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Nonprofits shuffle funding, staffing after failed merger

Published January 24, 2013
From the January issue of BRAIN
From the magazine

Editor's note: The following article appeared in the January 2013 issue of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BRAIN) — While the industry’s three prominent advocacy groups decided to continue to work independently last August, the merger talks forced each to evaluate funding and internal resources. The failed unification brought to light a need to refocus priorities, said Tim Blumenthal, president of Bikes Belong.

“We’re trying to do fewer things well,” Blumenthal said. “It’s hard because frankly, our funding has been so important to so many groups, yet at the same time we’re entering a new era. We’re calling it Bikes Belong 3.0. We’re taking a more decisive leadership role and we’re going to do more things that involve in-house talent.”

As a major backer of both the League of American Bicyclists and the Alliance for Biking and Walking, changes at Bikes Belong hold ramifications for the two other groups. “The big change for us is that before we were just a funder, then we became a funder/adviser and now we’re a funder, adviser and actual implementer,” Blumenthal added.

Three major areas Bikes Belong will focus on for 2013 include launching its Bohm Strategy Center, a repository of key political contacts, allies and bike businesses and government lobbying arm; expanding its Green Lane Project, which works with cities to install protected bike lanes; and ramping up People for Bikes, its global network of cycling supporters.

Bikes Belong will sink more of its projected $8 million budget (combined Bikes Belong Coalition and Bikes Belong Foundation) in 2013 into these projects and no longer fund the League’s Bicycle Friendly America program and America Bikes, an umbrella group for all cycling nonprofits. The investment into both the League and America Bikes was about $250,000 each last year. Bikes Belong has supported the Bicycle Friendly America initiative for the past decade.

Bikes Belong will continue to sponsor the League’s annual lobbying conference, the National Bike Summit, to the tune of $100,000. That’s up from $75,000 in 2012. But without Bikes Belong’s financial backing, America Bikes will no longer be staffed. The organization’s Mary Lauren Hall and Caron Whitaker have recently joined the Alliance and the League’s staff.

Blumenthal said Bikes Belong will increase its support of the Alliance for Biking and Walking for 2013 and also IMBA. Bikes Belong’s annual budget will grow by about $1 million in 2013. The boost will come through supplier membership dues, which will go up 33 percent—Blumenthal said this is the first dues hike in a decade—and non-endemic sponsorship. He also anticipates some contributions from People for Bikes supporters.

League president Andy Clarke said that while losing a chunk of Bikes Belong funding was unexpected, he hopes to make it up by tapping the League’s membership base of 20,000 individual members and 900 local clubs and advocacy groups, and by reaching out to foundations and corporations outside of the industry.

Industry contributions made up about a third of the League’s $2.5 million budget in 2012—with Bikes Belong, Trek and SRAM accounting for the majority of that third. Trek’s financial backing will continue until mid-2013, when its current support is set to expire, but Clarke hopes to renew that partnership.

“Trek is the single biggest funder, the single biggest amount from one source we get other than from our members,” he said. “That’s clearly a critical relationship.”

SRAM contributed between $150,000 and $200,000 a year to the League to fund Advocacy Advance, a joint project between the League and the Alliance. That will run through 2013.

“We’ve been incredibly blessed with the support all three have given us over the years,” Clarke said about Trek, SRAM and Bikes Belong. “We certainly don’t take it for granted.”

Still, Clarke recognizes that industry suppliers could put their eggs in other baskets, so the 132-year-old association is taking steps to further diversify its funding sources. “That’s good business even if we weren’t seeing a change,” he said.

He remains bullish on 2013. Clarke said his annual budget is up 8.5 percent from 2012. He anticipates adding two staff positions, and aside from the Summit and Bicycle Friendly America programs, plans to expand its Women Bike initiative and the League’s bike education and training programs.

Meanwhile at the Alliance, president Jeff Miller said that 75 percent of his annual $1 million budget comes from industry suppliers, including SRAM, Bikes Belong and Planet Bike, with the remainder coming from membership dues from local and state advocacy groups. Bikes Belong will represent a full 10 percent of its annual budget for 2013, going from $60,000 to $100,000, Miller said.

The Alliance hopes to add two people to the payroll and launch a national campaign to ensure states and cities make use of local funding available to them from the transportation bill that passed last summer.

“Even though the unification didn’t happen, all of us are looking at the bigger prize,” Miller said. “I don’t think anyone is interested or satisfied in going back to what we were doing. We all have larger aspirations.”

Topics associated with this article: Advocacy/Non-profits, From the Magazine

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