Feature Article - November 2006
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Special Supplement: Problem-Solver Guidebook

By Stacy St. Clair and Emily Tipping

Starting a Memorial Bench Program

In tough economic times, parks budgets feel the effects as much as anyone. The revenue streams dry up, and patrons' recreation dollars dwindle. With most recreation departments already stretched thin, more creative ways to bring in money must be found.

One increasingly popular option has become the selling of memorial benches. This is an excellent way to boost community ownership of local parks, purchase much-needed park amenities and boost revenue. We'll walk you through the process of launching this tried-and-true fundraiser.

Q: What type of bench should we earmark for memorializing?

A: What type do you need? Don't limit yourself to what can be memorialized. Allow people to dedicate benches in places that were special to them.

Q: A lot of other parks seem to be doing memorial pavers. Why would I go with benches instead?

A: There's nothing wrong with pavers, but there are many advantages to going with benches. First, benches cost more than bricks and therefore will appeal to a different set of donors. Second, parks can always use more benches, whether they are new ones or replacements. Pavers are normally one-time fund-raising efforts, while memorial benches can be an ongoing source of revenue.

Q: I feel like we're always hitting up the same people for donations. How can we broaden our base?

A: The trick is to increase your exposure throughout the entire community. Set up booths at festivals and fairs. Ask local schools if you can send flyers home with students, or see if the local municipality will let you enclose pamphlets in monthly utility bills.

It's also wise to personally explain the program to your most prolific donors. Even if they're not interested, they're probably willing to spread the word. Ask them if they could put a blurb in their company or neighborhood newsletter.

Q: Are there particular groups or organizations we should target with this campaign?

A: Of course, all civic groups should be informed of the fund-raising effort. You should also take the time to explain it to local funeral homes and assisted-living centers. They may be able to share information with families looking to make memorials after the death of a loved one. Be sure to include information on how to leave money for a memorial bench in a living trust. This way, people planning their funeral and estate distribution can make a gift that lives in perpetuity.

Q: What's the best way to get the word out?

A: Don't be afraid to use the local media. Ask them to do a story announcing the fund-raising effort, then occasionally provide updates on the project. If a donor has a particularly interesting story, don't forget to share it with the press. Consider purchasing advertisements thanking your most recent donors. Not only will it create goodwill with contributors, it also helps spread the word about your effort.

Q: What if I don't have the staff to cover an effort like this?

A: Manpower shortages are inevitable these days. Consider creating a parks foundation headed by local volunteers. These people will serve as your foot soldiers in the community. Make sure the foundation receives nonprofit status so donations are tax-deductible.


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