Raising Money and Awareness One Dollar at a Time

February 1, 2015, Department, by Michele White

This past fall, NRPA launched Fund Your Park — the only crowdfunding site dedicated to parks and recreation.Even though crowdfunding is a new buzzword, it has been around for quite some time. The first crowdfunding project in the U.S. was in 1885 to raise money for the Statue of Liberty to be installed in the New York Harbor. That campaign garnered 160,000 donations and achieved its goal of $100,000 through an ad in the New York World

Today, crowdfunding is being used for anything from venture capitalism and improving communities around the world to supporting personal goals and even raising money to make some potato salad. From the small and mundane ideas to a real game changer, this online giving tool can provide the capital to achieve whatever anyone can dream up if there is someone out there willing to back it. 

Appealing to the first project of this country, the public has an inherent interest in promoting projects and ideas that will benefit them. Parks, public spaces and experiences that are in need of attention or that haven’t been created yet appeal to the public’s desire to improve their community.

Fund Your Park was created to allow agencies to do just that — raise funds in local communities to achieve projects that would provide benefits through conservation, health and wellness, and social equity. Agency crowdfunding campaigns not only raise funds for a given project, they also raise awareness in their local communities and create park and recreation supporters by reaching new audiences. 

For the launch of Fund Your Park, nine NRPA member agencies were selected to host their campaigns on the site for 45 days. They included Illinois’ Lake County Forest Preserves, Michigan’s Grand Blanc Parks and Recreation Commission, Ohio’s Bowling Green Parks and Recreation Department, Oklahoma’s City of Edmond Parks and Recreation, Texas’ City of Sugar Land Parks and Recreation Department, Wisconsin’s West Allis-West Milwaukee Recreation and Community Services Department, Indiana’s Porter County Parks and Recreation, California’s Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District, and California’s Santa Clara Parks and Recreation Department. Their projects aimed to raise funds for student gardeners, ADA-compliant playgrounds, new playground builds, outdoor fitness equipment and a sanctuary for veterans. The first round of nine projects were followed soon after with six more, and NRPA will launch the third round later this spring. 

Together, the initial nine projects garnered a total of $78,664 in donations, grants and in-kind donations. Even though these projects did not reach their monetary goals for their 45-day campaigns, many of them achieved enough funding and support to move forward while also bolstering community support for their initiatives. 

The Lake County Forest Preserve’s project in Illinois raised half the funds they needed to sponsor a full crew of four students for the 2015 season on the Green Youth Farm crew. This sustainable agricultural program grows 10,000 pounds of food for the local community each growing season. The Green Youth Farm isn’t only a youth development and sustainable agricultural program, it also provides fresh and nutritious food to underserved families. 

Bowling Green Parks and Recreation Department in Ohio was hugely successful in raising $56,369 of the $65,000 they needed during their campaign for rejuvenating one of Bowling Green’s most economically challenged neighborhoods. Their project proposed the creation of a 3.5-acre public park on the site of a former elementary school, the first park in the ward. Bowling Green approached fundraising on multiple fronts including grant writing, partnering with other nonprofits and having an aggressive local on-the-ground campaign. They contributed their success to their fundraising strategy and in-kind donations. They also garnered donations after the close of their campaign and currently are expecting to reach $85,000 in donations. They have purchased their equipment and will have a park build with volunteers in the spring of 2015. 

In California, Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District’s goal was to revamp a community park named Good Hope with playground upgrades and ADA features. With the tag line, “Every Child Deserves a Safe Place to Play, Good Hope Park Project, Adaptive and Accessible,” Riverside knew what they were trying to achieve. Good Hope Playground is in a park-poor area with no other park within a five-mile radius. With the funds they raised along with in-kind donations to install the equipment, Good Hope will have a new playground very soon. 

California’s Santa Clara Parks and Recreation Department, Wisconsin’s West Allis-West Milwaukee Recreation and Community Services Department and Texas’ City of Sugar Land might not have reached their funding goals through their initial campaigns, but with assistance through grants, other donations and/or budgetary monies, were able to move forward with their projects. West Allis will install their outdoor exercise equipment in the spring of 2015. Sugar Land has continued to fundraise and hopes to break ground on their playground soon, and Santa Clara is moving forward with their Bracher Park community improvements project. Indiana’s Porter County Parks and Recreation staff are still fundraising around their playground build, but will be able to purchase elements of their project with the funds they have raised. The City of Edmond, Oklahoma, and Grand Blanc Parks and Recreation in Michigan are still raising funds for their projects. 

Project leaders suggested that crowdfunding should be used as one of many tools during a comprehensive fundraising campaign. It is important to listen to community feedback and identify projects that mean the most to them in order to generate a good level of support. As community leaders, park and recreation agencies have great connections with citizens, local businesses and nonprofits, but it is important to have support and momentum before launching a campaign. Overall, crowdfunding is great opportunity to engage new audiences and solidify community relationships. 

Learn more about NRPA Grant and Fundraising Resources.

Michele White is NRPA’s Executive Assistant.