Raising Funds for Fun

Donna Thompson's picture
Posted By Dr. Donna Thompson
March 1, 2001

How to get the money needed for your new playground

Playground Fund Raising - price tag on playground

Money is often an issue for people looking to purchase playground equipment.

Concerned adults in communities around America are working to make playgrounds safer for children. Many times, this means replacing old, outdated and unsafe equipment or buildings on new sites. Regardless of whether one is upgrading an existing site or starting from scratch, the cost of playground equipment can be a major obstacle to providing a safe environment. Many well-intentioned groups are simply unprepared for the financial costs associated with playgrounds. However, with careful planning and foresight, this cost obstacle can be overcome. This article will briefly outline some of the ideas that any group needs to consider to raise the necessary funds for the development of safe playgrounds.

Getting Started

It is difficult, if not impossible, to raise money without knowing the who, what, where, why, and how of fundraising. A good starting point, therefore, is to list some important questions whose answers will help guide the fund-raising efforts (see table below). Based on the answers to these questions, one should be able to formulate a fundraising plan.

Questions That Guide Fund-Raising Efforts1

1. Why are the funds necessary?
2. What are the parts that need financial support?
3. When should you consider fund raising?
4. Who will be in charge of raising funds?
5. What are the available avenues for funding?

a. Grants
b. Matching Funds
c. Other

6. Where can you go for help?
7. What should you do when you succeed?

Why are the funds necessary?

Before pursuing a hunt to finance playground site and equipment, it is critical that the design of the playground is determined. In other words, do not ask for funds until there is a tangible plan in place and you have an understanding of all the specific components needed to complete the playground project. This is important for two reasons; first, you need to know total costs of a project so that you aren't forced to go out more than once asking for funds. People may give once, or even twice, but, more than that you may run into a stone wall.

Second, it is easier for potential givers to consider a design or picture than an idea. In this case, a picture may be worth a thousand words and $1,000.00. People give to something that is more concrete than abstract. The point is to wait to begin the actual raising of funds until the playground has been designed and you know how much needs to be raised and for what. Some people have tried to raise funds before the project was designed and have failed miserably. The patience in waiting for the design will speed up the ability to obtain funds later.

Having a playground plan in place will also allow you to target specific groups. For instance, playground sites should be designed for either ages 2 to 5 and 5 to 12. In turn, these age groupings will determine a focus for fund raising. If the playground is for the preschool age levels, then be sure to target funding entities and individuals that are primarily interested in preschool children. On the other hand, if the playground is designed for children ages 5 to 12, then focus on those who are interested in the school-aged population. It may be that the playground is designed for both groups. Of course, the groups should be separated on the playground site, but including both groups in the plan provides a wider potential base for financial support. In addition, it is important to remember that the playground should be designed for all children, that includes children with disabilities. Thus, there may be other opportunities for funding from agencies, foundations, and individuals who have an interest in providing places for all children to use the playground together.

What are the parts of the plan that need financial support?

As you consider securing funds for your playground, consider breaking the whole structure into small funding components. It may be possible to prepare proposals for the whole playground. On the other hand, you may want to look at separate funding sources for surfacing materials, specific pieces of equipment, installation and support factors such as benches and landscaping. You also may be able to find agencies or individuals interested in funding opportunities for all children to play together.

In addition to the equipment, remember the surfacing. There are individuals, agencies, and companies that may have an interest and be willing to fund the area under the playground equipment that provides safety to prevent potential injuries when children fall. Others may be interested in providing individuals to install the playgrounds. Still, others may be secured to provide maintenance on a regular basis. What about fencing? Some may be interested in giving the opportunity to know that the children will be secure from traffic. Still, others may be willing to give the gift of time to supervise the children, once they are using the equipment. Once you have looked at your community, arrange the opportunities for support in large to smaller packages, and in a time frame that you think your community will be able to endure.

When should you consider fund raising?

You probably need to consider fund raising for at least 10 to 25 percent of proposed cost of your playground. The amount will depend on the total gross cost of the playground, your ability to secure grants and the toleration of the community to contribute local funds. Fundraising should occur after grant proposals are written. If it were possible to get a local business or agency to provide some financial support, it would be nice if the total asked of the rest of the community were 5 to 10 percent of the project. It is also good to time that part of the fundraising plan to be short and at the end of the funding cycle.

