Tools for Life:
A Start-Up Guide for Youth Recycling & Bicycling Programs
Relations: Recruitment and Project Promotion
As we keep pointing out, kids love bikes. The incentive to learn is
built into the project. Recruiting youth to participate in the project
is rarely a problem. However, there are two procedures that should be
followed in order to guarantee your success.
1) Establish requirements for access to the project and follow
them. These requirements will be determined by the organization's
mission and the partners it may have. Some examples of requirements:
- The child lives
within certain geographical boundaries (many programs are intended
to benefit low-income neighborhoods)
- The child
participates in a certain organization
- The child pays a
small fee (programs can offer scholarships to those who cannot
- Children of the same
age are grouped together (older kids will sometimes dominate the
others if not put in a mentor position)
- The child must
demonstrate a certain level of competency to be placed in an
2) Advertise the project in a timely fashion. Some
organizations work with schools, youth agencies, and clubs that can
provide you with a pre-selected constituency. Children can be selected
by the youth organization, sometimes as a reward for their good behavior
or because it fits into a theme that a particular group is developing.
Other groups rely on posters and word-of-mouth in the neighborhood to
announce this opportunity. Advertising far in advance will ensure that
your project reaches its capacity and also allows families to plan for
the activity. Demand may be high, so be prepared to announce dates of
future classes and have sign-up sheets ready.
The first place to appeal to when looking for adult volunteers is
your partner organization, if you have one. Many of the same techniques
used to enlist kids may be used to draw adults, but you may need to
upgrade your materials a bit. Professional-looking posters and brochures
will convince wary volunteers that they will be in good hands once they
come through your door. Make it clear that your project is a worthy one
and that the help of adults is important to its success.
Throughout its existence, RAB has been able to draw upon the
resources of Transportation Alternatives, an organization that already
enjoyed a broad volunteer base. TA publishes a magazine (formerly known
as City Cyclist and now named after TA itself) six times a year that not
only goes to its membership, but is also distributed free at bike shops
all over the metropolitan area. RAB's monthly column in the magazine
regularly urges TA members and other cyclists to contribute time and
Of course, there are other places to find volunteers. Pay some calls
to bike shops, volunteer centers, senior centers, high schools, and
sports clubs in your area.
But maybe you've gone through your partner organization, your
community, and everyone in your little black book and you still don't
have the volunteers you need. If so, it's time to appeal to a higher
Good directors have an unrelenting drive to inform others about their
project. Everywhere they go, they are constantly networking be- cause
they know that the best contacts are usually made face to face. However,
there's no denying that even a tiny bit of media attention can produce a
quantum leap in the public awareness of a project. For this reason, you
would be wise to put together a solid package of materials that presents
your project in the best possible light. Your p.r. arsenal may include
A Logo- People respond well to symbols. It's not absolutely
essential, but a well-designed logo is like the Presidential seal: it
lends authority. You may be thinking "Oo, we can have the kids
design one!" Maybe so, but in our experience it's tough to get a
usable final product with kids. You may get some valuable input from
them, though, or even a drawing that you can incorporate into a logo.
Stationery- A well-run project is constantly sending out
inquiries, appeals, thank-you notes, and grant proposals. A nice
letterhead can make all the difference in making a first impression.
A Brochure- A project should have one good piece of material
that tells a stranger everything they need to know. It should be clearly
laid out, illustrated (pictures of kids are worth several thousand
words), and succinct. It should also be easy to carry around, give to
others, and stuff into a business envelope. Color and glossy paper are
optional. A one- or two-sided 81/2x11 sheet can do the job quite well.
RAB's ver- sion is a tri-fold of that size.
Press Releases- One of the easiest ways to make a bid for
media attention. A release can be printed on your regular stationery and
should always be about a special event. Start by building a mailing list
of local media that includes newspapers, magazines, TV and Radio
stations, and community newsletters. Try to mail them to specific
individuals working for those media. A parent/partner organization might
be able to pro-vide you with a ready-made list. If you're not already in
operation, your first release should be about the grand opening of your
project. Big bike donations (to or from your group), volunteer and
bicycle drives, new corporate sponsorships, bike rodeos, and group rides
can all be the subjects of successive releases. Writing effective press
releases is a fine art, but the best advice we can give is to keep them
short and sweet. Any- thing bigger than one page is long-winded.
A Newsletter- This is a good way to keep your
"membership" (if you have one) abreast of the project's
activities. It doesn't have to be terribly elaborate, and it can appear
infrequently (every three months is typical). A single, well laid-out
sheet will do. Always include illustrations, either of, or by, kids.
Posters- Not as essential as a good brochure, but they can be
useful. Posters are better for targeting the community than the media,
but check local ordinances before plastering them on walls all over your
neighborhood. You might find that a leaflet will suit your purposes
better, mainly because they can be posted on bulletin boards. In New
York, the best places to get posters and leaflets displayed is in the
windows of kindly retailers; in particular, coffee shops and
Videotapes- Not too long after we opened Alan Lowe, the host
of a local public-access cable TV program called The Bike Show, shot a
15- minute segment about RAB. As a videotape, it became a useful tool.
If an influential person was curious about our project, all we had to do
was send them a copy. If you've got a video camera, you might try
shooting a mini-documentary about your project. Once again, keep it
short. Noth- ing is more boring than a long, homemade video.
A press kit- File away a copy of every article published about
your project. After you've got a few good ones under your belt, you can
start packaging them (and your other materials) in folders to give to
media people and other VIP's.
Merchandise- We think it was the late Fred LeBow, the man
behind the New York Marathon, who said, "Never underestimate the
power of a free T-shirt." The gift of a nice, thick, 100% cotton
tee with a snazzy logo on it can go a long way toward cementing a
friendship. They can also be a great incentive award and status symbol
for the kids. Caps are great, too, but they usually cost more.