finances in Parks and Recreation, one fact remains true: Every community has residents in varying economic situations. As additional activities are added, the cost of running your event increases, equating to an increase in the fee charged to participants. Sadly, some families are priced out of programs if the fee is too high. While scholarships can help offset this financial challenge, the truth is some families won’t even consider asking for a discount if the advertised price is too high for their situation. By keeping programs focused on one or two central activities or attractions, you can offer a less expensive and more inclusive experience for your community.

Preserving Your (and Your Team’s) Sanity

As more aspects are added to your event, there is more for you and your team to coordinate and manage before, during, and after the event. While everything may look perfect on paper, when you add people to the equation, there are countless challenges that can arise. Maybe a vendor calls and says they will be late. Maybe 10 volunteers signed up to help, but only 5 showed up. Maybe you communicate instructions to a team member in charge of an activity, but as soon as you walk away to check on another area, that person changes the rules (and not in a way that improves the execution). The point is, people all have their own opinions, level of work ethic, personal issues, and unlimited facets that can cause problems that you have to solve. 

To be clear, I am not saying people cannot be trusted. This is just a disclaimer to consider who is on your team and their strengths and weaknesses to determine if the additional activities will enhance your program or lead to headaches and unfortunate optics. Know who you can rely on, and what your team can handle at this point in time.

Achieving Your Goals Through Simplicity

Keeping your programs simple actually allows you to more effectively run them at a larger scale in the future. For example, maybe you run a vendor fair that is simply an opportunity for residents to stop by and purchase from the sellers. Once you have the core activity solidified, with safe and effective arrival, setup, and breakdown logistics, you can add another layer if your team can handle it. You can add a simple kids activity like a movie so parents can shop without distraction. Maybe you bring in a food truck or live music. Allow yourself and your team to stand firmly on one step before climbing the entire staircase. Would you rather rush into a full production, be overwhelmed, and potentially encounter safety issues, or would you rather take your time, successfully manage all of the aspects, and run the event you actually wanted to share with your community? Furthermore, you can use participant feedback to build the event around what your community wants.

A Word on Expectations

Residents may have expectations about what a program or event should include, and how things should be run. Often this is based on an event from somewhere else, or an imagined scenario in their head. You can control this to a degree. In your marketing, only advertise activities that you know 100% you can deliver. Allow any additional items to be icing on the cake. As long as you deliver everything that you explicitly promised, you have done your job. You can take feedback into account as ideas, but do not feel like you let anybody down if you hear comments about what “should” have been included in the event. This is your program, and even if you’ve inherited it from someone who held your job previously, you have the right to adjust it to your style and make your own mark on the event.

In Conclusion

There is a place for extravagant Disney-like experiences, but ultimately our work as Parks and Recreation professionals is to foster social connections. It’s not about the shiny attractions you have at your event, but the community experience it offers.

It’s Cold Outside!

by Doug Knauss, CPRP, CPSI, Park & Recreation Director, Susquehanna Township

As many of us know field use is increasing every year and the opportunity to restore athletic fields becomes more and more limited.  Many practitioners try to enforce field closures to restore fields, limit use to restore fields, or just wait and sod fields in the spring with hopes that it will take hold and be ready for the upcoming season.  Many of these approaches are unsuccessful and can cause significant backlash from your community. 

Park maintenance plans can take a page out of the golf course management handbook and grow grass during the winter months with the use of turf blankets.  You may have seen these large white mats out on some athletic fields and may have been curious about what these are and their purpose.  Turf blankets are how you can grow grass all winter long when it is cold outside.  These blankets serve as lack of a better term “greenhouse” over the area of repair.  These blankets have proven to allow grass to grow all winter and when they are removed in early spring will reveal grass in areas in need of restoration you can then limit your time of field closures.  These blankets can be customized to the size you need and can last from 7 to 15 years, over time this is an inexpensive and successful way to restore an area over sod.

We over-aerate the repair area with multiple passes of a core aerator, lay down organic material or fertilizer over the repair area, and then seed.  We then cover the area with a turf blanket and secure it to the ground with ground stakes and then you let the magic happen.  We will remove the blankets in early spring and keep the area closed for about two weeks to allow for the grass to strengthen and then the fields will be open for use.

You can perform these types of field repairs up to about Thanksgiving and then remove the blankets in the first week or two of March.  We have found over time we shrink the area of repair each year due to the strength of the grass.

So, for an economical and successful field maintenance solution turf blankets could be your solution.

