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.

Invisible Women

When planners and developers fail to account for gender, public spaces become male spaces by default.

My daughter strongly recommended I read the bestselling book Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, by Caroline Criado Perez. She helpfully loaned me her electronic copy, and I learned so much from it I bought my own copy. And in turn, I recommend it to you.

Invisible Women, by Caroline Criado Perez

In its pages, the author argues that the gender gap is both a cause and a consequence of the type of unthinking that conceives of humanity as almost exclusively male. It was surprising to me (being exclusively male since birth), how widely and how often this bias crops up, and how it distorts the supposedly objective data that increasingly governs our lives.

She covers a lot of territory. The book’s six parts cover Daily Life, The Workplace, Design, Going to the Doctor, Public Life, and When it Goes Wrong; and includes such intriguing chapters as Can Snow-Clearing be Sexist, Gender Neutral With Urinals, and One-Size-Fits Men.

Of particular interest to park and recreation professionals is a section addressing city and park planning and use. She cites a 2016 article in The Guardian that asked why we aren’t designing places “that work for women, not just men” and cautions that the limited datasets that track and trend data on gender make it hard to develop programs and infrastructure that factor in and meet women’s needs.

For example, planners in Vienna found that the presence of girls in parks and public playgrounds decreased after the age of 10. They subsequently found, through collecting pertinent data, that single large open spaces were the problem, because they forced girls to compete with boys for space—who largely chose not to. But when the developers subdivided the parks into smaller areas, the female dropoff was reversed.

They also addressed the park’s sport facilities. “Originally these spaces were encased in wire fencing on all sides, with only a single entrance area—around which groups of boys would congregate. And the girls, unwilling to run the gauntlet, simply weren’t going in.” The simple solution? More and wider entrances. They also subdivided the open areas and sport courts. Formal sports like basketball were kept intact, but they also provided space for more informal activities, in which girls were more likely to engage.

In another example, Malmos, Sweden, discovered a similar male bias in the way they’d traditionally been planning urban recreation for youth. “The usual procedure was to create spaces for skating, climbing and painting graffiti. The trouble was, it wasn’t ‘youth’ as a whole that was participating… It was almost exclusively boys, with girls making up only 10-20 percent of those who used the city’s youth-directed leisure spaces and facilities.” So they began asking what the girls wanted—and the resultant new areas are well-lit and split into a range of different-sized spaces on different levels.

Such a gender-equitable approach doesn’t just benefit females alone, but extends to the economy. When sports funding goes mainly to organized sports, which is dominated by boys, that which was meant to benefit everyone equally, simply doesn’t. Sometimes girls’ sports aren’t provided for at all, which means girls must pay for them privately, or not participate at all. Such detrimental consequences then ripple into the present and future health of half the population, and the overall economy. One study concluded that a certain increase in the city’s support for girls’ sports could “lead to a 14 percent reduction in future fractures due to osteoporosis, and the investment will have paid for itself.”

Perez concludes that when planners, developers and programmers “fail to account for gender, public spaces become male spaces by default.” This is not a niche concern: “if public spaces are truly to be for everyone, we have to start accounting for the lives of the other half of the world.” It’s not just a matter of justice: it’s also a matter of personal health, welcoming placemaking, social equity, and simple economics. And it starts with collecting meaningful gender-sensitive data.

Do you know the Difference between Sponsorship and Fundraising?

I notice that these words are often used interchangeably and that could land you in hot water!

Fundraising is connecting people to causes they love and wish to support with their personal (or business) donations. “No goods or a service” is the phrase that is used in the tax language on the receipts.

“Sponsorship is for the purpose of achieving commercial objectives. Philanthropy or monetary donations, on the other hand, are in support of a cause without any commercial incentives. Money is donated simply for the good of the cause with no ‘strings’ attached” (from

Sponsorship has an expectation of some kind of commercial return, such as generating new business, brand recognition, or another measurable result. The primary piece to this relationship is access to an audience or group of people. In this type of relationship, a sponsorship “package” is offered and sold to a business, and they benefit from the reciprocal relationship. Whether its tax deductible is debatable but that is usually unlikely, because they ARE receiving goods or services at a certain value from you.

Sponsors have access to your audience

Putting a value on the sponsorship package or “deal” is when you determine how much a sponsor should pay for the activities, benefits, and the website and social media exposure they will get, all outlined in a proposal. This is not the same for every sponsor. Understanding the revenue model of the sponsor and what the motivation or benefit is for them is critical to this step. Always be sure you’re not offering something you cannot actually deliver.

This kind of relationship also requires you to provide data or statistics to show them the value they received, particularly if you’re asking for support again in the future.

