Seize the Data: Why Numbers Are Not Your Nemesis (And How Embracing Them Can Help You Grow Your Community!)

Many P&R departments have increased engagement and revenues using data-driven insights – and so can you!

Miriam Saslove
Miriam Saslove
July 21, 2022 4 min read

We’ve heard it all before: “I’m just not a numbers person,” or maybe “it’s just too much effort to dig into the statistics.” Whether your agency is avoiding looking at data because you’re hesitant, need some guidance, or simply don’t know where to start, we’re here to tell you: it’s all going to be fine! Take our hand and let’s get started…

First thing’s first: identifying the problem

Have you heard of cost recovery? If you haven’t, then hold onto your heads because we’re about to blow your mind!

Simply put, cost recovery work encourages P&R agencies to use data and information to make informed decisions. By analyzing your current situation, you can prioritize services that take into consideration your community’s needs while understanding your financial reality – ultimately creating a fiscally healthy organization. One of the ways you can make this happen is by partnering with an external organization to guide you through the analysis.

Now this may sound scary, but fear not! “If someone put effort into educating themselves, they could do it; they don't necessarily need intervention. We understand people want to do this work, but they aren’t prepared to do it alone – they want someone to hold their hand. Some may have the competency to do it alone, while others may say they want to get there but need some encouragement and help,” says Jamie Sabbach, a consultant with over a decade of experience in the cost recovery space. Jamie is on a mission to help P&R departments become the best versions of themselves through strategy, management, and analysis.

Show, don’t tell: The journey of Fair Oaks Recreation & Parks District

Cost recovery work can be a real game-changer for Parks & Rec agencies; we’ve seen it happen right before our very eyes with many of our clients!

Jamie says: “The organizations who are doing this work are opening the curtain and rather than it being dark, they see light! I think we’re going to see more of that, as more organizations dip their toes in the water and say, “it’s warmer than we thought.”

It’s critical to know where your money is going so that you can optimize your offerings for your constituents. Delving into the data and understanding how taxpayer dollars are being spent will only help you become stronger public servants and build upon your agency’s strong foundation.

This couldn’t have been truer for our client Fair Oaks Recreation & Park District (FORPD), which serves around 35,000 residents. When Mike Aho, District Administrator, wanted to know how much our direct and indirect costs were affecting FORPD’s programs, they could see the changes they had to make to be successful and sustainable moving forward. (They thought they had a successful program that was making enough revenue to cover the costs, but it’s actually not! Find out how FORPD leveraged cost recovery principles here).

With cost recovery analysis, Fair Oaks was able to use data to determine that they could charge a bit more for certain programs and subsidize others. They knew they could do better, so they’re making the most of it to not only help their district but their entire community!

Don’t fret! Why data is your friend

“As social servants, we don’t see data as our friend; we see it more as a nemesis because we think it will take us down a path of loss or it might result in something negative. Alternatively, if we start to look through a rose-colored lens, it can reveal where we have opportunities to serve differently or take care of that park where we’ve been deferring maintenance. We look at data through a lens of loss and anxiety without understanding that none of those things may ever come to fruition,” says Jamie.

Don’t be scared to lose programs or upset your community. Cost recovery is fruitful work, and it presents incredible opportunities for growth, engagement, and preservation – all contributing factors to your agency’s evolution.

Storytelling through data

At the end of the day, we know Parks & Rec folks are in this field because you are people’s people. Improving the lives of your residents is central to why you do what you do, which means making decisions by virtue of their overall benefit for the community.

Where does data fit into all of this? Well, it’s a powerful storytelling tool for sharing what’s going on in your community. It transcends cultures and can speak to anyone!

Farrell Buller, Principal Consultant with 110% and Amilia, shared with us something that a client recently said: “my work with you and this data allows me to tell the story that my gut already knows.”

Ain’t that the truth! Trust your gut, and the data will follow.

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