Sliding into the New Year

demo of old slide

So we’re going to replace our old waterslide with a brand spanking new double-flume waterslide? Yesssssss, that’s so exciting! It will be an amazing addition to our facility for the 2023 season. Wait….you’re kidding….we’re going to construct and open it during the season of 2022….guess I better put on my big boy pants for this one…

Yes, I was involved with the construction and opening of a waterslide mid-season. It was a fun, sometimes difficult, but rewarding process. What started as a single-flume waterslide in late 2021, blossomed into a double flume waterslide that would be a marked improvement over the previous version.

new double-flume slide

Things we had to contend with, in no particular order…

  • An abbreviated timeline-we wanted this slide to be open for our patrons to use during the 2022 season. We knew this would require us to be as efficient as possible. Quicker demo, quicker site prep, quicker construction, etc. In this regard, the weather actually helped us out and we were able to have the site prepped for the waterslide in a very good time. As you can see, though, that led to some other issues…
  • Lead times-we’ve all heard it in the news and read it in the headlines. Lead times are sometimes 6-12 months longer than they were pre-Covid. The early days of Covid, where the store shelves were decimated and void of toilet paper were truly signs of things to come in the realm of supply chain issues.
  • Public perception-the contractors that we worked with did a great job of getting the site prepped before Memorial Day. But the problem that this created was that people thought the slide should just come in the next day and be put up like a Lego set. And because the site was prepped so quickly, the public perception was that we weren’t doing anything, when in fact we were waiting on the flume and tower to be fabricated, pumps/motors to be shipped, piping for plumbing to be shipped, etc.

When members saw that we were going to be having a slide installed and available during the 2022 season, they, just like us, hoped it would be opening weekend as opposed to mid-season. At any rate, even with all the curveballs we saw, we were able to see the flume and tower being assembled in mid-July, which was a miracle in my eyes. Progress was able to be seen each day as the tower and flume took shape. And when the slides officially opened and I once again saw a line of people on the tower waiting to slide down, a smile came across my face. And maybe a sigh of relief as well!

Happy New Year!

Put a Big Fat Gold Sticker on your Program!

2022 PRPS Conference & Expo Award Winners from Philadelphia Parks & Recreation

Each spring, PRPS members gather at the Annual PRPS Conference & Expo to learn about emerging programming, discuss industry-wide best practices and of course, socialize! But it’s also a chance to recognize individuals, departments and programs for outstanding achievement over the last year via our Awards program, chaired and MC’d by the always funny and eloquent Barry Bessler.

We leave every conference blown away by all the cool stuff that people are doing around the state. That said, we don’t think we get enough award applications. We’re talking to you park and rec professional, sitting behind a desk sipping coffee, enjoying the calm before 2023 comes in with a bang! We totally get it. 2022 is becoming smaller and smaller in the rear view as you zoom towards whatever is “next.” But stay here in the moment for one more second. Take a minute to think about it, your community benefited from something you did, that was really awesome. In our opinion, many park and rec folks do it because they love it, which is great. But they are uncomfortable with the final step of any program, event, green and sustainable development/practices and calendar year…validation. In a municipal environment where parks and recreation falls below police, fire, streets etc. you have to play your hand to the best of your ability, and awards are one of the best and easiest ways we can validate our departments in the eyes of elected officials and the general public.

The best thing about the awards application itself, is you get the answers to the test ahead of time! Specifically for the Excellence awards, the application is looking for the POWER principles:

Positions public parks and recreation as an essential community service. Tell how the entry advances the role and importance of public parks and recreation, shows the benefits of parks and recreation, and improves the quality of life in the community.

Tip: Get quotes from participants, volunteers etc. Quantify the impacts. Survey your participants with respect to “quality of life” and “benefits.”

Outcome based. Describe the problem, issue, or opportunity and how the entry provided a solution to it.

Tip: Think back to why you started planning this program? Community need? Perceived hole in services? Quantify!

Wow Factor. Explain how the entry advances parks and recreation in the community through a major accomplishment, innovation, or a creative approach to managing and/or providing public parks and recreation. Describe how the entry demonstrates creativity and innovation. This can range from start – up efforts made to establish parks and recreation, or a small but mighty effort to make something happen where parks and recreation is struggling, to the initiative of a well-established parks and recreation organization.

Tip: What made your event/program noteworthy? It could be “just” an Egg Hunt, but maybe you had auditory eggs for those with hearing loss or you incorporated fifteen community groups to pull it off.

