Why Park People (micro) grants

janvier 17, 2024
Natalie Brown

You may know Park People from one of our microgrant programs, such as the TD Park People Grants. Through these programs, we provide small amounts of funding to community groups and NGOs to organize activities and events in their local parks. 

That all sounds great – but why do we do this? Why are events in parks important? How do grants fit into Park People’s larger goals for creating change in city parks? This post explores these questions and shines a light on some of the tensions and challenges of providing microgrants. 

Why we grant

City parks have unrealized potential to promote human wellbeing, biodiversity and climate resilience. Too many people living in Canadian cities cannot easily access high-quality green spaces with amenities and activities that enrich their lives. Neighbourhoods such as my own (in the ward of Davenport in Toronto) are very vulnerable to the increasing heat waves we face because of a lack of trees and green space. The parks that we do have are precious, but they are not neutral spaces. For many reasons, they do not feel safe or promote a sense of belonging for everyone. 

One of Park People’s early tenets was that when communities get involved, parks get better. Communities are full of people with energy, ideas, and talents. They understand the opportunities to improve their local parks and the challenges specific to their community. With the right resources, their work can be much more sustainable and responsive than an initiative led by an outside group like Park People. So, our guiding question is: How do we support community leaders in realizing the potential of their local parks? 

Park events, a simple but powerful starting point

Our network’s community groups have varied goals, from growing food to promoting biodiversity and supporting mental health. Regardless of their focus area, park events are a great way to build strategic support and awareness for their initiatives. They are joyful and fun, providing an enticing entry point for engaging city staff, fellow community members and local politicians to talk about a vision for the park or the wider community.

Events also have a lot of inherent value, even when they don’t tie into a bigger plan. Our research and program evaluations show that park events build a sense of social connection and belonging, making people feel happier and less isolated. In 2024, these social ties are critical to addressing the pandemic’s mental and physical health repercussions and preparing us to support each other through the ongoing climate crisis challenges, such as urban heat waves and floods. 

The diversity of events that groups organize is inspiring. They range from programming to support families with neurodiverse children in Toronto’s Thorncliffe Park to hands-on mushroom-growing workshops in Ville de Deux-Montagnes outside Montreal. These events tell us the rich story of what is happening in Canadian city parks so that we can make the case for more resources and support from governments and other stakeholders.

Credit: Funky Fungi, 2023 TD Park People Grantees, Montreal

A meaningful way to redistribute power to local groups 

Through microgrants, we can fund groups too small or new to have non-profit status. Although the amounts are small, they help offset the  costs of volunteering, especially in lower-income communities. By keeping our application processes simple and removing traditional fundraising barriers (such as the need for non-profit status), people can spend their limited time bringing their ideas to life, trying out new things, and cultivating other support like help from their local city councillor. And at a systems level, we are doing our part in a small way to try to redistribute resources and power within the parks sector.

Offering grants also encourages groups to get in touch with us. Once we are in touch, we can offer other types of support, such as training workshops, coaching, and peer connections. We learn so much about what’s happening and what folks need and dream of doing through applications and conversations. In 2023, we offered phone call applications for smaller grant amounts. There was a groundswell of new groups that stepped forward. 

In our annual survey, park groups tell us that their number one need is more funding. Microgrants are a way for us to respond to this need. They also help us build group capacity and relationships to set grantees up to access larger funding in the future. 

How we grant

Park People has been providing microgrants or small honoraria in some form since 2014. We have learned a lot over the years and are still learning.

We are inspired by trust-based philanthropy, which ‘seeks to transform the relationships between philanthropic organizations and non-profits by identifying systemic inequalities and addressing inherent power imbalances,’ as Jennifer Brennan and Shereen Munshi define the term in this article on Indigenous philanthropy. Even though we are a very small-scale funder relative to others, the key principles of identifying systemic inequalities and inherent power imbalances in your ways of working are very relevant. That is why we are continually reflecting and working on:

  • reducing or eliminating restrictions on how the funding can be used to provide as much flexibility as possible.
  • keeping our processes as simple and low-barrier as possible, simplifying reporting and applications to take less time for people to complete.
  • increasing grant dollar amounts or reducing requirements to address the impacts of inflation on the costs of park activities and make it possible for groups to meet their goals.
  • providing additional support, such as on-demand coaching calls and drop-in sessions, to help people work on their applications with Park People staff and fellow applicants. We hope that skills built through engaging with Park People grant processes are helpful as groups apply for funding from other sources. 

