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Advocacy for trails and greenways
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Finding More Advocates in Your Area

Presentation to the Bike 2000 Meeting in Boulder, Colordo.

By Skye Ridley


Be clear and precise about what you want to accomplish before trying to get more people involved.


1. Distribute brochures

Compose a good brochure which states your mission, goals, activities, and accomplishments (if any) clearly and appealingly. If you're starting a new organization with limited funds, print 5,000 copies to start off with. Established organizations should print 10,000 or more. Enlist friends and volunteers to help distribute brochures at:

  • Bike and mountaineering shops
  • Sporting goods and athletic-shoe stores
  • Gyms and Y's
  • Other bicycling-related organizations, for distribution at their meetings and in their newsletters
  • Meetings
  • Everywhere you make presentations (see below)

Don't waste your money on leaving brochures at generalized locations like grocery stores.

This is a basic step. It won't get the word out enough, but it's a start.

2. Make speeches

Compose a good solid 15-minute speech and slide show. Get yourself on the rubber-chicken circuit. Arrange to talk to:

  • Bicycle clubs
  • Trails and hiking clubs
  • Service clubs, such as Kiwanis, Lions, Sertoma (you'll be surprised how many active advocates you can find from these organizations!)
  • Homeowners associations
  • Brown-bag lunch groups
  • Employee groups at local companies
  • Business organizations

That last group— business organizations— is especially important. These people have power and money. Bicycling-oriented CEO's can do more for you than 50 regular volunteers.

If yours is a membership organization, ask the groups you talk to to join as organizational members of your organization, ask the members to join your organization as members, and ask people to volunteer!

3. Send news releases

Keep the news releases flowing for every significant positive event: meetings, rides, policy issues. Send brief, well-written, proofread copy.

Build up a media mailing list data base. Use a computer. Don't start from scratch; ask other organizations for copies of their mailing lists, on disk, whenever possible. Include:

  • Newspapers
  • TV and radio stations
  • Bicycle-related newsletters
  • Bicycle-related nonprofits and volunteer groups (for announcements at meetings)
  • Government agency representatives
  • Community relations representatives at large businesses (for announcements and for in-house newsletters)

Keep note of names, titles, and helpful tidbits (Joe Schmoe at Channel 3, did a story for us Fall of 95; Jane Doe of Bicyclists Anonymous is running for city council of Longmont).

Make it easy to send news releases quickly by setting up your data base in advance to print labels, and by setting up an assembly line operation for stuffing envelopes. Hire a mailing services company to prepare large mailings. They're inexpensive. Don't waste your time sorting by zip code when you could be attending an important meeting, visiting a county commissioner, or out biking with your spouse!

Follow news releases to newspapers and TV and radio stations with phone calls to confirm receipt. Media people "lose" news releases often. But don't ever show your anger; you'll lose their support.

Build a reputation as a reliable information resource; soon the media people and government agencies will be calling you.

Write good articles for local publications so they don't have to do the work; they're more likely to publish your announcement if you do that.

4. Make it rewarding

It's a sad fact of life: very few people become advocates or volunteer unless it's rewarding. Figure out how you can reward people with recognition, fun, business opportunities, votes, or whatever they need.

Invite your media, government, and business contacts to go riding with you to see the place or route of interest. (You may have to furnish the bikes.) In return, ask them to publish articles, support your cause, and become advocates. Make the rides fun even if you're showing them a problem area, because you want them to accept next time out.

5. Convince people your idea is a good idea

Tout the economic, environmental, and social benefits of bicycling. Especially the economic benefits. Businesspeople and elected officials love economic benefits, and they are the people with the power.

6. Publish a newsletter

When you have the time and money, send a newsletter to your members, contacts, government contacts, and key people in your community. It doesn't have to be big or fancy. But make absolutely certain it's accurate.

7. Decide whether you need memberships

Does your organization really need to be a membership organization? Memberships take a lot of time and effort to track and maintain. Could you accomplish your mission without individual memberships? Research what other, successful organizations are doing.

If you must have memberships, realize that it's a bootstrapping, exponential effort. The more members you have, the easier it is to get members.

Consider having several types of memberships, including business memberships. Businesses can be your best supporters.

Building memberships takes constant effort. You must repeat your spiel over and over and over. You must talk about your mission again and again. You must forever seek out those who haven't heard about your mission and tell them about it. You must speak out whenever possible. You must always seek new and more entertaining ways to talk about your cause.

Charge whatever the market will bear. The difference between $10 and $15 is not $5; its zero to prospective members. But it equals $2,500 a year to your organization ($5 X 500 members = $2,500). That's enough to pay for your newsletter and all your mailings for a year!

8. Build alliances

The public isn't aware of the time, money, and effort needed for behind-the-scenes work such as land acquisition, planning, engineering studies, coordination among agencies, etc. Government and volunteer groups are pressed for time and find it difficult to publicize their efforts and projects. Help them do that and you'll win valuable allies.

For example, find out one good thing an agency has done lately for bicycling. Write a jazzy news article about it and send it out as a news release to local papers or publish it in your newsletter. Repeat this every few months, and they'll be eating out of your hand.

Collaborate: plan projects with other community organizations; involve as many people, organizations, and agencies as you can manage well. Ask everyone who participates to get involved in your cause.

9. Be patient and persistent

Finding advocates is a lot of work and takes time. Repeat the above steps often. Renew your own commitment often, and take care of yourself and your loved ones.


Advocates will come from the ranks of people who will be affected positively by the changes you're proposing:

  • Bicyclists
  • People who support bicycling
  • Elected officials
  • Government employees
  • Bicycle business people
  • Non-bicycle business people who want to improve the community
  • Other nonprofit or volunteer groups
  • Your friends and family
  • Your coworkers and colleagues

You make presentations to groups, but you recruit one on one. Whenever you're talking with people, refer briefly but enthusiastically to your cause, then follow up if they show interest. Constantly add new info so you don't bore people.

Ask people to get involved. Ask them to help, and be specific. Studies show that the most common reason people don't contribute money or volunteer time is because they were never actually asked.


Don't assume that people know what to do or how to do it. Only the perfect volunteer/advocate knows what needs to be done, then does it&endash;correctly, and follows through. Very few of the people you'll deal with will become perfect volunteer/advocates, but most of them will be good enough.

People who manage employees or volunteers will tell you that you must be as specific as possible, stopping short of micro-managing and insulting people's intelligence.

First, briefly state what needs doing. Then explain it again in more detail. Let the listener(s) interrupt and ask questions. When you're through, ask them if they have any more questions, and be prepared to go over the details again. This is the way people learn.

Always be polite, respectful, and appreciative of volunteers and advocates.

On the other hand, don't be afraid to fire bad volunteers and ask poor "advocates" to cease and desist. Disassociate yourself and your organization from destructive people.

  • Only a small percentage of the people you come into contact with will support you.
  • Only a small percentage of those who support you will get involved.
  • Only a small percentage of those who get involved will become advocates.
  • Only a small percentage of those who become advocates will make good advocates.

Recognize and plan for the inevitability of burnout, turnover, and breaks in service. Usually even the best advocates will stay involved no more than a few years. There are many exceptions, but don't gamble important ventures on that hope.

This even includes you! Train a substitute in case you get sick or have a flat. Groom your replacement in case you get burned out or have to move. You don't want the cause you've worked so hard for to fail just because you're not there any more. Successful leaders build movements that continue after they're gone.

Presentation to the Bike 2000 Meeting, Boulder, CO, September 9, 1995,

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