Effects change. Address how the entry deals with an important issue in the field of parks and recreation such as environmental stewardship, connecting people to nature, active healthy living, or social equity. Describe how it demonstrates strategies, resources, and outreach methods to increase public awareness, or other means that produce results.

Tip: This is probably the hardest POWER principle to answer. Reviewing your “outcome” answer will lead you down the path. Look at your park and rec strategic plan, NRPA Pillars etc. and think big picture. You might be thinking “I’m a small department, can’t compete with Philly”…but that’s hogwash! Talk about saturation. You might have a small program, but one that really saturates your community and is vital, tell that story.

Resourcefulness. Present how the entry used creative resources and outreach methods to generate support from a variety of sources including partnerships in the public, private and non-profit sectors,use of private funds, lands, facilities, or expertise, or secured support from policy makers or elected officials. 

Tip: You got this! Park and rec people always have to scrape and claw their way to make things happen. Really dive deep in and discuss your internal and external partnerships and how your community came together to pull off your event/program.

Also remember there are not only opportunities to showcase your programs: you can showcase yourself, your colleagues, agency and also your parks through your dedication to green and sustainable practices by submitting an application for the Outstanding Achievement Award, Distinguished Member Award, Outstanding New Professional, Community Champion, Agency of the Year and Green Parks Awards. You are amazing at what you do…apply!

OK, that’s it everyone. All year long you’ve been creative and resourceful. You’ve spent more weekends in the park than with your family. You’ve pulled trash from a can in the morning and put on a full suit for a budget meeting that night. Sounds crazy, but that’s our profession. Now take the moment you’ve earned, and apply for a PRPS Award.

Apply here: https://prps.org/Awards

See you in March!

The PRPS Awards Committee

2022 Agency of the Year – Upper Dublin Township

Two Ears & a Mouth

/ˈnetwərkiNG/

Learn to pronounce
noun

1. 1. the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.

What happens when you show up at a conference, a career fair, or a roundtable event? Do you dive straight into the crowd and start mingling? Do you gently work your way in? Or, do you back into a corner and break out in a cold sweat?

For many people, networking is a terrifying, disabling prospect. This may be because they’re introspective, introverted, unconfident, shy, hindered by bad experiences, or simply new to it. Whatever the cause, a fear of networking can be hard to overcome once it’s established.

The good news is that none of us are born with a natural talent for networking, even the people who really enjoy it. Networking isn’t an “innate” ability, it’s a skill that anyone can learn. You don’t have to be a smooth operator or an extrovert go-getter to be successful; you just need to use the right strategies.

Networking takes many of us out of our comfort zones, but it is possible to overcome our fears when we use the right strategies.

To overcome a fear of networking:
1. Be selective about the events that you attend.
2. Research other attendees’ backgrounds to get useful information.
3. Set realistic, meaningful goals.
4. Think about what you’ll say, and listen to the responses.
5. Arrive early so that you can assess your surroundings.
6. Bring a colleague or friend for support.
7. Mind your body language and try to keep an open posture.
8. Go easy on yourself.
9. Take time out during the event to “recharge your batteries.”
10. Know when to move on from a conversation.

Remember, when networking, it is important to be a good listener, have a positive collaborative attitude, be sincere and authentic, follow up, be trustworthy, and be approachable.

Capital Campaign Prep – Questions to Ask Yourself

Recently, I have had the opportunity to work with several different groups who are considering Capital Campaigns. It’s surprising to see a rise in questions like this, which indicate agencies and departments are considering undertaking campaigns such as this to fund upcoming expansions and projects.

Capital Campaigns can be the right choice and an excellent source of funding for growth, if all of the important factors are in place and come together to have a successful campaign. One million, five million – that is a lot of money. What is the community currently being asked to support and how does your project fit into that?

In this post, let’s talk about assessing your readiness to plan and execute a capital campaign. When you have a project, a goal, designs and plans to explain that goal, and maybe even the start of some community excitement, here are some other questions I’d like you to ask yourself and your team (and your Board!).


How much money do you usually raise each year? How big is your donor list and your mailing list?

If you usually raise $20,000 per year, and are hoping to raise $350,000, you might be okay. If you raise $20,000 per year and hope to raise $8M, that gives me cause for concern. Where will these additional donors come from if they are not already connected to you?

Can you make a gift range chart work? Do you have enough leadership and launch gifts to get your campaign more than half way before you go public?

The silent and public phases are not set in stone, but if you do a gift range chart and stare at it wondering how in the world you will ever get that many prospects at those high numbers, better to face up to it now instead of mid-campaign.

