Funding by Other Means

By Maureen Hannan | Posted on April 29, 2011

“Why not?” It’s a question Bill Koegler, development director of the Oglebay Foundation often poses in outlining his approaches to revenue-building when he advises park agency directors. Oglebay Park is a self-sustaining public park system in Wheeling, West Virginia, and Koegler not only heads its foundation—he instructs in revenue development at Oglebay’s National Training Center for Public Facility Managers.

When I interviewed Koegler in March for some leads on budget-enhancing best practices across the country, he explained upfront that his methods do not provide short-term fixes or quick revenue bursts. Instead, Koegler encourages directors to consider how their agencies can adapt time-tested models that are standard to other systems and institutions. Case in point: the public university endowment model.

Koegler pointed out that, while public institutions of higher learning are expected to build endowments, public park agencies are expected to manage their infrastructure and programs through the tax dollars budgeted to them. Expected, in short, to hold their hands out at all times—and for all funding needs. Sure, foundation fundraising is encouraged—if only to set up a passive 501(c)(3) arm to accept charitable donations. But somehow this traditional parks system model leaves them vulnerable to fluctuations in giving and budget-cutting pressures.

“Why not concentrate on building endowment funds?” Koegler asks. Certainly, it is a long-range solution to protecting our parks at the municipal, regional, and state levels—and one requiring skill and patience. But the impact of endowments is all around us. Universities, by developing funds that earn a year-in, year-out return, protect staff positions, fund new buildings, maintain existing facilities, and allow for the adoption of new technologies. Oh, yes, and they also create scholarship opportunities—a guarantee that the critical services they offer will always to be available to those who cannot afford them.

 Our April cover story, “Budget Blues,” addresses the budget shortfalls causing park closures and cutbacks in services and programs around the country. Koegler’s long-term thinking may not be exactly what most agency directors are seeking as they feel the pain of recent drastic cuts. It’s a good time, however, to ask how we can buffer our parks from future economic instability. Looking at how other major public institutions do it—and then asking “Why not?” can offer a good start.

Maureen Hannan is the Senior Editor for Parks & Recreation magazine.