Historically, community recreation centers are a component of a municipality’s service delivery system. As a result, they tend to be included in their traditional funding process, where
community needs are identified and the community is willing to support capital expenses.
If funding is secured, operations are provided and underwritten by the municipality – similar to the way a municipality approaches service delivery for their core services. The Y needs to remember that this process (from inception to funding approval) brings with it an emotional tie among municipal leadership and staff just as it would within the YMCA. It should be assumed that a municipality that is sophisticated enough to carry a community center concept through all these phases is also sophisticated enough to determine how they will internally fund operations. As stewards of public funds, the community expectation is that their motivation will be driven by maximizing community value, while minimizing taxpayer burden.
Our ability to relate to the emotional aspects of the municipal process, as well as our shared commitment to the philosophy of stewardship, sets the YMCA apart from other potential partners. Utilizing this platform of mutual respect as the foundation for establishing trust is perhaps the most critical cornerstone of the partnership development process. We must resist the trap of assuming that only the YMCA understands the high calling of stewardship when in fact, stewardship is inherent to those municipalities that value the potential partnerships may offer. Our tax-exempt status brings with it the responsibility to ease the tax burden. Likewise, municipalities have the responsibility to challenge the nonprofit sector to assist them to do the same. This mutual perspective is the catalyst for creating the “perfect storm.”
The majority of study participants stated that funds for their partnership project were secured by the municipality prior to partnership discussions. Typically, public funds are secured for a recreational project, and the city chooses to solicit for an operating partner. In this case, the process of building support for a YMCA’s involvement is related to the municipality’s choice regarding facility management. Galvanizing public support for the YMCA as the operator of choice depends primarily upon the YMCA’s reputation and our ability to:
- Demonstrate community value related to quality program delivery
- Minimize ongoing taxpayer burden associated with facility operations, and
- Ensure that community access meets public funding parameters
Overwhelmingly, the study confirmed that success was rooted in positive relationships between YMCA staff and city administration, complemented by the relationships between YMCA volunteers and elected officials. In the communities where the municipality and the YMCA had an established relationship (i.e., the municipality outsourced programs to the YMCA), the partnership development process for a community center was embraced more readily. The YMCAs that are proactive participants in their community’s approach to addressing social needs tend to be included in the early stages of a municipality’s strategic thinking. This is differentiated by public funds being dedicated to a YMCA versus a “community center” with an unknown operator. In this case, the YMCA’s role in garnering public support is much more comprehensive. The public must perceive the YMCA as a community service agency with equal accessibility and universal benefit.
State laws regulate governmental involvement in the promotion of tax-funded initiatives. While these laws vary, typically, the municipality’s role is to formulate the parameters for public-funding consideration and provide factual information to the community. In some states, private citizens are allowed to form political action committees for the purpose of promoting publicly-funded opportunities. The YMCA may play a role in community outreach efforts. Typically, these efforts have similar characteristics to our traditional community development initiatives, but may have legal limitations. It is important to be aware of the laws as set forth by the ethics commission in your particular state to determine how the YMCA is allowed to support the process.