Do you need a consultant? Do you need a feasibility study?

Yes and mostly yes. Okay, so I can see that you might think “of course, a consultant is going to say you need a consultant!”But, what I learned at the Lilly School for Philanthropy is that a campaign runs smoother and more efficiently with counsel to guide it, accurate and experienced advice, and most important – their ability to speak to your donors and explore the feasibility in a way that you cannot. Plus – let’s face it, a consultant is not going to take your project if they think it cannot be a success. They don’t want their name attached to that. So, at least talk to some as you explore your options.

How much money do you have to operate the campaign?

You have to spend money to make money. Campaigns are very expensive: consultant, studies, case statements, printer and postage charges, graphic designers. Also staff to lead the campaign, staff to process incoming donations and operate your CRM, staff to help with thank you notes, tax letters, pledge tracking, etc. Cost of lunches and dinners and other donor engagement… events like groundbreaking and public phase launch.

Do you have staff for this?

If the Director of your agency – who already does operations and oversight and everything else – is expected to be the main fundraiser AND the one who runs the campaign, this is a problem. No one can do everything and be everywhere. You need extra staff, even part time, who  can completely focus on the important tasks associated with the campaigning. Volunteers can help, but staff provide the structure volunteers work within.

Is your Board invested? Will they make leadership gifts in the silent phase? Will they create prospect lists, do campaign asks, solicit their social circle, and support the staff?

All of this is vastly important… One or two staff cannot do this alone, and the higher the goal, the more people are needed. Remember, you need 3 prospects for every successful gift. (See the gift range chart below). So, if you need two $100,000 gifts, you should have 6 names on your list that are capable and likely to make a gift at that size. In visiting the six, it’s statistically likely that 2 will go ahead and make that gift. Now, the good news is, if another person turns you down for $100k but offers $50k then that ripples down through your chart and is still a welcome gift. The 3:1 really helps with planning.

What other organizations are also doing capital campaigns in your community at the same time?

This is a big consideration. In my town, Penn State is always fundraising, and then you have the arts center and the science center and the volunteer/free health clinic all raising significant funds for expansion. Can the community sustain and support all of these projects at once?


A Gift Range Chart for $1 million, using the 3:1 ration for planning.

There is so much more for us to talk about, but these are some things to get you started. Capital Campaigns can be exciting and successful and transform a community resource through the generosity of many, so I do not mean to discourage you. Instead, to help you evaluate and consider the best way to move forward with the resources you have, and know how to talk to your board and directors if it’s not coming together. There are so many worthwhile projects; with the right steps, yours can be the next big funding success!

(If you need help, please reach out to the staff at PRPS. They can connect you to resources, provide expertise, and make note of your needs as they develop future programs and training sessions).

The other “new normal”- natural disasters

Recovery in natural lands

In September 2021, Upper Dublin Township was hit by an EF-2 tornado which ripped through several parks, devastating natural areas. I was responsible for overseeing debris removal and restoration in these natural areas. With strong storms predicted to increase, we can’t assume they won’t affect us. Nothing can make the recovery process easy, but here are a few tips I’ve learned from our experience.

Tannerie Run Park, September 2021. This 8.5-acre park was directly in the path of the tornado.

Keep a log of culverts, trails, and other infrastructure in the natural areas of your parks. Take photos and keep records of any upkeep, for example, cleaning debris out of culverts or removing hazardous trees.

Clearly mark your property boundaries. Under our emergency debris management contract, contractors could only work on public property. We had many of our park boundaries clearly marked in advance. This made it easier for crews to work efficiently, without constant guidance on property lines, and to keep heavy equipment off of neighbors’ properties, especially when it was difficult to see through thick debris. You may not have access to maps or computers after a storm, so familiarize yourself and other staff with property lines before a storm hits.

Take photographs. Always remember to photograph damaged amenities, including hazardous trees, before beginning cleanup.

Determine your course of action for restoration. Will you replant an area, clear debris but let it regrow naturally, or leave it as-is? Here are a few things to consider:

 Is the park heavily trafficked? Will amenities or previous investments be undermined by doing nothing? These parks may be priorities for restoration.

● Successful plantings require regular mowing, maintenance, and invasive species control for several years. If your organization doesn’t have the capacity to absorb this additional work, replanting may be a wasted investment.

● How many trees survived? In forests that kept the majority of their tree canopy, we opted to let them repopulate the area on their own. Forests that lost most of their trees needed a jumpstart through planting.

