Hidden keys to fundraising

What do Recreation professionals lose sleep over?INPE0863

One of the top reasons is “fundraising”…

The things that run through our heads are: “where is the money going to come from?”, “how can I raise $40,000 more than last year”, “why don’t the elected officials realize how unrealistic this is?” or even “how will I fit it in?”

Suppose you find the time and put a great deal of effort into fundraising, but the results are still not as you hoped or need them to be. What’s going on?

There are two places to look: Evaluate your customer service and evaluate your public relations.

Let’s look at each one:

Customer Service: Spend time in your own facilities observing both how your staff interacts with the customers, and how the customers react or behave in return. Look closely at your facilities – the cleanliness, the efficiency, the clarity of your signs, etc. Is it a pleasurable and memorable experience to be in your facilities? Do the staff know the names of repeat customers and have the materials and information they need to provide excellent service?

Wait – are we talking about Customer Service or Fundraising? BOTH.

The perceived service a customer experiences when they interact with your department is directly related to their interest and willingness to further support your fundraising efforts.

Use every opportunity of customer complaint to address concerns and questions as a way to explain the underlying need for the fundraising you do. For example, a customer is complaining about the high cost of a dance class or boating lessons. Take a moment to educate them, in a positive way, about the overall costs, what their fee covers and how funds raised from the community supplement tax dollars.

Most importantly – begin to clarify for people that tax dollars cover the basics and keep the lights on, fundraising covers the rest. If you are a tax based agency that is now also expected to fundraise, as many of you are, it’s even trickier to surmount this. (If you are not a tax-based agency, this technique still works to explain the difference between the basics and doing more.)

Overall, providing excellent service and experiences directly impacts future fundraising.

Public Relations: Now, look at your Public Relations and your department’s public image. If you are known for mistakes on your webpage, mis-information published in your program guide, mix ups with refunds, and late cancellations of programs, the public feeling about your department is going to impact their giving when you ask. (By the way, are you asking? That will be a future blog post, perhaps…)

If you’ve had bad press over park issues or zoning changes impacted the neighbors, if there was an accident at a pool that the local newspaper spun into a media crisis, you have work to do before you fundraise.

How can you address this? Promote strongly as many positives as you can. Share happy faces at summer camp, happy customers at the pool, and racing puppies at the dog park. Gather and promote customer quotes about service and commitment. Coordinate positive news stories with local media outlets. Post videos on your social media and enlist trusted patrons to do so also. Send your Director out into the community, like the mayor, to get to know the public. Do anything you can to promote a better image.

All of this is more important than fundraising if you have a negative public image. If you’re not sure, ask a few people outside your organization that you trust and start there.

Later, when you outline the case for why your department needs support, the public – made up of happy customers who have a positive view of your department as a vital part of the community – are more likely to give.

If you’re trying to fundraise and the results are not as you hope, take a different view and start strengthening relationships first.


The best job

my favorite slidecropped

I’ve made a big decision recently to leave what has been the best job in the world.

My job had a check next to the boxes on the ideal job list. And things at my job have never been better.

I could stay. But more and more, I felt like it was time to go.

I still have the passion for parks and recreation that I had back in 1979. But, I’ve decided it’s time for more of my own parks and recreation experiences. Maybe I can get the balance tipped towards fun for myself rather than work, work, work. Maybe triathlons, long-distance bike trips, mountain trail running, or weekly golfing is in my future – who knows?

Am I too old now for some things? Well, I don’t plan to take up ski jumping any time soon. But leaving my job and taking a new step in my life? I’m not too old for that. And no matter how old I am today, I’m going to be older tomorrow.

Over the years, sometimes I got bored. Sometimes I was frustrated. Sometimes I didn’t feel appreciated. Sometimes I was tired and stressed out.

During those times I asked myself what would be better if I changed jobs or left parks and recreation? The positives of my job always outweighed any negatives, and that kept me from leaving. Looking back now, I’m glad I stayed. I helped to grow and improve a truly wonderful public service organization.

When you get bored, or frustrated, or tired, or stressed out – think about the positive aspects of working in parks and recreation. Others envy us. We have meaningful, impactful jobs. We make a tangible difference in people’s lives and make communities great places to live.

You’ll get to be me someday. But don’t wish away your years until retirement. Focus as much as you can on how great our parks and recreation profession is and how truly fortunate you are to be a part of it.

‘Tis the Season…for Interns!

Tracey Hardos CRPR

The start of spring semester for students at Penn State in Recreation, Park and Tourism Management (RPTM) is the time that students begin planning their summer jobs and internships.  The internship search can be very stressful for students as they try to match their career goals with available opportunities.  Internship can be an amazing semester that offers the opportunity to put into practice what students have learned in the classroom.  Internship can also be a time of learning what the student doesn’t want to do and to help further define a specific career path to seek after graduation.

Numerous studies have asked college students and recent college graduates about internships.  A significant number report that they feel that internships should be required.  Many report that their internship was where they learned the most about the field.

Because of the applied nature of the recreation, park, tourism and leisure professions, most universities require an internship as part of the undergraduate degree requirements.

