We all have a story - a
story about the moment that gives us reason to pause and remember
why * why we chose to build a career in recreation or parks - why we
do what we do each and every day. For most of us, the reminders come
daily as we meet and greet community members using facilities,
programs or parks. We recognize that we play an important part in
the fabric of many people,s lives and that we deliver an enormous
benefit with each and every interaction. As an organization, the
North Vancouver Recreation Commission has committed to "remembering
the why" and to communicate and celebrate it in as many ways as we
can in all business practices.
The first time the term "The Benefits of Parks and Recreation"
was used in our department, some of us didn,t know that the words
were supposed to be capitalized! The word "benefits" seemed
redundant when placed next to parks and recreation. It took a while
to sink in that we were not the ones who had to be convinced. The
concept was not for us who work in the field, but for those who have
an indirect interest in it, whether they are politicians, policy
makers, taxpayers, patrons, the corporate community, or those in
related fields of health, social services, education, and the
It was no longer enough for us to know "why we do what we do",
and to assume that "everyone" knows the difference that parks and
recreation makes in our communities. A simple review of the current
situation revealed a local political structure terrified of
increasing taxes, the reality of government downloading, and the
fact that we are consistently being required to do more with less of
you-name-it. It also revealed the fact that if we, who are in the
field, who for the most part are the products of parks and
recreation, do not make a compelling case for parks and recreation,
then there is a good likelihood that we will be subject to actual
cuts in the services we provide.
We had to assure ourselves that we were not simply protecting our
jobs or trying to sustain a bloated bureaucracy. Our department, and
those of our neighboring municipalities, were already lean - the
occasional politician who came into the Recreation Commission to
"clean house" has always become an ardent supporter of our goals and
directions. No, we were confident that our "product" was in much
The evidence contained in The Benefits Catalogue was the cement
that confirmed what we always knew. The opportunity to participate
in a ten-community pilot project conducted by Ken Balmer in 1997 was
therefore truly exciting. The Indicators Project brought "Benefits"
theory to the local level; to first find out what our community
considered most important, and then to build tools to measure our
effectiveness in delivering those specific benefits.
Since then we have seen a second edition of The Benefits
Catalogue, the establishment of a national Benefits Network, and
most importantly, a lot of like-minded colleagues in the BCRPA with
whom to share ideas and successes. Who knows, but there may be a
time in the near future that this loose coalition of professionals
might coalesce into an effective communication network?
As an organization, the shift to benefits and the commitment to
the "why" is ongoing. We define ourselves as a "benefits-driven"
organization. We are constantly monitoring our own activities,
programs and services to ensure that we have a good reason for doing
what we are doing. Simply put, if we are offering a service that
does not deliver a benefit to the community, then that is a service
we can and should drop.
"Benefits" has become an integral part of our overall goals.
Several municipalities have created Benefits Committees, and North
Vancouver is one of them. Ours has been around just over a year and
has developed an Action Plan that can be summarized by three
strategic directions, each with three goals:
1) Grounding Benefits in all aspects of Administration and
a) To communicate benefits through all levels of the
organization and integrate benefits in all aspects of our business.
b) Through the business planning process, to develop a draft
vision, mission and value statement that is benefits-based, and to
present this draft to the community for review, input and
c) To incorporate benefits into the marketing and
communications plans of the organization.
2) Connecting with the Community
a) To involve the
community in the identification of the outcomes they expect and the
benefits they receive from recreational and cultural experiences.
b) To broaden community awareness and understanding of the
benefits of participating in recreational opportunities and active
c) To seek out and collaborate with community partners
and/or sponsors who deliver parallel benefit to the community or who
share a collective vision for the benefit they deliver to the
3) Connecting with Staff, Volunteers and Policy Makers
a) To increase training of all staff on the benefits of
recreation and active living and ensure that staff are aware and
involved in the discovery or learning processes underway with
b) To recognize staff for the excellent work they do
and the benefits they deliver to clients.
c) To increase the
training and orientation of volunteers and Commissioners t the
benefits of recreation and active living.
Some of these directions and goals are higher profile than
others. None of them are sustainable by themselves, however. If
staff and volunteers do not understand the benefits, how can they
support collaboration with "outside" agencies? If our surveys do not
measure what our patrons find beneficial about their programs, then
how can we use the Leisure Guide as a marketing tool to publish
Here are some practical tools and applications we have initiated
(or in some cases "adopted" from our friends!) that have helped us
achieve some of our goals:
- Like many, we use our Leisure Guide to deliver benefit
messages. We have brainstormed each message in the catalogue and
created benefit slogans to apply in marketing pieces and attempt
to use the voice of participants at every opportunity.
- We adopted "Way to Play!" the benefits are endless" as a broad
benefits platform and created a series of poster images to reflect
the many ways to play with the North Vancouver Recreation
Commission. "Play Your Best, Stay Your Best " for fitness, "Life
be in it" for family fun, "Expand Your Horizons" for outdoor fun
and "The Art of Expression" for cultural activities.
- We introduced an "Anonymous Admirer" form for staff whereby
one staff could recognize and applaud another for being a positive
role model for staff and community - someone who was making a
notable difference through their work.
- We applied meaningful benefit messages to business cards,
e-mail, and fax cover sheets, etc., in combination with our "Way
to Play!" motto.
- We established a Benefits Committee as a permanent fixture
with a mandate to maintain initiative at the grassroots of the
organization. To this end, the Committee is representative of each
geographic area of North Vancouver and of a cross-section of
- We designed the Health and Lifestyle Lecture Series for the
mature members of the community to profile and position benefits
along with current health issues relevant to the audience.
- Program evaluation and customer-satisfaction surveys are
collected by a Benefits sub-committee which then edits and drafts
revisions for wide use.
- The "Way to Play!" message is on the back of all staff
uniforms, including maintenance staff as well as on our resale
- We initiated a benefits-based business plan which is currently
- Each elected and appointed member of the Commission and the
members of its advisory committees (Sport, Arts and Outdoor
Recreation), are provided copies of The Benefits Catalogue.
While this is all well and good, we are aware that some
municipalities are doing even more to advance their goals in
communicating the benefits of their services. In the end it does not
matter how much or how little a department does to make their impact
understood. Every single patron, taxpayer, sponsor, policy maker and
politician who has the opportunity to reflect on the positive
benefits of our field is a "win". How well this translates into
workable budgets that allow these services to continue will depend
directly on how important all of them think this work is.
Written by the Co-chairs of the North Vancouver Recreation
Commission Benefits Committee, Tom Walker, Community Services
Coordinator and Cathy Matheson, Marketing Coordinator. For more
information on the NVRC,s Benefits Committee you can contact Tom at
firstname.lastname@example.org or Cathy at email@example.com.
Reprinted courtesy of Recreation and Parks BC, Spring 2000
from the BC Recreation and Parks Association.
Turf Line News June/July 2000