● How many invasive plants were present? In forests that have dense invasive species populations, native species may struggle to regenerate.

Plan erosion control measures with long-term maintenance in mind. Erosion control measures may be needed, and some of these can be integrated with long-term site plans to reduce future headaches. For example, we seeded one park with winter rye for erosion control, which is less persistent and weedy than the more commonly used annual rye, to avoid excessive competition as we re-establish native trees.

Retention tree

Retain some trees- even if they aren’t pretty. We planned to retain as many trees as possible. Though they won’t fully recover, they provide wildlife habitat, continued shade, root sprouts and seeds to speed regeneration, and large root systems to stabilize soil.

We stuck to a few guidelines when choosing which trees to retain:

● Don’t retain trees that could hit private property, trails, or other targets if they fail.

● Retain as many trees as possible along streams.

● Shoot for 3-6 snags per acre for wildlife, with particular attention to den trees (trees with cavities).

Research prior to planting. If you are planning to replant, check out sources on successful large-scale planting, such as  Stroud Water Resource Center (which focuses on streamside plantings, but many of the same practices apply on uplands).

Don’t give up on your parks. I was amazed at how quickly nature began to recover, and our parks began flourishing again. Don’t write them off too soon.

Tannerie Run Park, November 2021. Logs from the site were used to slow water on steep slopes.
March 2022, following erosion control, seeding, and planting. Trees were planted in rows for easier mowing, and tubes were installed for deer protection.
August 2022, the site has begun to recover and over 200 trees are sprouting above the tops of their tubes.

INSPIRE the Groups You Lead!

Jeff Witman, Ed.D., CTRS
Collier Township Parks & Recreation

Effective group leadership is fundamental to success as a recreation professional. Groups can help (e.g., synergy) but groups can also hurt (e.g., groupthink).

Synergy = an interaction or cooperation giving rise to a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts (Wikipedia)

Groupthink = a phenomenon that occurs when a group of well-intentioned people makes irrational or non-optimal decisions spurred by the urge to conform or the belief that dissent is impossible. (Psychology Today)

 The leader can influence which way it goes. Here’s an acronym to focus on as you lead, facilitate, guide, coach, nurture, direct and serve the groups you work with. These 9 characteristics can make a difference!

I-N-S-P-I-R-E

I = Integrity

As Alan Simpson suggested, “If you have integrity, nothing else matters; If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.” Fairness and honesty create a culture of integrity. Being genuine creates a bond with group members. Tip: Consider group agreements, as pictured below, to promote accountability. (These are from the leadership program at Dickinson College)

N = Nurturance

Leave people better than you found them. Be intentional about assessing where group members are and where they would like to be. You can’t nurture unless you know what’s needed and wanted. In addition, consider the creature comforts which make group gatherings more engaging and comfortable.  Tip: Establish a distinctive group identity. For example, Wellspan Philhaven chaplains recently developed the A-I-R (Acknowledge- Inspire- Reflect) frame of reference for their groups.

S = Support

Levels to consider- information, encouragement, honest feedback and assistance with tasks. The classic example with that last one: you’re moving, who shows up to help? Encourage group members to be of service to others- when you give you get! Tip- Spend some time with groups determining where they’re at. Any “baggage” they’re bringing along to your group?

P = Professionalism

The ideal- responsible, ethical and team-oriented. A key with this is focusing on the group (not on yourself) as you lead. Tip- Keep fairness in mind as you interact with the group. As Willie Stargell declared “Everybody is somebody!” Don’t let the “squeaky wheels” get all of the grease.

I = Innovation

While routines are important unless there’s novelty they will become ruts. Engage the group in determining how things can work better. Adopt an approach that change is an opportunity not a threat. Tip- Identify several aspects of a particular group where variety might spice things up- for example the music, the snack and the stretches for an exercise group. Engage participants in identifying alternatives for each and test them out in subsequent group sessions.

R = Resilience

Show some grit- persistence + passion = thriving not just surviving. Make some lemonade out of the lemons situations throw at you. Devote some effort to self-care recognizing that your effectiveness depends on being the best version of yourself. Tip- Model resilience with the attitude and actions you exhibit when “shift happens”. Demonstrate that “well-prepared people create their own weather” with a plan B or plan C that allows the group to cope not mope.

