Introduction & Recycle-A-Bicycle:
The New York Model
Laying the foundation
Nuts and Bolts
The Bicycle Collection Network
Finding the Funds
Safety, Quality Control, and Liability
Resource Directory & Bibliography
Appendix I - Financial and administrative information
II - Forms and Materials used by RAB [1 MB]
Tools for Life:
A Start-Up Guide for Youth Recycling & Bicycling Programs
Fund-raising is practically an industry unto itself in our country.
The competition is so fierce for the dwindling supply of endowments that
elaborate strategies have been evolved and many people have made a
career of it. Most organizations cannot afford to pay the salary of a
professional fund-raiser, though. This responsibility usually falls on
the board of directors, or equivalent body, who should be selected for
their ability to perform in this area. However, projects like our own do
not necessarily rely on their board, and have proven to be very
resourceful in finding ways to raise money.
There are many sources of project income: state and local government,
foundations, corporate sponsors, private donors, special events, fees,
and bike sales and repairs. The appropriate source of funding depends on
whom the fund-raiser feels most comfortable in approaching or the style
that those people are accustomed to.
The obvious first step in your fund-raising strategy is to find out
how much you need. Work out your annual budget. It should include rent,
utilities, salaries, shop tools and supplies, transport costs, general
office expenses, and publications. Don't exaggerate costs, but don't
undercut yourself, either. You can cut corners later on. For now, set
down on paper the project you want.
Once you've determined your bottom line, you can decide on the level
at which you're going to raise funds. Be warned: applying for grants is
a time-consuming, laborious project that will require a considerable
amount of research and a lot of writing. It's also a gamble. An ironic
truth about grants is that once you've received one, other funding
agencies are more likely to give you additional ones. A few of the
successful fund-raising approaches are listed below.
State & Local Government
Most government agencies have a little extra money beyond their
operating expenses that is earmarked for the community. It's important
to find sympathetic government officials who like your project and may
even adopt it. Once they do that, they can help channel some of those
funds into your project. Here are some agencies that have supported
bicycle recycling projects, with the respective areas in which each can
- Department of
Youth- After-school programs, minority programs, technical
- Department of
Juvenile Justice- Crime prevention
- Department of
Education- Environmental education, service learning, vocational
education, industrial arts
- Department of
Sanitation- Recycling & reuse
Department- Community affairs, traffic safety
- Parks and
Recreation- Summer programs
- Department of
Transportation- Bicycle program, traffic safety
There are quite a few foundations in existence, far too many to be
listed here, whose sole purpose is to give away money. Your best
resource for foundation-hunting is the Public Library. There, you'll
find the books listed in our bibliography, and more. It will take time
to identify the foundations that give in your geographic area and best
match your project's interests. After you compile a list of target
foundations, write each of them a letter requesting their guidelines.
When making your proposals, be very scrupulous about meeting the
foundation's requirements and time frames. Successful proposals tend to
fall under the categories of environment, youth, and employment
A smart business is involved in its community. For this reason,
corporations based in your area are interested in supporting effective
projects. Large corporations may even have a foundation of their own.
Once again, you can find directories in public libraries that list where
grants are given and in what fields of interest. Smaller corporations
may be approached through their public relations divisions. Local
businesses may be approached individually or through a local business
network like the Rotary Club or your local Chamber of Commerce.
Bicycle-related businesses and manufacturers may be more sympathetic,
but don't rule anyone out.
If you are lucky enough to acquire a corporate sponsor, be sure to
acknowledge their support as often as possible. Mention them in your
literature, flyers, public speeches, etc. And, of course, support their
business in the community.
As you grow, you should create a base of support for your activities.
Most organizations encourage individuals to become members in exchange
for a newsletter, a tax exemption, and the knowledge that they are
supporting a good cause. A membership base is important for two reasons:
it creates a steady source of income and it provides a pool of
interested people with whom to network. People who give over one hundred
dollars should be recognized in a special way (i.e. given a T-shirt, a
tour, a lunch date, special thanks in a newsletter or brochure, or any
combination of these). If your board members or trustees are
well-connected, they should be encouraged to identify and solicit
donations from wealthy individuals.
There are many types of events that can be organized to raise money.
