The Friends of Duboce Park is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1997 by a group of neighbors from the two residential areas adjacent to Duboce Park (the Duboce Triangle and Lower Haight neighborhoods). The two founders are still involved in the organization, and they have provided valuable energy and continuity throughout its lifespan. The organization is completely volunteer run, and is a vital partner in maintenance and care of the park.
REVENUE AND FINANCING
The Friends of Duboce Park operates as an independent 501(c)(3) organization. Despite its significant impact on the park, annual costs for the group’s work have remained low; Friends of Duboce Park operates on about $2,000. This money funds organizational infrastructure (insurance, website, etc.), as well as small purchases for park enhancements, such as benches (typically in the $300-$500 range). For programming initiatives that require a larger funding investment, such as free movie nights, the group typically engages in a separate fundraising effort, collecting donations from friends and neighbors.
The Friends of Duboce Park hosts one major fundraising event per year to cover operating costs and subsidize fundraising efforts for programs. This event is an annual community Tag Sale in the park. Community members are invited to bring items to sell in the park, and all proceeds benefit the organization. The Friends then donate any unpurchased items. This event has raised anywhere from $3,000-6,000, safely covering the organization’s annual operating costs. Friends of Duboce Park also runs a membership program, which engages neighbors and park stakeholders in supporting stewardship efforts. Annual Membership dues for a Supporting Member are $25 per person. The program does not provide significant funds for the organization, but it has proven to be an effective way to engage people who may not have time to volunteer.
When the group undertakes larger fundraising efforts for capital improvements in the park, it does so through a project-based fiscal sponsorship relationship with the San Francisco Parks Alliance (SFPA).
ACTIVATION AND PROGRAMMING
The Friends of Duboce Park spearheads a significant number of major events in the park. At this point, many of the organization’s events have become popular annual events. Examples include:
- Play Day in the Park/Pictures with Santa around the holiday season
- The DogFest Celebration - an annual celebration (now running 7 years) of dogs and kids benefiting SFUSD McKinley Elementary School, a K-5 public school at Castro and 14th Streets
- Outdoor movie nights
- Monthly volunteer clean-up days
The organization has sustained programming efforts by engaging neighbors that have specific desires or goals for the park. For example, capital project planning around play equipment is often spearheaded by volunteers who have children. Monthly park clean-up days are hosted by a volunteer who spends a lot of time in the park and has a stake in its cleanliness. By allowing volunteer interests to drive the process, the organization is able to make sure organizers have a high level of commitment to the projects and programming efforts the group is undertaking.
Group meetings occur once per month. Importantly, they always have a fun and social nature, and often involve a potluck dinner at the home of a volunteer board member. The group has found that rotating responsibilities around hosting these meetings is essential to sustainability. And, the fun and social tone makes it appealing.
Duboce Park is under the jurisdiction of the San Francisco RPD, and the Department provides a baseline of maintenance services for the Park. This level of government agency support around maintenance cannot be expected for many of the public space types discussed in this document. Still, the Friends of Duboce Park’s stewardship work is a valuable case study for grassroots community partnership efforts in other public spaces.
The Friends of Duboce Park spearhead a number of activities to support light clean-up and capital improvements, all in close partnership with the RPD. For example, the organization engages teams of volunteers in providing regular cleanup and maintenance for the Park for two hours on one Saturday morning per month. Over the course of the organization’s history, The Friends of Duboce Park have been instrumental in furthering a number of key capital improvements for the park. The organization raised funds to help:
- Build a new playground in 2000
- Install new lighting along the pedestrian path in 2003
- Build a park bulletin board in 2003
- Build a labyrinth on Scott St. in 2007 -- This was a significant capital project that involved a $50,000 donation from the nearby California Pacific Medical Center, as well as a number of small local grants.
The Friends have played a critical role in ongoing efforts to obtain a new irrigation system for the park. Current capital improvement project efforts are focused on improving the corner at Steiner Street and Duboce Avenue. The Friends also work closely with the San Francisco Police Department’s Park Station to improve safety and reduce crime in and around the park.
While their success in spearheading capital improvement projects is impressive, the organization acknowledges that the long time frame of these types of projects can be challenging for some. Volunteers may not initially understand how long of an incubation these capital projects require, and it can be a long time before any evidence of progress is seen on the ground. The long timeline can lead to frustration and disillusionment for some.
The Friends of Duboce Park case study illustrates what a well-organized, well-established grassroots community group can do. It is worth noting that the neighborhoods surrounding the Park are high-resource areas: the median household income in these neighborhoods is within the range of $85,000-$100,000 per year, and a high percentage of residents have college or graduate degrees.* The group has benefited from a committed population of highly-skilled volunteers.
Even for well-organized groups, it seems, having an “anchor” person is helpful. In the case of the Friends of Duboce Park, the continued involvement of the couple that founded the organization has been helpful over time. Providing support for grassroots community organizations around organizational knowledge and continuity could help them function more effectively. Organizations such as the SFPA are already provide some technical assistance services to park stewards around fundraising, marketing, and project management. In this way, SFPA helps continue momentum and foster increased accountability. It is worth considering additional investment in technical assistance to community groups.
The “Friends of” model is not new, and the Friends of Duboce Park have found it beneficial to connect with other organizations and learn from their experiences. It may also be valuable to create new frameworks for connecting grassroots groups so that they may share knowledge and learn from each other.
The Friends of Duboce Park case study illustrates that grassroots community partnerships often rely on small-scale fundraising efforts among friends, neighbors, and colleagues of organizers. Tools such as ioby may be of great use to such groups - ioby is a crowd-resourcing platform for citizen-led neighbor-funded projects. The ioby platform also offers fiscal sponsorship to projects using the platform to raise funds. New structures to increasing knowledge of this and other tools could help support the grassroots groups already contributing to stewardship efforts in San Francisco’s parks.
Primary Model Type
Grassroots Community Partnerships
San Francisco, CA
Cost to set-up: $
Manager resource level: $
Engages volunteers in light maintenance to support baseline city services
Raises funds for capital improvements
Provides regular activation and programming