Carol Evans: Patching the budget hole

Sandra ClarkFountain City, Get Out & Play, Our Town Leaders

Carol Evans is a Knoxville treasure. She was on Joan Cronan’s team that raised funds and promoted women’s sports at UT. Susan Richardson Williams was the third amiga. They built an athletics department that made Tennessee proud, and they became and remain great friends.


Carol, a longtime Fountain City resident, founded Legacy Parks Foundation in 2007. We didn’t even know we needed it. But now we know we can’t live without it.

In its decade and a half, Legacy Parks has raised over $11 million for parks and open space, helped conserve 1,000 acres of forest and farmland, and added over 600 acres of parkland in Knox County.

You might want to read that last sentence again.

Carol is smart. She doesn’t waste time. And she won’t accept “close enough.” A couple of weeks ago we were with Dr. Bob Collier at the Collier Preserve on Emory Road in Powell. The sign was too wide or too tall, maybe both. The worker offered to get his hacksaw.

No, said Carol.

Someone suggested hanging it just until a replacement could be made.

No, said Carol.

That sign went into the worker’s pick-up and a new sign that fits is at Collier Preserve today.

Some nonprofits spend more time raising money than doing whatever it is that they claim to do. Not so with Legacy Parks. Carol puts together one big event – a fall picnic in one of her new parks – with a big-name speaker and the same no-calorie lunch every year. (Kidding, sort of).

But 2020 was the year of Covid and the fall picnic was canceled. At $100 per person with over 1,000 attendees and sponsorships the event was huge. And its cancellation blew a mighty hole in Legacy Parks’ budget.

So, our leadership lesson today is one way Evans proceeded to replace the lost funds.

An email appeared each week from Carol. It was the softest touch. She talked about the mission of Legacy Parks. The next week she gave us some quotes: “2020 is survivable because of nature. Lots and lots of nature.” And “Such a gorgeous afternoon to spend a little time on the river. We’re so lucky to have this so close to home.”

And the next week we got this: “Beautiful rivers, breathtaking ridges, and miles and miles of woods and trails surround our community. Knoxville is rich in parks, natural areas, blueways and greenways, forests, flower-covered fields, quarry lakes, creeks, rivers and exciting bluffs. And the evidence is clear – living close to nature and spending time outside is good for your health and well-being.”

Next came a list of the 2020 projects of Legacy Parks. It’s impressive.

At the bottom of each short email was a button: “Donate.”

Then came a graphic Christmas tree. Then a Happy New Year. No hard sell, no pitiful begging, no shaming. Just a charming email with the donate button.

This is the closest to a pitch: “Give one last gift to help enrich your community with more open spaces and recreational opportunities. Thank you for all that you have done this year to support Legacy Parks Foundation. We are so fortunate – and grateful. We wish you a wonderful 2021!”

Carol’s messages showed the benefit of Legacy Parks and created buy-in. Heck, I feel like an owner myself. And, as soon as I make some money, I plan to hit that donate button.

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