Now, there are grey areas in between, for example, event sponsors.

An event sponsor is any person or company that provides something free (money, services, products) to increase the value of your event. Sponsors are key to your event because they add incentives that will draw people to your event or help you cover costs.

This could be use of a venue space, tickets or an art item for a silent auction, t-shirts for your gift baskets, or gift cards. They are freely given, they have a value, and what do they get in return? Publicity. Access to your donors, guests, and their family. So this is still a form of sponsorship and providing tax receipts and language in this case can be tricky.

I hear a lot of Parks & Recreation professionals saying that they need to get sponsors and donations. Yes. But I encourage you to take the time to get to know your donors, encourage philanthropic and big hearted gifts that are freely given because someone loves your mission and your impact in the community. These gifts and relationships are the path to the future.

Next, if you can find a business owner who will be a sponsor for an event because they strongly believe in your mission and your event, and want to support you and the audience you serve, then enter into that agreement and accept the sponsorship and happily promote their support to your audience. If you work with a business that is all about the numbers, their marketing dollars and what social media and print media exposure they expect in return, the stats and data they want to see, perhaps a request to access your mailing list or have major exposure at your events — consider passing on those. These companies know what they need for the dollars they are investing in the sponsorships, and unless you are a well-established enterprise who can devote someone full time to “sales” – which is what sponsorship amounts to – it’s a landslide of work and can really get out of control quickly.

This is just a little blurb to get you pointed in the right direction. I encourage you to read more about the differences between sponsorships and donations, and then set up the processes and proposals that work best for you. Good luck!

PS: Refer to IRS publication 1771 for information on tax language and always talk with your tax accountant or solicitor when you are unsure how to set up or word donation and sponsorship language.

Trapped in a Contract

by Hilary Hirtle

Don’t Get Burned by Evergreen and Automatic Renewal Clauses

Lurking in any number of service agreements and other forms of contract is a clause that reads something like this:

This agreement will renew at the end of its term for a further term unless either party gives the other written notice of termination within 30 days prior to the end of the relevant term.

This “evergreen clause” perpetually renews the contract unless a party to the contract follows the correct process to cancel it within a typically narrow window of time (that is set forth in the contract). An automatic renewal clause also renews a contract in the absence of action by a party to the contract but renews only a finite number of times.

Evergreen and auto-renewal clauses are commonly found in:

  • Service agreements (cable, voice over internet phone, etc.)
  • Leases
  • Purchasing contracts
  • Revolving loans
  • Insurance coverage policies
  • Magazine subscriptions

Renewal provisions can be convenient and constructive if the renewal term is brief, e.g., a month; the problems arise with long renewal terms—one year, three years, etc., as an organization may find itself stuck in a contract and with service payments for months or years beyond the usefulness of the service.

Organizations should be wary of draconian renewal clauses that are sometimes embedded in seemingly innocuous contracts. If an organization enters into a contract containing such a clause, the organization should consider the following:

Watch for Traps
Be aware that an automatic renewal clause may be buried within the legalese of a contract, for example in the interminable sea of text that often appears in association with an “I’ve read and agree with the terms” button on the web.

Negotiating Provisions
It may be possible to negotiate changes to a proposed contract to make automatic renewal acceptable by:

  • Allowing either party to cancel the agreement at any time following the initial renewal; or
  • Making the renewal term brief—e.g., one or three months—to minimize the time the customer might pay for an unwanted service before cancellation is possible.

Enforceability and Escape

If an individual person gets trapped in an auto-renewing contract and challenges it, the service provider may be quite agreeable to compromise. However, in business-to-business (including nonprofit organization) transactions, the courts generally can be expected to take a hardline on enforcing renewal clauses, assuming the contract language is clear and unambiguous. 

Rules Vary by State
Rules regarding automatic renewal vary by state, both as provided in court rulings and as enacted by state legislators. To better understand risks and options and to achieve improved outcomes when dealing with automatic renewal issues, legal counsel is advisable.

You can read WeConservePA’s guide, Trapped in a Contract in its entirety here.

Find more guides, model documents, and technical assistance from WeConservePA at

Thinking Deeply About Customer Service

by Molly Hetrick

I think I am a good customer. I’m always polite, though sometimes firm, and clear about what I am asking for when contacting a business. I try to also be patient and thoughtful, I will even say “I bet you’re really busy this time of year” or “I imagine the pandemic has made things challenging for you” and many times the person appreciates the empathy.

