New NRPA Toolkit Helps Park and Recreation Agencies Secure Funding for Health and Wellness Programs

By Elesha Kingshott, MSW, MPH | Posted on January 7, 2022

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The leading causes of death and disability in the United States are related to the conditions of people’s daily lives. This is especially true in contributing to poor health in older adults. That’s why there’s a critical need for community-based organizations, such as park and recreation agencies, to provide health and wellness programs that work with older adults to prevent and manage chronic illnesses. Health and wellness programs at community-based organizations can support older adults to lead healthy, active and vibrant lives. But in order to offer these programs and for older adults to benefit from them, community-based organizations need stable, diverse and sufficient funding.

CDC’s Funding to NRPA

Staff at the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) have seen the transformative role health and wellness programs have in the lives of older adults. Through funding from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NRPA established evidence-based physical activity programs at park and recreation agencies in 49 states — growing the number of park and recreation agencies offering these programs to more than 230 and reaching nearly 25,000 people. Participants in these programs reported improved arthritis pain, function, mood, social connections and quality of life.

Over the last year, I have worked in partnership with NRPA to develop resources for existing programs to maintain and grow these programs after the funding from CDC ends. We’ve also explored ways to provide tools to those who are not yet offering these programs, so they can begin to offer health and wellness programs at their organizations or agencies.

Challenges of Funding Health and Wellness Programs

In our work to help programs secure funding, we discussed and acknowledged how hard it is to find steady and reliable funding from a diverse group of partners. It can be a daunting task. We know staff time is stretched with competing priorities — often there isn’t enough time to do all the current projects in a workday, let alone to look for new sources of funding for programs. We also know that navigating funding for health and wellness programs can be especially challenging for park and recreation agencies, given it’s a new area of work for many agencies and navigating funding for health programs in the U.S. is especially complex. Despite these challenges, we know that community-based organizations can secure new and diverse funding for health and wellness programs with the right tools, resources and approach. 

Securing Funding

As community-based organizations explore new sources of funding, many will have questions such as:

  • What type of funding is available for my program?
  • Could my health and wellness program be reimbursed by a health insurer?
  • Should my organization approach the funder directly or work with other community-based organizations? If so, how do we form a partnership?
  • What do we say when we reach out to discuss funding health and wellness programs?
  • What resources are out there to help me secure funding?

Financing Health and Wellness Programs: A Toolkit for Park and Recreation Professionals

We have developed a toolkit to help you answer these questions and more. Financing Health and Wellness Programs: A Toolkit for Park and Recreation Professionals was designed to provide community-based organizations with insights, tips and resources to help secure funding for health and wellness programs. In this toolkit, you’ll find a case study of a successful program that was able to establish connections with a health insurer to reimburse evidence-based physical activity classes for older adults, which we hope can serve as a model for other programs.

The toolkit also provides resources on how to create partnerships with other organizations, so you can collectively seek joint funding. We share tips and talking points on how to effectively communicate with potential funders and partners about the benefits of health and wellness classes for older adults. The toolkit also contains resources from other organizations working in this area.  Each of the tools can be tailored to meet your organization’s needs.

While finding new funding can be daunting, we hope the resources in this toolkit will make the work easier. Our aim is to have these tools help your organization secure stable, diverse and sufficient funding so your organization can tackle the causes of death and disability in older adults and older adults can be healthy and have high-quality lives.

Elesha Kingshott, MSW, MPH (she/her), is the founder and principal consultant at Kingshott Consulting.