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First Steps

Create a Core Group: In the early stages, most of the work of establishing a park group is done by a handful of dedicated people. These can be people you already know, or people you find through your first general interest meeting. This group should meet often and regularly to do the real organizing, then report on their progress to—and get feedback from—the general membership.

Community Assessment: Make a list of resources in your community that can assist your park group’s efforts. Be creative! A coffee shop or grocery store may donate 10 gallons of coffee and publicize events and/or meetings.Walk around your neighborhood and assess its resources. Local businesses, community groups, recreation centers, and schools are all resources. This is a fun activity that can attract additional core group members.

Hold a General Interest Meeting: To find people who care about the park (after creating a preliminary core group) schedule a meeting in a public place, invite everyone you know, post flyers all over your neighborhood, and announce the meeting any other way you can. Use the meeting as an open forum to discuss the park and what people want done there

-Publicize the meeting to community groups, friends, local businesses, schools, PTAs, local newspaper, community newsletters etc. SFPA can help you publicize this meeting, and all your events, through our website, monthly e-news, and print publications- all for free.

-Discuss the history of the park or park group
-Gather contact information at the meeting
-Set short and long term goals as a group: Be realistic and specific

Keep on Recruiting: Take every opportunity to bring more people into both the general and the core group. There is power in numbers.

Set Your Goals

Decide as a Group: Decide together what “helping the park” means. If you set the goals all by yourself, you might leave out something that is important to someone else, and you’ll lose their support.

Be Realistic: You can’t completely renovate your playground next week, but you can host a clean up as a first step. Start small and build, otherwise you’ll get frustrated and burn out.

Be Specific: If you clearly define your mission it will be easier to convince others to help you because they’ll know exactly what you’re about.

Meet Key Players

Contact Important People: Make sure to let everyone know about your group — your city District Supervisor, your block association, your local police precinct, and local businesses. Before people can help you, they have to know who you are.

Meet the Parks Department: From the very beginning, you should be in close contact with RPD Partnerships and Resource Development Division to connect you with the city processes and staff as needed. Start with Abigail Maher at (415) 831-2790 or

Host a Visible Event: As soon as you can, host an event in the park (a clean up, a family picnic, a nature walk, even just a sunset-viewing gathering). Advertise everywhere. Make sure to have a table at the event for recruiting new members and talking about the group. Holding a visible event gives you legitimacy and attention.

Network: Everybody knows somebody who can help, whether it’s a lawyer who will help fill out IRS forms, an artist who will design posters, or an old friend of your City Council member. Everyone has different skills and connections, and you need them all. Collect all their information and add it to a database you can use.

General Principles

1. Don’t Do It Alone

-Involve as many people in your group as possible in order to…
-Prevent Burnout: The old saying holds true; many hands make light work.
-Achieve Critical Mass: If you’re taking back your park from negative elements, you have to change its “feel.” You can do that by bringing a lot of people into the park.
-Gain Political Visibility: The more people you have, the more attention you’ll get from everyone—other groups in the neighborhood, government agencies, and elected officials.

2. Do Something Do-Able
Your long-term goal may be to completely renovate your park, but you should begin with more manageable projects. Small projects let you acquire the things you need to complete large projects, including:

-Skills. No one knows innately how to write a press release, or run a meeting, or lobby a City Councilmember. As with most skills, practice makes perfect. Use small projects to learn and you’ll be a master by the time you tackle the big ones.
-Relationships. Every time you plan and run a small event, you make new connections and strengthen old ones. For instance, if you get to know your City Councilmember and his or her staff by hosting small clean-ups and fairs, they’re more likely to be there for you when you graduate to your larger project.
-Members. Every event you host, every meeting you hold, is a chance to recruit new members. If you keep active, your group will grow over the years.
-Legitimacy. When you ask somebody for something big, they shouldn’t have to ask “Who are you?” They should know. Being connected to SFPA as a Park Partner will get you part of the way there, but it is no replacement for a history of good works, successful clean-up days, or community visibility. Also, in order to get a large grant from a foundation you must have a successful track record of smaller projects.

3. Do It and Do It and Do It
The biggest mistake groups make is organizing one big event and then waiting until next year to do it again. Regular projects will…

-Add Up: Your park won’t be changed by a single project; it only changes when people see things happening over and over again., and their cumulative effect becomes your group’s narrative.
-Prove that You Mean Business: Consistent action shows people that you’re not going away.