At Penn State, we assist students with finding a site for their 12-credit, semester long, internship that meets not only their career goals but also fits within the many parameters that today’s student must consider.  Where and what the student wants to do after graduation.   Distance from home and the university.  Costs of tuition, housing and other related living expenses.   Opportunities for employment or promotion from the internship.

The issue of pay for internship is one that comes up quite often for students.  Many are unable to consider internships that are unpaid while others have more flexibility.  Most understand that working under the direction of a professional in the field has value in and of itself.  The Department of Labor has established guidelines for use in defining when and if an intern is really an intern or if they meet the requirements as a paid employee.   Concerns such as the training component of the internship, making sure the intern isn’t replacing paid workers, the added workload to the agency in providing support and instruction, and the mutual understanding that a permanent job is not guaranteed after the internship are just a few of the guidelines.  In short, government agencies and other non-profits are not required to pay interns.  However, to compete with internship providers in the private sector (such as resorts and other commercial operations), many government and non-profit sites offer some kind of compensation including hourly wages or a stipend, housing, meals, etc.

Are you interested in opening your agency or department to interns?  The energy, fresh perspective on your programs and services, and support with new initiatives and projects are just a few of the benefits of taking on an intern.   At Penn State, we can help you develop an internship program or recruit interns into your existing program through postings of internship opportunities, recruiting opportunities on campus and through our social media sites.   Other universities have similar programs and services.  Contact your local university.  Take an intern!


Showcase your parks in 2018 – become a NRPA Park Champion!

In 2017, East and West Goshen Townships celebrated two-hundred years of blissful divorce with a Bicentennial Celebration on June 3rd. The event included a three-scene play based on historical documents, two stages of music, Ben Franklin (this is Pennsylvania after all…), an amazing fireworks display – even a pistol duel! That’s right, Ken Lehr and I faced off to finally see, after two hundred years, which was the better Township! In the end, we both stayed on our feet, but the crowd of 3,500 loved every minute!

While perusing the NRPA website last March, I came across their Park Champion initiative. Park Champion events highlight the positive impacts of park and recreation events within a community and specifically advocate to federally elected officials. I immediately emailed Jayni Rasmussen, NRPA’s Advocacy and Outreach Manager, to get the scoop! The initiative is very turnkey and user-friendly. Park Champion logos are available, template letters you can mail to federal officials are easily downloadable, and NRPA is more than willing to knock on your official’s doors down in Washington.

The benefits to local Pennsylvania Parks and Recreation Departments are enumerable. In my opinion, one thing that Pennsylvania Park & Recreation Departments struggle with, because we are Township and not County driven, is “playing with the big boys” across the country. By attaching the Park Champion logo to our Bicentennial Celebration – our event was seen in a higher esteem by our local Township Board of Supervisors and community. We received additional local publicity and fundraising support as well.

Another chief benefit of hosting a Park Champion event is something for the greater good. State officials in Harrisburg had a difficult time with the 2017 budget – and in most budgetary conversations monies we typically rely on came up on the chopping block. I know my community is desperately trying to renovate and rehabilitate our park spaces, but need those state monies to move forward. At our Bicentennial Celebration, we had our U.S. Representative, both State Senators and our State Representative – all of whom came simply because we were a Park Champion. They each joined me on stage and made wonderful remarks about the impact of parks here in West Chester. I had an opportunity to talk with each one, and subtly made my case that folks at the event, 3,500 (20% of my residents), truly valued parks and needed them to be updated. Politically speaking, my goal was to show elected officials that they needed me, Ken and our Parks and Recreation Departments as assets. Partnering with NRPA as a Park Champion helped us deliver on this goal.

Park Champion events can be small or large, ongoing events or something brand new. Logistically speaking, it’s best to align a Park Champion event with the congressional calendar, giving your federal officials no reason not to come!

For those that couldn’t make the PRPS Fall Membership meeting, Jayni Rasmussen was our guest speaker. It was clearly evident she is passionate about helping municipal departments advocate and highlight what makes them awesome! I spoke with her afterwards, and she summed up the Park Champion initiative best, “As park and recreation professionals, you already know that your work is essential in making your community healthier, happier, and more economically vibrant. But with so much public funding on the chopping block, it’s critical that you demonstrate to your members of Congress the importance of investing in local parks and recreation. Emails and phone calls are great, but there’s really nothing like experiencing a local park or recreation facility in person. That’s the idea behind NRPA’s Park Champion initiative – empowering park and recreation professionals and community advocates to show elected officials the importance of parks and recreation first-hand by inviting them to events, project openings, groundbreakings, program kick-offs, and more.  You’re already equipped with unbeatable advocacy assets: your parks, recreation centers, and community-focused programs. Now, it’s time to join the hundreds of Park Champions across the country and in Pennsylvania, and take advantage of the tools, resources, and network of support that NRPA offers to members and non-members alike through this initiative. Together as Park Champions, we can fight for the future of parks and recreation by bringing Capitol Hill to a park near you.”

While the snow is still on the ground and you are busy planning a wonderful 2018 – I encourage everyone to visit the Park Champion website and get going!