So, let’s consider a few things:

• I had a return of an item to and when I called customer service, they refunded my money but said to keep the item and donate it. This is a wonderful model… but my thoughts were “How can they afford that?” and “I can imagine other people taking advantage of that”?

• The same thing happened a few months ago with Clinique. They refunded my money, but let me keep the item to gift on to someone else. Great! Convenient for me, a friend got to try the product; maybe she will start using Clinique, which is probably what they hope for. (But again, I can see people taking advantage of this?)

So, why are we talking about this?

This is the “new” kind of customer service model, particularly which the retail world is moving to. Customers now expect free shipping, no-questions-asked returns, an end to hidden fees, and a money-back guarantee. AND Consumers are in control with online reviews. They expect customer service to be instant chat, just a click or two away, and 365/24/7. They expect same day delivery options – they don’t want to wait. They want to ask questions and make their opinions heard on social media, and have a fast response.

Even though in Recreation we are not retail, I firmly believe that this is fundamentally changing the mindset and more importantly, the expectations, of customers. They want easy, they want fast, they want satisfaction and are used to “above and beyond.”

No longer is a small business able to say “I understand you used this product for 3 months, broke it and now would like a refund of your original purchase price. But I cannot afford to do that for customers and keep my small business open. So here is what I CAN offer you…” (Slightly more direct language than is probably used, but you get the point).

Large cyber businesses have cushions, loopholes, and volume to support them. Smaller businesses, non-profits, and municipal based departments who offer services do not have such great options. We can’t give a whole summer of free camps because the child had a bad experience on Week 1. We can’t let kids repeat swimming lessons over and over without payment when the parent says it’s the Instructor not the child that is at issue. If we did, we could not afford to pay staff and keep the doors open, or even stay afloat beyond one or two years.

We can’t afford to designate a staff person to cover the Instant Chat and all the social media channels, the phone, the email and the voicemail too!

Please share other examples in the comments, there are so many more!

So, what do we do?

We are just at the edge of this new change and the new habits big retail is training society to expect. So let’s look at two things.

What do Customers Want?

• Satisfaction (Happiness?)

• Their need fulfilled

• An affordable cost  (sometimes they’ll pay for faster)

• A convenient and fast solution

• Their opinions and comments to be heard

Why do Customers Complain?

• Their expectations did not match what was offered

• Their expectations outstretch what the organization can provide

• They did not feel appreciated or they felt confused

• Service was not fast enough

How can we approach this?

• Clear instructions and expectations

• Matter-of-Fact policies

• Excellent friendly customer service (start off on the right foot)

• Empathy with clear solutions of what you actually CAN do when situations come up

• A work-together approach “I understand what you are asking for, here is what I can give, is there a way we can meet in the middle?”

• Decide how you will handle the small number of customers who are repeatedly asking for something outside the policies. (The 80-20 rule)

We are just entering into this new phase of super-fast, delivered to your door, over the top service. Convenience and demand take on all new meanings, and the refunds or customer service hoops to make people happy after there is a mix up sometimes are beyond belief.

How is your organization navigating these new waters?

How are these new business practices in customer service impacting your recreation services and programs?

Think spring: Steps to take now for easy spring planting

by Colleen Kenny, Upper Dublin Township

The snow may be falling outside, and you may be looking no further than a warm blanket at the end of the day. But this is the perfect time to begin planning for spring tree planting. In fact, many nurseries sell out of popular tree species by March, so early planning can ensure that your spring plantings run smoothly.

The first step in planning is to identify priority areas. I like to keep a running list of highest priority and second priority options for planting. On the highest priority list are areas with big aesthetic impact (such as building entrances), important functional needs (for example, providing shade to bleachers at sports fields), or important ecological areas. Stream corridors, in particular, benefit from added tree cover (called “forest buffers”). The greatest benefit for water quality is often seen with at least 100-foot-wide forest buffers. Planting these buffers falls on my high priority list. My department in Upper Dublin Township also aims to reduce grass mowing operations by converting unused turf areas to forest. Turf conversion areas are generally second priority, and I will pull from their list as corporate or volunteer groups come forward seeking projects.

Now that you have your priorities, think about site needs. Is there water available on-site, or will you need to use gator bags or a water tank? If areas are particularly dry, it may help to forestall planting until the fall. Is there any site preparation needed prior to planting? Do old stumps need to be ground, or invasive brush cleared?

