Pictured: Nikki Taylor, CPRP (she/her), the assistant director for Town of Bedford (Massachusetts) Recreation Department.
I often find myself reflecting on the relationships that I have built and maintained with private program vendors in my 10 years as a recreation program coordinator and recreation assistant director. Those in the field know that an effective recreation department utilizes not only employees and volunteers but also private program vendors to offer well-rounded programming to your community.
Maintaining a positive relationship with facilitators of your programming is vital to your department’s success. Supporting and working with vendors who offer programs allows you to not only expand but also enhance your seasonal offerings. Vendors, and their specialized offerings, bring important programmatic diversity to your community and offer the public the opportunity to engage in different ways.
Knowing the importance of these relationships, how can we actively work toward maintaining positive connections with private program vendors? When working with vendors, I have found that the key to a successful relationship is to actively engage in their programs and support them while they are working in your community and beyond.
Seeking Vendors and References
Often, the first steps to adding new and exciting programming to your community involve collaboration, sharing ideas, and seeking recommendations from surrounding communities and colleagues. Seek feedback from other recreation departments regarding their vendor partnerships. Ask about their programming, their instructors and their professionalism. Having a strong relationship with a vendor is more than just a creative program idea. It encompasses all aspects of a professional relationship. Find out in advance if they have been responsive to feedback, if their instructors have been reliable and if their curriculum is well-received. Make sure any vendor you are considering partnering with has been properly vetted before entering into the partnership.
Communication and Setting Clear Expectations
Program vendors typically work with hundreds of communities and a variety of recreation departments, and each community is different. Do not assume that a vendor will know how your community or program is typically run — give them a robust breakdown and orientation regarding your expectations and policies. Provide those policies to vendors in writing and make sure that they share these expectations with their instructors. Check-in frequently with their staff to make sure that they are aware of your expectations and make yourself available to their onsite staff so they feel comfortable in your community. Written expectations and site-specific plans allow vendors to communicate to their staff exactly what is expected in your community.
Build Bridges for Private Program Vendors When Possible
Sometimes, when we find something special, we tend to keep it for ourselves. This is counterproductive when you discover a new or amazing private program vendor. Help private vendors grow by sharing their successes and unique programming with surrounding communities. Provide references for vendors who have enriched your community. Helping vendors be successful in your area allows their programming and their company to thrive, keeping them in business and their unique offerings in your community.
Embrace Vendors in Your Community
A mentor once told me that a recreation department is much like a piece of fabric, where individual threads are woven together to create a strong piece of material. Each vendor is a piece of thread in your department’s tapestry. Beginning to think of vendors and their programs as part of your fabric and not just a contractor helps creates a community within your department. As most recreation professionals know, strong programming is part of building a strong community.
Nikki Taylor, CPRP (she/her) is the assistant director for Town of Bedford Recreation Department, Massachusetts.
This blog post was written in partnership with the NRPA Young Professionals Network (YPN). Learn more about the NRPA YPN on NRPA Connect or on the YPN Facebook group.