How to Set the Cornerstone in a Park Foundation?

By Dr. Nathan A. Schaumleffel, Driven Strategic LLC

From my last blog, you learned friends groups and park foundations are where public park and recreation administration and the nonprofit world of philanthropy, fundraising, volunteer management, and program evaluation collide!

I shared what a park foundation and friends

So, what is the cornerstone to an optimally-functioning park foundation? Metaphorically, the cornerstone of a park foundation or friends group is the board of directors.

The cornerstone or foundation stone concept is derived from the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation, important since all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.

Successful park foundations and friends groups take board leadership that has capacity to understand the benefits of public parks and recreation, advocacy, and the power of philanthropy, volunteerism, and good governance of the nonprofit sector! They need to function within the BoardSource Board Member’s Code of Ethics.

Park foundation board membership should not be a personal play for a political appointment or an upcoming political election.

If your board is to truly be the cornerstone of your park foundation, then board members need to be prepared to give the 3 T’s of board membership: time, treasure, and talent, as well as do the 3 G’s of board membership: give and get or get off!

Board members need to be prepared to generously give their financial resources, as well as invest their time and talent for governance roles and for serving in specific positions that would typically be a staff role for a large, well-funded organization. For example, one board member might also be the Resource Development Director and another board member might serve as the Volunteer Manager for the organization while a third board member might serve as the Park Project Coordinator. Board membership in most park foundations and friends groups require the traditional governance role AND a typical staff role!

As you can see, the board of directors is truly the cornerstone to optimally-functioning park foundations! The board must have the capacity to lead and manage the organization, as well as maintain positive relationships with the staff that manage and the politicians that set policy for the public park and recreation agency.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of well-meaning park lovers who serve on these boards that simply do not have the skill, time, or money to be a board member. Most folks join a park friends group because they have a particular love for a specific property…a trail...a stream…a campground….a certain vista. They join to be affiliated and to be supportive. They want to be a part of something that helps sustain the park and improve it. Beyond paying dues, wearing a t-shirt or hat, maybe putting a sticker on their automobile or a patch on their pack, and visiting the park, many park friends do little else.

They do little else, not because they are lazy, but because they have not been engaged in the work of the group in meaningful ways that highlight their strengths, minimize their weaknesses, work with their personal schedules, and connect with their motivations to volunteer. Sometimes park lovers in our park foundations and friends groups can love the property a little too much to the point of damaging relationships with park staff and politicians.

The cornerstone, the board, must have staff support from the public park and recreation agency, which takes respectful and positive relationships. Oftentimes, through the by-laws, a park foundation gives an ex-officio seat on the board to the director (or his or her designee) of the public park and recreation agency, which makes plenty of sense. But, nonprofit board members need capacity-building staff support in the areas of board development and governance, volunteer management, resource development, program development and evaluation, technology, and communication, marketing, and public relations.

In the year 2000, there were about 1 million nonprofit organizations in the United States. Today, there are almost 2 million U.S. nonprofit organizations. From my experience, there are a mess of nonprofit boards without the capacity to govern their organization and without the ability to run programs and services that are mission-focused and impactful.

The National Association of Park Foundations strives to provide the tools necessary for board members and executives of park foundations and friends group, so that nonprofit leaders are equipped to lead and manage organizations in local communities.

The National Association of Park Foundations' mission is to motivate and educate park districts to adopt and/or strengthen park foundations across the United States. The vision of the National Association of Park Foundations provides for greater relevance of park foundation activities in respected communities across the country.

Now, only a handful of states have park districts, and over 90% (or approximately 350) of all park districts reside in the State of Illinois, so let’s assume that NAPF is not only interested in assisting park foundations and friends groups that are affiliated with park districts in a handful of states, but also interested in facilitating the development of strong park foundations and friends groups for all types of local park and recreation providers.

If you're reading this, then you have probably figured out that fun cost funds! Next time, I'll share tips on facilitating volunteer engagement that builds and finances impactful local park foundations and friends groups.

NAPF Membership

I truly hope you’ll begin to enhance the park experience in your community by setting the cornerstone of your park foundation by committing to developing your board into a functional, competent group of individuals! Your first step in developing your board is to join NAPF!

Consider joining NAPF today! You’ll get the capacity-building resources to start, build, and grow the impact of your local park foundation or friends group!

Please, follow both NAPF (@the_napf) and I (@drschaumleffel and @drivenstrategic) on Twitter! Contact us if you need technical assistance or have questions about park foundations! We're here to help!

Also, sign-up for the NAPF e-newsletter, which is free for NAPF members and non-members, as well as subscribe to the NAPF blog via RSS feed.

Remember, neither Google Chrome or Safari have built in RSS readers. You’ll need to download a free plug-in!

If you found this blog helpful, please share on social media!

© Dr. Nathan A. Schaumleffel, Terre Haute, Indiana, USA

Photo Credit: Josh Conyers, Cornerstone of the Saint Louis Art Museum at Forest Park, City of St. Louis, Missouri Parks and Recreation Department (September 2015).

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