The next step is to select and order trees. Be sure to consider site moisture, light levels, soil type, and space constraints (overhead wires, clearance around buildings) when selecting species. I aim to plant 100% native species for maximum ecological benefit. Many organizations have helpful tree-finder tools, such as Missouri Botanical Garden. When choosing size, consider who will be doing the planting. Small container trees work well for scout troops or students groups since they are easier for small hands. Bare-root trees work well for adult volunteer planting projects. Larger container or ball-and-burlap trees may need to be handled by staff or contractors. In the Philadelphia region, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society runs a Tree Tenders program which allows municipalities and volunteers to receive low-cost bare-root trees after completing a training course.

Bare-root trees, like this one from the PHS Tree Tenders Program, are large but not heavy, and are a great option for adult volunteers.

If using volunteers to help plant, get the word out early. Spring fills up quickly with weekend sports and activities. Many volunteers look for opportunities around Earth Day and Arbor Day, so these may be opportunities to leverage the extra hype.

A few other tips:

  • Always use deer protection, even if planting in a residential area.
  • Brush up on proper planting technique. There are many helpful videos on YouTube.
  • Spring plantings can be extra vulnerable to drought as we head into the hot summer months. Be sure to water regularly for at least the first two years after planting. This can be another great volunteer opportunity!

Oh, and don’t forget the shovels. Happy planting!

Parks & Rec makes major repairs after Hurricane Ida

By Darren Fava, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation

When bad floods happen to good places, Parks & Rec’s staff and partners swing into action!

Cyclist on the boardwalk portion of the Manayunk Canal Towpath after clean-up efforts were completed on October 16. Photo by Joseph O’Connor, copyright Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.

On September 1 and 2 remnants of Hurricane Ida swept across Philadelphia. The storm’s winds caused damage to many street and park trees. But the heavy rains north of the city created a much bigger problem.

Philadelphia is the end of the line for several major creeks and rivers. Intense rainfall upstream caused extra water to converge on our densely built city. Creeks and rivers here overflowed their banks. That’s one of the reasons our largest parks were created. They protect areas where creeks and rivers flow—and where they merge together. For example:

These parks provide space for the floodwaters to go. But when big storms like Ida happen, it means a big mess is left behind.

Hurricane Ida left a significant amount of damage to parks and recreation sites. Here’s an update on the storm cleanup efforts at parks and recreation sites across the city:

Trail restoration

  • Manayunk Canal Tow PathThis trail was one of the most heavily damaged. It was the only one that we needed to close for repairs. Flooding washing away major portions of the path and railings. Our staff completed repair work on October 16.
  • Schuylkill River Trail in Schuylkill River Park and East Fairmount Park—Our staff and partners cleared large debris and made trails accessible by Friday, September 3.
  • Pennypack Park TrailThis multi-use path trail was blocked with many downed trees. Our staff cleared the path by Wednesday, September 8.
  • Wissahickon Valley ParkSeven miles of trails and some parking lots were damaged. Sections of the and rail fencing was also destroyed. Repairs were completed by partners and staff.
Images showing the damage done to the Manayunk Canal Towpath. Parks & Rec had to close the trail to repair eroded areas and remove fallen trees. We also had to remove thick muck left behind by the floodwaters. Photos provided by Robert Armstrong.

River banks

  • Removed debris deposited at sites along the river including:
    • Piles of debris from people’s backyards and homes.
    • Logs as big as trees.
    • A dock swept away from upstream.
    • Construction equipment.
    • Two vehicles in the Wissahickon Creek and one vehicle in the Manayunk canal.
  • Cleaned one to two inches of muck and silt from paved surfaces.
  • Making plans to restore streambanks that were heavily damaged by the storm.

Special projects

  • Schuylkill River Safety Cable at the Fairmount Dam—The storm damaged a safety cable that runs across the river near Boathouse Row. This cable helps rowers avoid going over the Fairmount Dam above the Water Works. The cable has been removed and will be replaced soon.
  • Dell Music Center— Replaced 116 seats in the outdoor amphitheater destroyed during the storm. Repairs were complete in the same week. This ensured seating for a sold-out concert of 5,000 people.
  • Markward Playground—The recreation building and playground were overcome with floodwaters. Programs were relocated to nearby sites. The site remains closed for deep cleaning and repair.

Tree removal

  • Cleared and recycled dozens of park and street trees downed by the storm’s winds.

We couldn’t have done it without…

The clean-up work is ongoing. It represents an incredible effort from Parks & Rec staff and partners. These include:

  • Tree crews, arborists, and inspectors.
  • Grounds maintenance workers.
  • Equipment operators.
  • Park Managers who worked overnight at the Emergency Operations Center. They recorded emergency calls and coordinated with other departments, including PECO.
  • The staff at Markward Playground, Venice Island, Lloyd Hall, and all the other sites affected by Hurricane Ida.

