Increasing membership is the key to future success in NRPA

Membership: the power of voice: increasing membership is the key to future success in NRPA

James A. Donahue

Membership of our association is as diverse as the park and recreation field itself. At the National Recreation and Park Association, professionals, specialists, appointed officials, educators, military-service men and women, students and lay citizens all come together in a consortium of voices committed to advancing park, recreation and environmental conservation efforts.

The origins of our diversity date back nearly 40 years, when our five founding organizations converged, bringing NRPA’s initial reported membership to 16,000. Since the merger, our total membership has grown to 23,041: a testament to the organization’s sustainability over the years. Yet, if we are to continue fulfilling our commitment to our professional and citizen supporters, we must look beyond incremental growth and begin to consider the potential associated with exponential growth.

We have estimated that there are more than 200,000 professionals, and an even greater number of board members and citizen supporters associated with the recreation, park and conservation movement. Our current membership represents only a small portion of this potential. In order for NRPA to reach a critical mass of members, we must explore strategic alignments with other like-minded organizations, and improve the way we reach out to urban recreation and park departments–who have so much to offer and are not fully engaged with our organization. While NRPA’s unified voice has significantly influenced the land, conservation and health decisions of policy makers on Capitol Hill, we must ask ourselves how much more influence we would have with a membership of 50,000 or even 100,000?

NRPA’s membership outreach has generally resulted in short-term membership increases, most notably during the months just prior to and including the National Congress. The first NRPA Congress in 1965 drew 3,700 individuals, and we have more than doubled this original Congress registration number in recent years. This same kind of exponential thinking can and should also apply to membership as we look toward significantly increasing NRPA’s voice over the long range.

One of the challenges to growth is NRPA’s membership structure, which is reflective of the association’s diversity, but often perplexing to new and prospective members. A simplified and inclusive structure is a necessary platform for success. One of the 11 goals approved by the Executive Committee for the 2003/2004 year is to “propose a new membership category, benefits and pricing plan” for the committee’s approval. This plan was formulated by staff and presented at NRPA’s Mid-Year Legislative Forum in February. Recommendations will be sought from NRPA leadership about this proposed plan as part of our foundation for our future.

An active membership is just as important as increasing voice, and a coordinated program is also required to encourage participation in NRPA advocacy, education and training. Currently, we are working with our membership, marketing and communications division, and our conference and education professionals to explore methods to improve membership retention.

A Membership Needs Assessment from 1998 may hold the key to NRPA’s future success in all of these areas. In the assessment, members reported the most valued services provided by NRPA to be public awareness, educational opportunities and research. Our association has significantly increased public awareness through national partnerships with Sports Illustrated, the United States Tennis Association, National Football League and other sports and health organizations.

We also serve our members with many national and regional education and training programs/schools, and a National Congress that offers quality and balanced programming. The National Playground Safety Institute, the National Institute on Recreation Inclusion and the Aquatic Facility Operators courses are good examples of ways that NRPA understands and meets the need for specialized training.

In the area of research, a committee has been appointed to create a plan of action to better address those needs of our membership. This group of active and qualified members will analyze current research, and recommend methods to better deliver research information to our association. I encourage you to visit our Web site,, and click on “Membership” to learn more about our full array of resources and services, including education, certification and accreditation, research library, career center, networking opportunities, awards, grants and more.

Finally, as pressure builds for qualified and capable park and recreation leadership, the value of NRPA increases. We will grow as we continue to act on behalf of our members, and to communicate the positive values derived from membership. Remember, it’s our collective responsibility to promote our association, as the power of our voice increases proportionately with membership.

Take ownership today.

James A. Donahue, CPRP NRPA President

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