By Roseanne Conrad
With the increasing number of dog parks in the United States, dog park managers and volunteers are searching for ways to create more excitement, increase awareness, and raise funds for their operation. Summer and fall are excellent times to hold outdoor fairs, festivals, expos, or other special events to bring people in, as well as to acquire new streams of income.
For many, the thought of organizing an event may seem overwhelming, but with proper planning, it can be accomplished without expending too much time or effort.
Choose An Event
For an event to be successful, dog park managers must have a good handle on the market and the general likes and dislikes of the community. What works in a metro area will not necessarily work in a small town and vice versa. Plus, managers need to be aware of other events, especially successful ones that are planned for the same date. On the other hand, piggy-backing on an established event, if organized well, might prove to be successful.
There are myriad tried-and-true dog park events that can be easily copied, such as Yappy Hours, Dog Dips, and Dog Jogs (or Walks). Others might include a dog-safe plant sale, scavenger hunt, canine bake sale, or Barktoberfest. Our local dog park holds an annual Barktoberfest in October—the week before Halloween. As part of the day-long event, there is a “Wags-to-Witches” canine costume parade, which is a ton of fun for the dogs and their owners. The park also partners with the local community swimming pool the weekend after Labor Day (once the pool closes for the season) to hold a weekend Dog Dip ‘N Dive. Last year, our nonprofit park netted over $1,800 in two 4-hour days. The pool and dog park are located in a rural area, and participants came from as far away as 60 miles.
More formal events, such as the Bark for the Park Ball or dinner dance, usually are held as fundraising events that do not include dogs and require a higher participation fee (i.e., $100 per plate)
Dog park personnel and volunteers can also hold sub/hoagie, pizza, candle, and other types of sales to bring in money. Some restaurants will even consent to hold community dinner nights during which they will donate as much as 25 percent in sales to the dog park after a minimum dollar amount is achieved. Passing out cards to family and friends and encouraging them to eat dinner at the participating restaurant on a particular night is a simple way to raise funds. Our local dog park recently earned over $300 with this approach. That amount may not seem like much, but it did allow us to make two tractor payments!
Park managers must be aware that the type of event that can be legally held is dependent on a park’s business status. Dog parks can be designated:
- Municipal (government)
- Community (loose or organized)
- Nonprofit 501(c)3
- For profit (operating as a business).
Managers should present an outline of the event to their local or perhaps even county and state governments to determine if a special-event permit is required. Any event in which small games of chance or alcoholic beverages will be sold may have to be approved through the appropriate government office or department, and the park may be required to apply for a license or permit. The sale of products may further require a state or local sales tax. Groups that are fortunate enough to have an attorney on board should consult with him or her for pro bono advice.
Plan The Project
If a committee of management or volunteers is to be formed, it is important that individuals have particular roles and responsibilities. This approach prevents ”everybody” from wanting to be involved in ”everything,” which may quickly result in frayed nerves and mass chaos. Try to recognize the individual talents, skills, and resources within the group and use them to benefit the event.
A timeline should be created detailing each element and when it will need to be completed—and by whom (aka a Gantt chart). It is crucial to remain focused. If only one person fails in his or her responsibilities, it may compromise the entire project. The manager or chairperson should hold regular meetings and stay in touch via email and/or create a special (private) group on Facebook. Communication is the key to making sure everyone is staying on task and on time.
Solicit Partnerships And Sponsorships
Partnerships can be amazingly effective, and sponsorships can pay for all of the costs associated with an event, plus bring in additional income. A partnership is definitely a win-win situation, and having a dog park associated with a recognizable national chain or product gives the event and the dog park credibility.
Several national pet product big-box chains are usually happy to help through their local stores. Each store is different though, and each manager has his or her own pet projects, so it is strongly advised to befriend the general manager. If a manager is given enough time, prizes or handouts from vendors and distributors can be provided. Dog parks located within a large market may be able to entice a partnership on a corporate level.
Some national-chain pet stores will oftentimes provide free space or a board within the store to publicize dog park events. If enough volunteers are available, managers might set up a table and hand out flyers about the event. Or the manager might offer to put flyers in bags at the checkout counters. The busiest days are usually Saturdays, so this is a great time to have a presence.
Regarding flyers or printed materials: Dog park managers should look into teaming up with a local printer who might be willing to print material at no charge in exchange for putting the store’s logo or contact information on the material.
Nonprofit dog park managers should consider asking businesses (especially those they patronize) to donate to their event as a cash sponsor. A letter of request can be sent to the owner or general manager, but any mailing should be followed by a call or personal visit to secure the sponsorship.
Get The Word Out
Once the event is planned, it will be necessary to get the word out. A dog park can never have too much publicity.
Involve all facets of the local media, including television, radio, and print media. Most television stations are looking for interesting stories, and many stations present special community shows offering guests the opportunity to talk about their event. It’s a great opportunity not only to talk up the event but the dog park as well. More than likely, one of the news personalities has a dog and might consider being a celebrity chairperson for the event. Some cable stations may be willing to partner and give free publicity for an exclusive sponsorship. Radio stations almost always have community-service shows or announcement opportunities.
Newspapers and community magazines are usually willing to print press releases with photos, and some will even offer to do a full story on an interesting or unique event at a dog park. Before submitting releases and photos, call the newspaper or magazine to request information on the format criteria, photo resolution, etc.
Use Social Media
Dog parks that do not have a website or Facebook page should immediately get one. Facebook is free and a website is inexpensive (and in some cases free as well). They are the two most important media to promote a park as well as its events and activities. These media should be updated, fresh, and interesting. If there’s time, use Twitter, Pinterest, or other social media.
Flyers And Posters
Printed posters and flyers are always an effective way to publicize an event. Many businesses still allow small posters, while veterinary offices, grooming businesses, pet retail stores, kennel clubs, and dog-training facilities are all good locations to make flyers available.
If the dog park is not a member of the local convention and visitor’s bureau, it is worth inquiring. A membership affords many perks, such as event listing and rack-card distribution. Some groups offer lower membership fees to nonprofit organizations.
Special events are a great way to combine fundraising, public relations, and networking. Unique, fun events are great for bringing people and their dogs together. They are also a great networking tool for those who now use the park as well as a wonderful device for attracting new patrons.
Roseanne D. Conrad is the President of the National Dog Park Association in Martinsburg, Penn. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.nationaldogparkassociation.net.