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Feature Article - January 2019
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Better Together

Partnerships for Program Success

By Rick Dandes


Recent economic conditions have forced many community recreation administrators to be creative when looking for ways to finance new programs or renovation projects. One increasingly popular solution to that challenge is collaborating with like-minded public or private organizations. By doing so, a cash-starved parks and recreation department can gain access to the resources it needs to achieve its goals and provide the programs that are most important to the community.

But how do you find partners in your community?

"There are a broad range of possibilities," said Crystal Ross, assistant director, Dallas Park and Recreation Department.

"We go about it in a couple of different ways," she said. "First, through promoting the opportunity to partner or sponsor a program via our website. When people click on our home page, those opportunities are listed there. Our current hot issues are presented on our website."

Ross also uses the department's social media page, letting people know about new programs, and new initiatives that are occurring within her department, and then stating that there are opportunities to partner with the department to grow or enhance a particular initiative.

Lastly, Ross said, "we take advantage of the free media. There are community talk TV shows that we go on. If we have a new program initiative that we are trying to roll out, we will try to get on their calendar and do a face-to-face interview. Being on TV can help reach a mass audience. Typically, during the interview we'll say that we are searching for partners to help grow or enhance whatever that particular program is."

In Louisville, Ky., Ben Johnson, assistant director of recreation, Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation, said he is always looking for partnership opportunities. "In my role as assistant director I go to many community meetings to represent the department," he said. "I have a wide range of responsibilities and partnership opportunities. Every meeting I go to, or appear on TV, radio or post something on the Internet, I look for ways that we can find partners. It helps that given the facilities I oversee, I can also offer to potential partners space to work in our facilities."

In Louisville, Johnson explained, his department has access to facilities larger than he has staff for. "With the economy and nature of programming," he said, "I know that I am not going to get additional staffing so it ends up being a win-win scenario, getting other individuals or organizations into our facilities. It brings in more traffic, we can work with them; they can work with us. I do everything I can to make that known to small organizations. That we have the properties."

You also should try reaching out to local college or university faculties with partnership opportunities, suggested Jennifer VanSickle, Ed.D., professor, sport management, University of Indianapolis, Ind. "Make it clear that you have opportunities for the school to get involved in a program that will help do things that you wouldn't ordinarily be able to do because you don't have the finances and personnel. It will also give our students a chance to learn."

There are many possibilities when it comes to partnering with government agencies, but in some cases, a public-private partnership can be an ideal solution to a problem.

Establish a relationship with the school, VanSickle said. Look for friends. Go to the school's website and look for staff in the management or recreation management departments.

"Some universities," VanSickle said, have what they call a center for community engagement. Those are all places where people currently in the field can find a partner who might help a school provide an enriched learning experience for their students, but also benefits the community, particularly when a municipality might not have the staff or money to roll out the program.

In Pennsylvania there are seven LDDs, or Local Development Districts, where municipalities can work with experts to find grant money or private partnerships. There are also SEDA-Council of Governments, explained William C. Seigel, executive director, SEDA-Council of Governments, Lewisburg, Pa.

SEDA-Council of Governments is an organization that serves 11 Pennsylvania counties, covering about a fifth of the state. It exists at the request of the county commissioners to provide technical assistance and services to businesses and communities throughout the 11-county region. The region is generally rural with a number of small municipalities that basically have volunteer management, so the COGs work very closely with the citizenry and elected officials to facilitate the development of quality of life improvements.

"Most of the time, potential partners come to us," Seigel said. "Our reputation in this region is such that municipalities and businesses that have a recreational need reach for our assistance. Municipalities will come to us with any number of challenges. It might be to develop recreational facilities. It might be to address the fact that they have a swimming pool that has been a deficit operation for many years and is in need of major improvements. We will actually go in and help educate the citizenry and evaluate options, and unfortunately there have been some instances where the conclusion of the process was the community can't really afford to maintain this facility."

But those are the exceptions, Seigel said. Most of the time, when his organization gets engaged with a community, it is to find ways to leverage funds, using local municipal funds, private funds, maybe bank, Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) funding, contributions from businesses and residents to develop recreational facilities.