Creating Sustainability in Your Park and Rec Programs

By Maureen Acquino | Posted on November 21, 2019

Creating Sustainability in Park and Rec Programs 410

Receiving grant funds to kickstart a program at your park and recreation agency is exciting — but how can you avoid the sinking feeling of reaching the end of your grant cycle and realizing your program can’t continue without funds?

When we talk about sustaining grant funds, it can mean different things to different people. Some of the most common things we hear that indicate sustainability include having a sound budget, ensuring support is available to meet needs, maintaining programming and impacts, and meeting your goals.

NRPA has identified four priority areas as key steps to allow agencies to achieve sustainability:

1. Policy Development

Not only are policies a way to keep expectations clear and accessible, but they also ensure the sustainability of your programs through staff turnover or site changes. Policies can be both informal — meaning a one- or two-page document outlining responsibilities and goals — or formal, working through each strategy step by step and clearly determining steps to take to achieve goals. There’s no right or wrong way — the key is creating a document that benefits your agency, and that will be utilized. Creating a lofty pie in the sky policy may be impressive, but if it’s not usable, there’s no benefit to you and your team.

2. Budgeting

Budgeting priorities are also key to sustainability. Grant funding is wonderful, but it is not a guaranteed income source. While we certainly encourage you to seek funding opportunities, thinking about the money you already have in your budget and how to allocate that is best. As you jot down your budget priorities, think about the key parts of your program. Is it staffing? Equipment? Training? What are some key line items you’d like to see in your budget, and what percentage can be allocated to these lines? If you’re a city government agency, it can be hard to have control over your budget. But, making your case for your programmatic needs to leadership can be a crucial part of ensuring financial sustainability.

3. Leadership Support

Leadership support is key. Having great ideas and the means to implement are crucial to success, but the reality is, without leadership buy-in or support, these programs can often not become a reality. Start to think about how you can engage leadership and make the case for your program as an important part of your community. Maybe it’s inviting leadership to your staff training or inviting them to visit a day when your program is taking place to do taste-tests or nutrition education lessons with kids. Work from the ‘show not tell’ method, giving leaders that first-hand experience of the impact of your program. Another great way to gain leadership support is to let program participants tell the story of the impact your program has had on them — maybe at a city council meeting or through letters written to leadership. When you’re working with leadership, it’s a great idea to have your plan in place with clear, concise, attainable goals.

4. Staff Training

Take a few minutes to think about ways in which you could bring these resources, or other tools you’ve found, back to your staff to support the continuation of grant goals past the grant cycle. Is it taking a deeper dive into the nutrition education curriculum with your staff, maybe making it the focus of some upcoming staff meetings? Role modeling is a great tool in keeping kids engaged with healthy behaviors, so use staff training as opportunities to share that with your team — and encourage them to try the activities and test foods so they can then share their experiences with kids. Offering staff training on your programmatic efforts also opens to door to train-the-trainer events, letting your current staff train incoming staff on policies and procedures.

Using these tips as a roadmap will help to solidify your plans and ensure a clear vision to support your work moving forward. Using each resource as a deep dive is the perfect way to stay clear to your goals, and help your program stay strong after a particular funding opportunity has ended.

For more tips on creating sustainable programs, check out this quick video!

Maureen Acquino is an NRPA Health and Wellness Program Manager.