Credit: Markbrook Residents’ Group and Steps Public Art, 2023 InTO the Ravines Grantees, Toronto

Tensions and challenges  

Cultivating trust and openness

Providing funding creates an unequal power dynamic between Park People and the groups in our network. This can make it more challenging for groups to provide us with honest feedback on our programs. We do our best to mitigate this by keeping our granting process separate from our evaluation activities, but that introduces another challenge. 

Groups that are very engaged in our other program activities, such as our network gatherings, training workshops, conferences and other events, can be particularly disappointed when they don’t receive a microgrant from us. It doesn’t feel great when you have put a lot into engaging with Park People to receive a no on your grant application. 

How can providing funding be part of a reciprocal and not transactional relationship? We are excited about exploring more participatory approaches to granting that centre decision-making in the hands of community members, which could allow us to navigate this tension better. 

Helping groups grow beyond microgrants

Park People supports community park groups and NGOs following a tiered support model. Microgrants are intended to help groups get started or get established in their community, but in some cases, groups evolve to a stage where $1500 or $2000 is too small to be worth applying for. This is a success story, but it means that the microgrants Park People has available to offer do not match the needs of many groups. 

We do our best to connect these groups to larger funding opportunities through fundraising workshops, tailored sessions to support groups in applying for specific grants like TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, and our funding web page which features links to dozens of grants. These activities are well-attended and valued by participants and are consistent with our goal to build the capacity of groups rather than engage in local parks ourselves. But they are more complex than providing a microgrant. ‘Success’ becomes harder to define and talk about. 

Addressing demand through systemic solutions

As Park People’s network grows and as parks became more central to people’s lives during the pandemic, the number of people applying for grants has increased significantly. This means we are saying no to more people every year. There is an ongoing tension between wanting to encourage many people to get engaged in parks and not wanting to waste people’s time participating in grant application processes where their odds of success are low. 

We are currently reflecting on the pros and cons of trying to expand the availability of our microgrants versus building up other types of support for the groups in our network. There is probably no perfect answer. In the short term, we are finding creative ways to meet this demand. For example, some of our recent and planned changes to our microgrants include:


  • Simplifying application forms 
  • Removing restrictions on how funding can be used  
  • Providing coaching calls to applicants
  • Adding direct deposit for grant payment
  • Offering phone call applications (instead of written forms) for smaller grant amounts in the Sparking Change Toronto program
  • Hosting webinars with TD Friends of the Environment Foundation to connect current and past grantees with larger funding opportunities.


  • A pilot project to provide additional funding to groups led by individuals with disabilities. The funding will support them to collaborate with other grantees to organize joint events and build peer capacity to host inclusive events. Our goal is to gain a better understanding of how we can support all grantees to make their events more accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Increasing TD Park People grant amounts to account for inflation
  • Extending the geographic reach of the TD Park People Grants program to include 15 new cities and 3 new provinces
  • Piloting a more participatory granting process through the Sparking Change Toronto program, with community leaders reviewing shortlisted applications and making final funding decisions

Credit: IPSG and Thorncliffe Youth, 2023 Sparking Change grantees, Toronto

In the longer term, Park People does not envision a permanent role for ourselves in funding park groups. We believe that larger institutions like municipalities should review how decision-making and power-sharing work in their parks and public spaces. They have the resources to provide more systematic and continuous support for community-led initiatives. Ultimately, we dream of the groups in our network being able to spend more time enriching their communities and parks, and less time fundraising. Systemic changes, such as reforming park permitting processes or dedicating staff to community engagement on an ongoing basis, are critical. 


Returning to our guiding question – how do we support community leaders in realizing their local parks’ potential to enhance well-being and resilience? Microgrants that fund events and activities in those parks are one tool in our support toolbox for community leaders. As you have read in this post, they are not the be-all and end-all of support for community leaders, and they don’t meet the needs of every group.  

Engage and learn with us

Are you a non-profit that provides microgrants or has in the past? What did you learn? Are you a community member who has accessed or tried to access Park People’s grants? Tell us your thoughts on microgrants – the good, the bad, and what Park People can do to improve. 

Further reading