Who is in charge of raising funds?

On every playground planning committee, one person should be designated as the fund-raising chairperson. That person needs to have a passion for the project. The individual needs to be able to convince others of the importance of the playground and the contributions that resource will make to the community. In addition, the chairperson should be willing to commit six months to one year to the project. The individual should be a good listener and attend all of the playground planning meetings in order to get a sense of the purpose of the project.

Once identified, the chairperson should form a committee of individuals who are willing to assist with projects. The group should have an interest in pursuing various avenues to get the funds. Some should have the ability to pursue grants, others should have contacts in the community who might be willing to spearhead a fundraising project. It is important that notes be taken at the meetings and that decisions are made by the group in order to incorporate the wisdom available.

What are the available avenues for funding?

There are various sources in the community that may be tapped for fundraising. These include grants, matching funds, community foundations, and joint agency funding.

Grants

Now you are ready to look at the big picture and determine whether to go after grants, or fund development or a combination of both. You might want to visit your chamber of commerce to find out what your community can tolerate in relation to a request for funds. Then explore foundations that are available to you within your community and state before you consider looking for national foundations. Local foundations are much more likely to support something that will benefit the community. National foundations will need much more rationale included with the request and may need more background to accompany the proposal. There is no dollar amount to guide you to decide whether or not to look for grants. However, there probably is a maximum dollar amount related to specific grants.

Matching Funds

Securing matching funds from an agency, foundation or individual is always a good strategy. That encourages others to step up to the plate and be willing to be part of the team process. Be sure that the amount to be matched is tolerable to the community so you do not lose the principal amount by the original donor. The matching-funds approach is a good strategy to challenge others to give.

Other Options

There are a couple of other places to consider for financial assistance. These include state and local agency funds and private funds. Some state agencies, such as the Department of Education or Natural Resources may have funds earmarked for the development of facilities. It's worth exploring these entities.

On the local level, it seems appropriate for the local school district, park and recreation agency or child care center to provide some funds for facilities. After all, the playground is an important resource in the development of all children. Many times it would be appropriate if two or more entities come together (i.e. schools and park and recreation agencies) to jointly fund a playground project. This is especially true in small towns, where the school or park playground may be the major play experience for children in the community.

Within the private sector, child care centers need to secure funding from the agency that sponsors the center. Those that are publicly supported should follow the strategy outlined for schools and parks.

Playground - Photo Courtesy of Landscape Stuctures
Photo Courtesy of Landscape Structures

Where do you go for help?

A good starting place for looking for financial assistance is the library. Most local libraries have listings of local grants and foundation opportunities. In addition, many libraries also provide linkages to the Internet where national foundations and organizations can be researched. If the community has a college or university, then a trip to that institution's library can bring a wealth of information. Look for financial assistance that is appropriate for your state. Ask the librarian for assistance.

In addition, the local college or university may have someone skilled in writing grants to help you find and write grants. Many times fund development or grant writing classes are held at these institutions where students are assigned a local project to help in the funding process.

Last but not least, look for a volunteer skilled in fundraising to assist you. Contacting the local United Way may be a method of uncovering this individual.

What should you do when you succeed in raising your funds?

We assume that you will have made a budget, which includes purchasing the equipment, surfacing, and fencing, providing for installation, maintenance, and supervision. Once you have raised the necessary funds, what should you do? Have a celebration, of course. Invite all of those responsible for contributing to the new resource available for the children in your community to an opening ceremony of the playground and thank them with the children's smiles. You never know when you will need their support again. For those unable to attend such an event, a thank you card along with a picture of the playground will go a long way to paving opportunities to the future of providing safe playgrounds for children.

Conclusion

For those of you hoping that this article would be one with easy answers and many examples of places to secure funding, you may be disappointed. The fact is that there are neither easy answers nor many national sources available for you to get money from for playgrounds or other worthy endeavors. But, getting money is not an insurmountable task as long as one has a clear understanding and plan to achieve the goal. In fact, most new playgrounds are the result of concerned and hard-working groups who have a vision and the ability to map out the strategy to make that vision a reality. Hopefully, this article has given you insight to strategies that can be used in order to develop safe playgrounds for our children.

About Dr. Donna Thompson

Donna Thompson, a physical education professional, founded the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) in 1995. With a grant from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Donna established the NPPS S.A.F.E...

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