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Feature Article - August 2015

Joining Forces

Partnerships Help Parks, Recreation Facilities Improve Effectiveness

By Deborah L. Vence


Developing partnerships with other organizations, whether they are nonprofit or for-profit, is vital in helping to make recreation facilities more effective in executing their plans for new or existing developments or programs.

"The primary reason to partner with others is to collaborate in gaining or conserving resources (i.e., funding, expertise, people, spaces, time) in order to provide facilities, programs or services needed for the community," said Teresa Penbrooke, CEO and Founder of GreenPlay LLC, based in Louisville, Colo., an organization that operates as a consortium of experts, acting as a management tool for agencies by organizing consultant teams that are responsive and understand the needs of administrators and their communities to provide services for park, recreation, open space and related agencies.

But, before deciding on which organization to partner with, some important factors need to be considered.

"It's always good to make it competitive. [Look at different] organizations to see what else is out there in the marketplace," said Adrian Benepe, senior vice president, director of city park development, The Trust for Public Land, New York.

And, you need an exit strategy. "If you are going with just for-profit, you have to have an out clause [that allows you] to terminate the contract at will. If operators can't deliver services, you have to be able to terminate the partnership. You have to have a strong contract with performance measures in it," he said, adding that an RFP process enables you to look at the different respondents.

Penbrooke recommends that a partnership policy be created first.

"We recommend this if they are considering partnering [with an organization]. What that does is that it saves time and allows staff to have a protocol for talking with people without wasting time or under-promising, and sets up a formal approval process," she said.

Practical Steps

Doing your homework is essential in creating a potential partnership. In fact, GreenPlay has a Sample Partnership Policy on its website that provides a guide to the process for forming a partnership between an agency and another entity.

For instance, it states that "This policy is designed to guide the process for XX in their desire to partner with private, non-profit, or other governmental entities for the development, design, construction and operation of possibly partnered recreational or related facilities and/or program partnerships that may occur on city property."

Moreover, the sample policy states that "XX would like to identify for-profit, non-profit and governmental entities that are interested in proposing to partner with the city to develop recreational and related facilities and/or programs. A major component in exploring any potential partnership will be to identify additional collaborating partners that may help provide a synergistic working relationship in terms of resources, community contributions, knowledge and political sensitivity."

Under the sample proposed partnership outline format, the outline includes a section on the "Description of Proposing Organization" that includes the name of the organization, purpose of the organization, years in business and more.

To boot, a list of guiding questions is included to address any details that can help outline the benefits of a possible partnership.

For example, some of the questions for "Meeting the Needs of our Community" include:

  • In your experience, how does the project align with park and recreation goals?
  • How does the proposed program or facility meet a need for agency residents?
  • Who will be the users? What is the projected number and profile of participants who will be served?
  • What alternatives currently exist to serve the users identified in this project?

Under "The Financial Aspect," questions include:

  • Can the project generate more revenue and/or less cost per participant than the agency can provide with its own staff or facilities?
  • Will your organization offer programs at reasonable and competitive costs for participants? What are the anticipated prices for participants?
  • What resources are expected to come from the parks and recreation department?
  • Will there be a monetary benefit for the city, and if so, how and how much?

Benepe added that facilities that want to establish partnerships should ask: What are you after? Service? Or profit? Those are the key questions, he said.