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.


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 . Happy marketing!

Communicating with Clarity

by Derek Muller

Welcome back to summer camp! You’ve booked your trips and entertainment, secured your basic supplies, and drafted your calendar of events. Your summer staff is on the payroll. Nothing can go wrong!

It’s the night before camp, and your email won’t stop buzzing. Parents have a million questions, and they’ve waited until the last minute to ask them. You answer their questions about lunches, medications, daily activities, staffing ratios, camp-appropriate clothing, and anything else that may be included in those emails. NOW you’re ready for tomorrow.

The morning comes, and you drive to camp. Parents immediately launch questions at you. Your counselors aren’t entirely sure what they should be doing with the kids as they’re signed in. When you finally get a chance to breathe, your mental to-do list is maxed out. You know you can’t do all of this by yourself, so now you need to delegate.

We all love the idea of delegating, but it’s very difficult for us in practice. It’s not because we’re control freaks. It’s hard because it involves a great deal of communication, and communicating effectively is challenging. When we develop our camps, festivals, and programs, it’s easy for us to picture every detail in our heads. Externalizing it for others takes intentionality and perspective.

Communication is a complex topic to tackle in a single blog post, so here are some quick tips on communication that I’ve found helpful in my career. They are framed around summer camp, but they can be translated to planning other programs and your community festivals.

Put It In Writing

Creating documents is tedious and time-consuming. However, they are necessary to provide clear information. Some documents that I’ve found helpful are:

• Registration Guides

• Parent Handbooks

• Staff Handbooks

Regularly Communicate

A simple email previewing the coming week works wonders. Sure, you probably shared the information for the whole season in your handbook or beginning of the year welcome email, but people forget. Sending timely reminders is key to effective communication with program participants and parents. Include your staff on these emails so they know what parents are being told.

Assign Tasks (Delegate)

How many times have you ended a conversation with, “Great! We’ll do that.”? There’s a good chance the task was either not completed, or that it was done twice. Delegating isn’t being pushy. By clarifying who is responsible for specific tasks, the potential for miscommunication and conflict is minimized. If you clearly task your Camp Director with creating the rosters for the upcoming week, they will get done. If you leave it as either you or your Camp Director will create the rosters for the upcoming week, you’ll end up with zero or two copies of the roster. Never leave a conversation without clearly defining the next action and who is responsible.

Use the Right Tools

There is a seemingly infinite number of communication channels and apps. While they were all designed to enhance our communication, using too many of these tools complicates communication. Meet with your team and choose the channels that will be used to communicate, and when each means will be used.

Keeping these four concepts in mind won’t completely end your communication troubles, but you will experience a much more streamlined process that keeps parents and staff alike on the same page.

“New Kid” In Town

Recognizing challenges and providing guidance for smoother staffing transitions.

By Derek Muller – Montgomery Township in Montgomery County, PA

Your trusted employee of several years (to several decades) has moved on, and your established groove is thrown off. Enter the new employee tasked with new responsibilities in a new municipality with a whole new culture to learn. It’s a lot. Change is hard. It’s inconvenient. This article is for supervisors and newly hired employees alike. I don’t have a “how-to” guide on how to skip the growing pains that come with this transition, but I hope this post provides insight to smooth out the process and open a dialogue on how we can better assimilate new employees into their positions and keep our organizations on track.

The Trial By Fire Approach

Let me start by saying there is merit to the “trial by fire” approach to training new employees. No, it’s not the smoothest method. It’s the quickest way to assess someone’s natural strengths and areas of improvement, and arguably new employees learn more information faster with this method. With that said, it does have its pitfalls, and I hope the rest of this article helps clarify when this approach is appropriate, and when it may hinder the growth and development of new employees in relation to the overall success of your organization.

Challenges Facing New Employees

No two municipalities are exactly the same, and no two employees are exactly the same. Their specific needs may vary, but here are some common challenges that face new professionals:

 Shifts in Responsibilities

I’m willing to bet most of us entered the Parks & Recreation field through programming. Some were camp counselors, lifeguards, seasonal instructors, etc., but for the most part it’s the ground level aspect of running programs that attracted us and kept us invested. I remain involved because I had a supervisor early on who encouraged me to develop programs around my interests and hobbies. In my first turn as a head facility supervisor, I suddenly went from program developer to security guard. Needless to say, the day-to-day of the job was not nearly as appealing once the novelty of the promotion wore off. Community and organizational culture and needs can shift the responsibilities that fall under Parks & Recreation Professionals. Keep in mind that new employees may be experiencing a bit of a shock as they make this move from a previous position, or as they enter the field for the first time.


The notion of “replacing” someone is pretty misleading. Expecting new employees to come in and do the job exactly the same as their predecessor is unrealistic. This is also true of the community’s adjustment to the “new kid”. Comparisons will fly around, and often the employee will hear “X used to do it this way.” This is extremely frustrating to constantly hear. As a supervisor, be sympathetic to this reality. You’ve probably been through it as well. Encourage your new employees and give them time to find their path. A great story about living up to expectations and navigating this particular challenge can be found in a previous article by Jason Lang, titled “How to replace a legend…”

Conflicting Personalities

People are difficult. It’s tough when you are trying your best to start new programs or increase efficiency and all you meet is resistance. Maybe it’s the first time the new employee is managing a team and setting their schedules. Maybe there are established employees who have been there a very long time, and they like the way things are or the amount of control they have of the operations currently. If you can help to facilitate productive communication between employees, you help set up the new employee for success.   

Proactive Steps To Help With This Transition

This may be a good article for another day, but briefly, here are some things you can do to help your new employee with their transition:

  • Communicate! – Let the “new kid” know your expectations. Recognize and help them navigate the challenges they’re facing. While you don’t want to overwhelm them with information, share the information as it becomes pertinent.
  • Don’t expect the new employee to just “figure it out” – This will lead to stress and lower productivity. Chances are you’ll also end up frustrating residents and other employees within your municipality that need to collaborate with your department. Give the new employee space to learn, but coach them when you can.
  • Provide Resources – Sharing documents from previous events and initiatives will help the new employee learn about your larger programs and community events. Make it a habit to store all of your documents in a place where you can easily access them on your organization’s server. Make it a policy that your current employees do the same for the inevitable transition down the line. You’ll be glad you can access these files at a moment’s notice when the time comes.

Are you in the position of coaching a new employee? Are you the “new kid” in town? I’d love to continue the conversation. Email me at if you have any thoughts on how we can further support our new professionals.

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