Relatively easy events include bike raffles and T-shirt sales. Bigger
affairs, that require a major volunteer effort, can include a
bike-a-thon, an auction of bikes repaired by the project (or even bikes
painted by young artists), and a flea market of unsold goods that bike
shops want to sell at a discount. If a local street fair or festival is
in the offing, it might be a good idea to acquire a booth or tie an
event to it.
Education has value. If your instructors are good and your shop is
well-equipped, you can generate extra income by teaching adult classes,
particularly if there are a lot of bike enthusiasts in your area. A lot
depends on location. Because most projects work in low-income
communities, fees for their bike repair classes do not reflect the real
cost. In fact, some projects don't charge anything, using the classes to
promote their mission and recruit volunteers.
By now you may be standing in your chair screaming "You're
resurrecting bikes! Why not make money by selling them and skip all this
RAB does sell bikes. New Yorkers are constantly on the lookout for
old, beat-up commuting bikes that are less attractive to thieves than
new ones. RAB is able to supply this demand very well, but we don't
depend on sales for income for several reasons.
Number one, the bike business isn't that lucrative. For reasons best
known to the major manufacturers, new bicycles have a far lower profit
margin than almost any other division in retail. To make matters worse,
bikes come unassembled, which raises the overhead even further. Despite
prices that seem high to consumers, dealers make most of their money
from parts and accessories. Used bikes must compete within these
conditions of the marketplace as well, and have the added burden of
being very labor-intensive to restore. It's easy to spend an entire day
fixing up a bike that wouldn't sell for more than $75.
Two, a bike shop staffed by kids and teens just can't be efficient
enough to produce the number of bikes that would pay all our expenses.
Even if it could, the pressure to produce would change the character of
our shop drastically. Sooner or later, the emphasis would be on
quantity, rather than quality. It would stop being fun, for us and the
Three, the primary goal of RAB is education. It's important for us to
put bicycles back into action, but our main objective is to instill an
environmental consciousness and foster mechanical and social skills in
kids. We're concerned that placing a premium on production would violate
certain principles of the educational process (not to mention child
That's the RAB philosophy, but your project does not necessarily have
to follow our model. If we hadn't been so fortunate in securing funding,
we wouldn't be able to operate on such a "pure" level. And in
the face of continued corporate and government belt-tightening, no one
knows how long we can continue to do so. If our funding level drops,
we'll certainly sell more bikes to meet the shortfall.
It appears that most existing projects depend on bike sales for a
good part of their operating expenses. If you go this route, just
remember that you'll be starting a business, and will face all the
obstacles that are a part of that process. The project would also raise
the specter of liability, which we'll cover in the next section.
It's inevitable: start fixing up old bikes somewhere and people will
start knocking at your door asking if you can fix their bikes. Well, why
not? At RAB's I.S. 218, it started within the school. Many of our kids
already had their own bikes, so we designated an afternoon as Fix-Your-
Own-Bike time (it should be noted that kids can't "earn hours"
during F.Y.O.B.). After a while, kids who weren't in the project began
asking about repairs, followed by parents and teachers. We couldn't
refuse them, but we did set up some guidelines for taking in repairs.
We started by creating a special "repair ticket," which had
a space for a customer's name, address, and phone number. At the bottom,
there was a box labeled "estimated cost" that totaled the
price of the repairs if they had been done at a "real" bike
shop. There was also a box labeled "actual cost" which was
lower than the estimated cost. When a person received their bike back,
we'd point out the amount of money they saved. On a typical job, for
example, if the estimated cost was $43.00, we'd probably charge $20.00.
Why so low? For one thing, I. S. 218 is in a very poor neighborhood.
For another, RAB does not try to be a "real" bike shop. We
don't sell new bikes or parts. If a component can't be repaired, the
replacement will undoubtedly be a used one.
In some areas, care must be taken when implementing a bike repair
policy. You may risk losing the friendship you've been cultivating at
the comer bike shop. The closest shop to I.S. 218 was a half-mile away
(a long-distance in Manhattan), so we didn't feel we were encroaching on
someone else's territory. Our little "business" never became
very large because we didn't publicize our policy. If a merchant begins
to grumble, it should be explained that by fostering interest in
cycling, your project will, in the long term, probably increase his or
In RAB's case, money taken for repairs is always treated as a
donation. Our "customers" receive a Transportation
Alternatives membership along with their repair. It actually raises the
value of the repair because cardholders receive a subscription to TA's
magazine and are entitled to discounts at many NYC bike shops.