Parks & Rec sends special thanks to the Office of Emergency Management, the Streets Department, and the Managing Director’s Office.

Finally, thanks to our great partners and volunteer-led groups who helped clean-up our sites, including:

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Building your volunteer program- Tips for maximizing volunteer impact

by Colleen Kenny, Upper Dublin Township Parks & Recreation

A few weeks ago, I wrote this blog post about managing invasive plants. One key element of many successful management programs is capitalizing on volunteer involvement. So, whether managing invasive plants, running events, or helping with other department programs, how do we make the most of our volunteers?

Host volunteer events often

While it may take some extra work up front, holding regular volunteer events can help your volunteers to become more self-sufficient. Think of them as training events. After just two events, my regular volunteers remember their plant identification and begin independently assessing where work is needed. Regular events also allow your “super volunteers” to rise to the top. They can build excitement and momentum around your volunteer program, generating more interest within the community.

Identify and enable your “super volunteers”

Wherever I’ve worked with volunteers, a few individuals have always risen to the top. I like to call them my “super volunteers.” These individuals are deeply invested and willing to shoulder a greater number of tasks. As they grow confident in their work, they can often begin leading volunteers on their own, allowing us, as professionals, to magnify our impacts. To best enable these volunteers, consider a few questions:

  • What training do they need?
  • What certifications or waivers are required?
  • Can they access tools and equipment to share with other volunteers?

Explain the “why”

When kicking off events, remember to explain why we’ve asked people to come out and do all this work. For invasive plant removal events, I remind volunteers that they are helping native plants and wildlife. Are you supporting a good cause? Hosting an event that builds community value? Remind your volunteers why their work is so valuable.

On the flipside, many people do not necessarily come out for the cause, but for the sense of community they feel when volunteering. Remember to work opportunities for community building into your event. Schedule in time for your volunteers to gather around a coffee or snack table. Engage strangers in conversation together to get them talking. These small things can go a long way toward developing a richer volunteer program.

Remember, your job is to manage

Many of my best volunteer days haven’t involved lifting a tool at all. While it may be tempting to focus on the task at head, remember that we as leaders are there to manage the people. Rotate through groups, check on any needs or questions that come up, and take lots of photos. It’s often a different kind of work day than you may be used to, but will help your program to run more smoothly.

Celebrate successes

Take lots of photos and share them on social media with a thank you to your volunteers. A little thanks goes a long way!

Setting priorities for invasive species management: Don’t get lost in the weeds

When managing invasive species, set priorities based on your resources and goals, and stick to them.

Stick to the plan. I recently found myself repeating this mantra as I worked to remove invasive plants in a township park. The park has been overgrown by invasive species for years. As a natural resource manager, I found myself easily distracted by all the work that needs to be done. I have often doled out advice to land managers about how to set priorities and break down projects into manageable tasks, but it was time to follow it myself.

Do what you can do. Don’t do what you can’t.

The challenge of managing invasive plants on your property can be daunting. It may seem obvious, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves: only do what you can do. Do what is manageable within the scope of your resources. If a project is too big- it might not be right to tackle at this time. Better to choose a project that can be done to completion, and will only require routine maintenance to sustain.

“Do nothing” is an option

Every area of our parks is managed for a certain goal, whether that be a forest, meadow, or ball field. Not every project will improve our ability to meet those goals. Does this project serve those goals? If not, it is ok to move onto the next one.

Break things down into manageable tasks

When faced with a large project, don’t be overwhelmed by the task in its entirety. Focus on what needs to be done this year or this month. Removing the vines. Cutting back the first 50 feet along the trail. Then next year, you can tackle the next step. Often, we don’t tackle a project because it seems too big. But once we change our perspective, the first steps become possible.

Make a plan, but know that the plan can change

Develop a invasive species management plan for your parks, but think of it as a living document. What areas need immediate attention, and which can be put off until later? Make a timeline for each step of your plan. As factors change, adjust your plan accordingly. Making a point to revisit and revise the plan 1-2 times a year can help to keep it realistic.

Never overlook the power of volunteers

I was recently working at a park that had a wall of thorny invasive plants. I wanted to tackle it with a volunteer group, but was worried that it would be overwhelming. But my volunteers were intrepid. Within only a few hours, we had broken through the wall. Never be the barrier to what your volunteers accomplish. Allow them to work to their full potential. For more info on developing your volunteer base, here are some great words of wisdom.

The task of managing natural areas can be overwhelming with all the challenges we face as parks and recreation professionals- from too many deer to too few staff. Look at your goals and set priorities to meet them. Plan ahead, but focus on the task at hand. And you may stay out of the weeds.

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