E = Energy, Empathy and Efficacy

With energy consider vitality, a combination of vim (the burst needed sometimes) and vigor (endurance). With empathy it’s about communicating your understanding of another person’s emotions. To promote efficacy determine and document that the groups you lead are, in fact, generating the outcomes you promote and promise. Tips- For energy consider a 30- minute limit on sitting during groups. With empathy institute a no disses approach where negativity about self or others is not allowed. Remember too that “silver lining” remarks are seldom helpful. If a participant says “My car needs a lot of repairs” and you say “At least you have a car” it’s not going to improve the situation. For efficacy find out if your goals are being met. With the recent Pickleball Camp at Collier Township for example the majority of participants have increased their amount of play.

A Case Study

The support group I was leading at Faith Friendship was not very supportive. Low morale, limited interaction and apparent disinterest. We needed a boost and found one with an activity that, amazingly, has been found to:

Relieve Stress

• Reduce Anxiety
• Improve Sleep
• Heighten Focus
• Improve Motor Skills
• Induce A Meditative State
• Relax your Brain and
  • Improve Brain Function

The answer was making the activity below a regular part of the group, integrating it into our themes and allowing group members to utilize it as a tool for coping. This activity, obviously, is not the answer for every group concern or problem. There are answers however if you’re willing to try new approaches. Find the attitude, activity or process that can revitalize and reinvigorate the groups you lead. it’s a win-win for participants and for you!

Coloring: Not just for kids anymore!

Practical Marketing for Recreation Events

You’ve ordered all the supplies, scheduled the staff, and worked out the logistics and schedule for your next event. Now you have to market it!

As I write this, I’m marketing Montgomery Township’s 20th Annual Autumn Festival. With so many moving parts, there’s a lot to communicate. There are also a lot of places to put the message, and the channels of communication seem to keep stacking up. It’s enough to make my head spin, and event marketing is a major part of my job as a Public Information Coordinator.

The good news is that you don’t need to be a graphic designer or social media wizard to get the ball rolling. Below are some quick tips to put together a practical marketing plan for your programs and events.

What do you do if you don’t have a knack for marketing?

Start with what you know

Begin by simply listing the basic information:

  • What is the event’s name?
  • Where will it take place?
  • When will it take place?
  • Who is it for?
  • How much does it cost?
  • What is included?
  • Who can people contact for more information, or where can they go to find information?

Select supporting photos

If this is a recurring event or program, select a few photos from the last time you held it. These don’t have to be professional quality, but they should showcase some of the activities that take place. People respond more to programs and events that show engaged attendees having a great time.

If you don’t have photos, pick an image or two using a program such as Canva that represent the event. Canva offers a free version to begin designing.

Design a flyer

Don’t be intimidated by the word “design.” You can use Microsoft Word, Microsoft Publisher, Canva, or any other program you are comfortable with to make the flyer. As long as it has the answers to the basic questions and a few photos or clipart graphics, your flyer will get the message across.

Pick Your Channels

This is where it gets tricky. Instead of getting into the many channels, you can use to communicate, just think of what you currently have. My recommendation is to have the following:

  • Website – This is your home base where all information is available. All social media posts and email newsletters about the event should directly link back to your website or event-specific webpage.
  • Social Media –Stick to one platform and do it well. If you’re comfortable expanding to more social media platforms, go for it at the right pace for your organization. If all you have is Facebook, that’s great! Despite what you hear about the decline of Facebook as a social media platform, it is still my experience that you will engage with the most members of your community on Facebook than other social media platforms.
  • Email Newsletter – Ideally you have access to an email newsletter platform. Putting your information in front of people who specifically opt in to receive your updates has tremendous value and is extremely effective.
  • Print Media – Many organizations are reevaluating their relationship with print media. It’s expensive to print and mail, but it does help reach the population less comfortable with using the internet. Including basic information with some direction about where to find more information can at least increase awareness of your event.
  • Local news outlets – Form relationships with your local news outlets so they can publish your event on their website.
  • Word of Mouth – I assure you, people are talking to their friends and family about events as you share information. In fact, this is the best marketing you can ask for!

Work with Your Communication/Public Information Office

If you have a good relationship with your coworkers responsible for Communication/Public Information, use them as a resource! Their job is to get the word out. As someone who has been on both the Recreation programming and Public Information sides, I cannot stress enough how important this relationship is if your municipality has the resources. As long as you provide accurate information for your Public Information Coordinator to work with, they can help get the message out to the public.

I hope this provides a basic overview of how to market your event using the resources you have. There’s nothing groundbreaking here. Like most other things, it’s about mastering the fundamentals.

 If you have questions, reach out to me at dmuller@montgomerytwp.org . Happy marketing!

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