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NRPA Park Champion events – bringing local, state and federal officials together                       (L-R) US Rep. R. Costello, State Rep. C. Comitta and East Goshen Chairman M. Shane

PRPS Organizational Culture

Our collective behavior affects teamwork, productivity, quality and results – and our value.

31704567 - organizational culture word cloud on white background

At its recent meeting, the PRPS Board of Directors adopted the following statement on Organizational Culture:

The organizational culture of PRPS is expressed in the collective behavior of our leaders and members, and how our actions are perceived and received by others.

Our overarching values, beliefs and principles guide how we interact with each other, our clients, partners and stakeholders. Our behaviors affect teamwork, productivity, quality and results. That group dynamic in turn determines our corporate and community value.

To facilitate the highest levels of relevance, capacity and influence, we integrate the following core values into all operations with consistency and unity:


We uphold moral soundness in all member, partner, stakeholder and business interactions, adhering to truth, purpose, responsibility and trust.


We strive for superior workmanship, highest professional conduct, and exceptional quality productions in all endeavors.


We strive to create and lead organizational and industrial change, and develop and enable innovative solutions in strategies and results.


We respect, promote and empower diversity, inclusion, partnerships, cooperation, and multiple viewpoints and perspectives.


We practice and promote people-oriented leadership that connects diverse groups for common objectives, invests in their success, and celebrates their achievements.

By modeling, promoting, teaching, enforcing and rewarding these core values, we enable a shared future that fulfills the PRPS mission and vision.

The Member Code of Ethics and the PRPS Organizational Statement can be found on this page of the PRPS website.

Cheers to a better YOU!


The new year is right around the corner! By now, you’ve indulged (or soon will be!) in many holiday goodies and treats, and I bet I know what you’re thinking – time to make that new year’s resolution. Whether it’s a gym membership, a new diet, or simply vowing to be healthier, you WILL make 2018 your best year yet…or at least that’s what you tell yourself.

How about a dose of reality? A whopping 41% of Americans make new year’s resolutions, but only 9.2% actually feel that they successfully achieve their resolution. Let’s work together and start the year off right by making realistic goals for both our personal and professional lives.

Start by following these tips from the American Psychological Association:

  • Start small
  • Change one behavior at a time
  • Talk about it
  • Don’t beat yourself up
  • Ask for Support

Let PRPS support you and help you achieve your professional goals!

By participating in events like the annual conference, trainings, and webinars you can increase your knowledge, earn CEU credits, and achieve professional certifications. PRPS Professional Development opportunities are developed to allow professionals to learn new tips and tricks for energizing and engaging staff, stay updated on industry trends, ways to expand enrollment and increase revenue, how to advocate for your agency, and so much more!

If you are looking for more ways to get involved, consider serving on a committee, volunteering for an event, or becoming an instructor/speaker for PRPS. These opportunities not only increase your status as an already amazing parks and recreation professional, but can help you grow your experience and spruce up your resume. They also provide great networking sessions and ways to inspire future parks and recreation professionals.

Remember, the Cambridge English Dictionary states that New Year’s resolutions are a promise you make to yourself to start doing something good or stop doing something bad on the first day of the year. Dedicate time in 2018 by making a promise to yourself to become the best parks and recreation professional you can be and let PRPS help you fulfill your professional goals!

Visit prps.org for more information on 2018 professional development and volunteer opportunities, as well as technical resources, all developed to help you become a better you! Cheers to a new you!

Main Street Rising: bringing together park and recreation users from urban(ish) areas


Thinking of parkland in Pennsylvania evokes images of lush forests and rolling mountains. We think of the often breathtaking 300,000 acres of state parks, bearing names like Promised Land, Bald Eagle, and Worlds End.

And for the state with a namesake derived from Penn’s Woods, perhaps one of our Commonwealth’s greatest assets is access to parkland, even in our densest cities. From the winding trails of Fairmount Park in Philadelphia to the shores of Presque Isle in Erie, Pennsylvania’s cities also have an abundance of beautiful spaces—ensuring green space is within reach of nearly every Pennsylvanian.

Our urban parks and recreation systems aren’t without their unique challenges. Beyond passive use recreation, we use these spaces to celebrate, to protest, to dance, and to compete. It’s these spaces that are very backbone of our cities—and investment in these spaces is as critical as ever.

That’s why in 2017 PRPS ramped up the Pennsylvania Urban Alliance for Parks & Recreation—our collective effort to recognize the needs faced by park and recreation system in denser regions of the Commonwealth. Already, dozens of municipalities are joining our movement, and we’re looking to keep the progress going!

Whether you live in a small village with a town square or a burgeoning metropolis with a network of parks and recreation facilities—the Urban Alliance is looking to grow our voices throughout Pennsylvania.  Urban Alliance members assist in advocacy, programming, and event planning to strengthen this critical network and share best practices across the state. Just last month, Urban Alliance members came together in Allentown and Pittsburgh to discuss our collective challenges—and discuss potential solution sets moving forward.

But for this work to reach maximum impact, we need voices from across the Commonwealth. To find out more about the Urban Alliance—or to consider getting involved, visit our website at goodforpa.com/urban/ and let’s work together to ensure the spirit of Penn’s Woods lives on for years to come.