An ABC Approach We as Parks, Recreation and Open Space Service Providers Can Engage to Build Community During the CORVID 19 Pandemic
No one knows exactly how the current health and economic crises will play out. locally, nationally or even as a global situation. Parks and Recreation as an industry must be proactive in how it provides necessary leisure and open space outlets for the public. Now is the time to seek out and explore alternate sources of revenue, review expenses, potentially tighten spending, review programs, and get creative in developing opportunities for community engagement. This will assist your agency in order to sustain existing programs and direct new efforts. Here is an ABC approach to activities you can engage in right now to increase your effectiveness during this period of crisis management.
- Steady your team. For Parks and Recreation Departments or agencies, people, relationships and community are immensely important. COVID-19 has caused disruptions, anxiety, and uncertainty both at home, at work, and in the community. Imposed isolation, stock market volatility, and uncertainty around job retention brings additional concerns. It is critical to communicate often, acknowledging the changing reality and expressing the organization’s support and flexibility in these tough times. Help your team stay balanced and focused on long-term goals, while supporting day-to-day needs and priorities. Stay connected with video conferencing and be creative with online activities. Calm fears, support flexibility, stay positive, and encourage your team daily.
- Communicate with patrons, program participants and event sponsors right away. Parks and Recreation professionals need to get in front of the inevitable extra funding needs that the pandemic and economic weakness will cause. Ask your existing event sponsors and potential donors to help you create a cash reserve now that will help meet needs during this rapidly evolving situation. Set a priority goal of maintaining or building your position to ensure you will remain among their top priorities this year. Now is the time to build both your street credibility and reputation as a go to resource. Ensure your residents, patrons, affiliated organizations/clubs, and program registrants receive full value for fees paid. Explore initiatives that can succeed in bringing our community together. Use social media, virtual programming, and at home hands on activities. Show extra compassion to seniors. There was an old TV commercial that tag lined “Reach Out and Touch Someone”. It applies here, pick up the phone and call someone to see how they are doing. Identify any needs that your agency can help meet. Encourage your community to stay engaged with your agency and each other. Remind them often to maintain social distancing protocol. Be positive, reminding everyone on staff and in the public that we will get through this together.
- Stay on top of your financials. Now is the time to deeply analyze your current financial situation. Where can you conserve cash to prepare for a potential drop in revenue, sponsors, donations, and grant awards? Are there any funds that can be redirected to existing or essential programs that meet community pandemic or economic needs? What would it cost to start up new programs that address new challenges? Who can we partner with to provide needed community services?
- Apply public engagement best practices to your website and communications. Share your vision through powerful imagery. Make sure all of your messaging builds and reinforces your brand. Bring residents, program participants, event sponsors and potential donors into your story with metrics that demonstrate the urgency of your mission and personal stories of how you’ve helped. Expand your reach by ensuring your website, social media, and campaigns make it easy for people to give time/volunteering, money, or material items.
- Review current programs. Knowing that needs will accelerate at the same time the economy is slowing, it’s time to study recent program performance in terms of financial outlays versus program impacts. What programs have made the biggest difference? What programs will be needed going forward? Where can we build upon current programs and services? This is a terrific time to institute a review of the ROI, (Return on Investment), of your programming and spending per resident to maintain quality parks, recreation services and open space.
- Apply for new grants. If you will be offering programs, events or services related to or responding to outcomes attributed to the pandemic, look for federal, state and local grants in aid and apply early. Research potential partners including third party affiliates. The networking you engage in now will assist you in leveraging for needed services in a post crisis environment. This crisis will pass. New relationships can pay dividends for years to come.
- Get creative with fundraisers. In the months ahead, social distancing rules may make it impossible for you to host the in-person fundraising events you have planned before, such as golf outings, charity auctions, dinners, and sporting events. Think about how you could recreate some of these experiences online, or better yet, get creative and develop entirely new experiences. Tools like Facebook Live, online meeting software, and social media can help.
These are unprecedented times for all of us in municipal leisure services in Illinois. For Parks and Recreation stewards and leaders, the pressure may come from both sides – increased need and potentially shrinking funding lowering priority status with decision makers. Crisis management will require flexibility and proactive management in order to make an impact, meet needs, and find enough funding. We need commitment to and demonstrate a will to pull everyone together to get through these extraordinary challenges. As Churchill stated, “leadership is not born in times of crisis it is merely exhibited”.
Parks and Recreation as an industry faces uncertainty on two fronts—a worldwide public health crisis coupled with worldwide economic contraction. In Hawthorn Woods, we stand with you and wish to express our belief in this indispensable industry of caring. We know you will emerge from challenging times stronger, having found innovative ways to assist your communities by staying flexible and engaged with one another.