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.


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!

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.

Passing go

IMG_0549In the midst of educating park maintenance staff over the years, I’ve used a technique that has proven beneficial for staff, leadership and myself in the same process. Sounds too good to be true? Think again. Short of any name for the process I just call it “Passing Go” – Those of you that have played or still play board games can relate.  

Disclaimer: This process, as you will see, is predicated on your (or your supervisors) specific background and experience. Although the application is pretty universal to many areas within Parks & Recreation.

The theory is simple, place yourself on the crew/environment for a day or two, whatever you can fit into your schedule to work WITH the staff as a crew member. Yes that may mean a different starting time, work clothes or even weekend work. You become part of the crew for the day doing the tasks that they would typically be assigned to or respond to.

The response is immediate and educational for both sides. Staff will be amazed you took time out to “be one of them” for the day.  A new appreciation for the work can be cemented for both sides. I know I learned intimate details of the job and was able to understand why and how my decisions affected the outcome of the work productivity. It also helped me find out why certain tasks were either not done efficiently or not completed as expected. After doing this myself over time, different seasons and situations, it was invaluable to provide more efficient direction and the crews demonstrated a greater willingness & acceptance of daily directions. We also built a personal connection which was also a very unintended positive consequence.

I still do this with my staff and have an ongoing, maintenance volunteer situation that I call my working vacation. I use two weeks of vacation each year to volunteer to be on the Little League World Series Grounds Crew. Yes I love this work and it helps keep me grounded (yes that is a pun). But over the years it has also taught me what it means to be part of a work crew, take direction and I almost always come away with a new maintenance technique I’ve picked up from another crew member that I can use back on my crews. So “Pass Go”, you might not collect $200, but the outcomes are well worth it.

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