Parks make people feel good, do good, and have fun. Time spent at a park, playground, or recreational area can provide physical and mental health benefits to people of all ages by reducing stress, encouraging more physical activity, and bringing communities together. That’s why park and recreation areas must continue to be built, protected, and improved to ensure their viability for generations to come.
If you’re a park professional, community leader, or even a resident looking to improve your local park or recreational area, a great way to achieve your goal is by fundraising. Park equipment and labor can be expensive – depending on the scope of your project – so consider donations, sponsorships, and grants to help offset the costs.
Whether you’re looking to replace an old jungle gym with updated equipment, add new picnic tables and shelter to a community area or are looking to build and furnish an all-new park, implement these fundraising ideas to get your park project off the ground:
Get the family involved
Parks benefit people of all ages, so encourage everyone – from school-age children to grandparents – to take part in community events to raise money for your park equipment. They can help plan and staff the events or be participants. The more inclusive your events are, the more success you’ll have. Consider organizing one or more of these time-tested fundraisers:
Fun run or walkathon: Set up a friendly 5K walk/run with an entrance fee or plan a walkathon in the park in which participants raise money by collecting donations or pledges for walking a predetermined distance. Encourage participants to wear fun costumes and bring their dressed-up pets to garner more interest. Both types of events appeal to a large audience and can include an after-event party with refreshments and prizes.
Car wash fundraiser: Host a car wash event with volunteers offering to wash cars for donations, with all proceeds directed toward the park equipment fund. Make yours a unique car wash experience by providing a refreshment area for visitors and playing upbeat music that volunteers can dance to while washing cars.
Community yard sale: Yard sales are hugely popular – they give bargain hunters the ability to scour a cornucopia of merchandise to find everyday items, odds and ends and, sometimes, treasures. Organize a community-wide yard sale where residents donate their items for you to sell in a parking lot or at the park, with all proceeds going toward purchasing park equipment.
Another great way to fundraise your park project is by entertaining people. Donors are more apt to give to your cause if there’s something in it for them. Whether it’s food, music, art or prizes – donors love the idea of giving money to help an organization when there’s a treat for them as well. Here are three types of events that help you give as well as get:
Art or craft fair: Organize an art or craft fair in the park, where local artists and artisans can sell their creations and have a portion of the proceeds go toward the equipment fund. The local artists will appreciate the free advertising you’ll provide, not to mention the exposure to a larger audience. Fair attendees will leave with wonderful handmade crafts and art in hand, which will always remind them of your park.
Park picnic or BBQ: Tempt people’s tastebuds by hosting a picnic or BBQ event at the park with an admission fee. Enlist the help of local restaurants or caterers willing to donate a portion or all of their food to your cause. In addition to great food, be sure to have games, live music and other entertainment to attract a large crowd.
Evening event with silent auction: For a more formal event, host a silent auction. Collect valuable items donated by local businesses and individuals, and list a starting bid amount for each. A cash bar and musical entertainment will help attendees loosen their ties and, hopefully, their purse strings. Consider including other pay-to-play activities like a wine and dessert tasting to raise additional funds.
Approach local businesses
In addition to organizing fundraisers, reach out to local businesses and organizations to garner support for your park project. Support can come in many ways – from monetary donations and sponsorships to subsidized earning opportunities.
Sponsorship options: Visit local businesses to ask for help in funding your park project. Create different sponsorship levels based on the monetary donations that give them permanent advertising at your park. Print custom signs listing your sponsors at your park's opening, display their logos on park equipment or benches, or consider naming permanent installations after them like a playground, pavilion, or outdoor stage.
Work sports concessions: Did you know that many sports venues like stadiums, arenas, and ballparks let volunteers earn fundraising money working their concession stands? Many pay a percentage of concession stand sales and some, like The Amway Center in Orlando, FL, tout that groups have subsidized 100% of their annual fundraising goals each season working with them. Contact your local sports venue to see what kind of opportunities they can offer your group.
Expand your fundraising to the masses
If your park project is projected to cost a lot more than you can make via local fundraising events, try casting a larger donor net through crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is a way to raise funds through the support of backers who typically contribute through an online platform such as Kickstarter or GoFundMe. With the help of social media, crowdfunding platforms can help you reach a larger audience and get closer to reaching the funding you need.
Apply for public funding
Another way to diversify your funding is by researching and applying for grants from government agencies, foundations, and organizations that support community improvement projects and park development. Examples include the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, state or regional resources that address critical public safety needs, and national non-profits like KaBOOM!, which supports the development of playgrounds.
If you’re a park professional with a large project undertaking, download the Park and Recreation Professionals’ Guide to Fundraising by the NRPA (National Park and Recreation Association). This comprehensive guide offers a detailed plan for successful fundraising with tactics, tips, and resources to help you in your efforts, including applying for grants and public funding.
You don’t have to work alone in your efforts to improve your local park or rec area. Your community has a vested interest – as do many non-profit and government organizations – so develop a strong proposal, create a realistic budget, and identify the different types of donors you need to afford your park equipment and other improvement costs. Once that is done, plan some wonderful fundraisers that will help you meet your goal to build your community park.