Commentary: It takes entire community to make community events successful
The experiment called Camp Verde Promotions has been a case study in the adage that no good deed goes unpunished.
Some years back, the Camp Verde Town Council determined that municipal spending and manpower allocations for community events such as the Pecan and Wine Festival, Cornfest and Fort Verde Days had gotten way out of hand. The town stepped away from being Camp Verde’s community events sugar daddy.
Enter Camp Verde Promotions. This group assumed that responsibility and for several years did an admirable job in organizing and staging the town’s premier community events.
The problem with Camp Verde Promotions is that they were taken for granted. They did such a good job time and time again that everyone in town got out of their way and let them have at it.
Over time, the very same pool of volunteers that was Camp Verde Promotions said enough is enough. They were being abused. No one else was stepping up to help.
There were several warning signs. The leadership of Camp Verde Promotions said time and again that it was too much for the same group of volunteers to go from Fort Verde Days to Pecan and Wine Festival to Cornfest year after year.
The string broke in 2018 when Camp Verde Promotions canceled the Cornfest because of a lack of volunteers. They moved forward and successfully pulled off another Fort Verde Days, but even then had only about half the needed volunteers five months out from the event.
Now, Camp Verde Promotions has said it no longer will be the go-to organization for major events after the 2019 Spring Heritage Pecan and Wine Festival. The organization will continue to exist and has committed to organizing small-scale events, but no longer will do the heavy lifting on the town’s three marquee events.
That duty will now fall on the Camp Verde Parks and Recreation Department, which already has committed to bringing back the annual Cornfest at Hauser Farms.
For the town, the challenge now will be find a way to put on these events without breaking the bank.
The key to that lies in establishing public-private partnerships that spreads the work out among a large and diverse group of volunteers.
There are several good examples of that in the Verde Valley. The annual Verde River Day is a huge endeavor that sees the workload equitably split between the Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce, Dead Horse Ranch State Parks and the Valley’s myriad river advocacy organizations.
Another good one is Cottonwood’s Thunder Valley Rally. With Thunder Valley Rally, there are some definite parallels between the City of Cottonwood’s financial commitment to the event as there previously was with Camp Verde’s fiscal involvement with its community celebrations. Just as was the case in Camp Verde, Cottonwood’s city council began to question the wisdom of being the money bag for a weekend party.
Today, the City of Cottonwood remains heavily invested in Thunder Valley Rally, both in terms of the up-front costs to put on the event as well as the staff time to pull it off. But it’s a shared effort, and a shared financial commitment. The city works with a local committee that produces hundreds of volunteer man hours over the course of the year to make TVR happen. Further, there is a clear understanding between the city and the TVR Committee that the financial burden for TVR is a two-way street. The city is willing to finance the up-front costs for Thunder Valley Rally, but it expects to see a return on that investment. There were years when Cottonwood City Hall was left holding the bag when all the bills were paid on TVR. That’s no longer the case. While the city experienced a meager .06-percent cost recovery on a $55,000 investment with the 2015 Thunder Valley Rally, recent years have seen the city recoup as much as 94 percent of its up-front costs, and that’s not counting the sales tax bonanza TVR generates.
The challenge for Camp Verde is creating awareness is that it’s not one or the other – government vs. volunteers – to make such events successful, but a marriage of the two. Further, it’s not Town Hall’s responsibility to carry the financial burden for the success of these events. If the town is going to invest in Fort Verde Days, Cornfest or the Spring Heritage events, there needs to be a plan in place to help the town recoup its costs.
Remember, these are community events. It takes the entire community to make them successful.