Table of Contents


Introduction & Recycle-A-Bicycle: The New York Model

Laying the foundation

Project Definition

Organizational Structure


Nuts and Bolts

The Bicycle Collection Network

Curriculum Content

Public Relations

Finding the Funds

Safety, Quality Control, and Liability

Last Words

Resource Directory & Bibliography

Appendix I - Financial and administrative information

Appendix II - Forms and Materials used by RAB [1 MB]

The Authors

Thank yous

Tools for Life: 
A Start-Up Guide for Youth Recycling & Bicycling Programs

Finding The Funds

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 be wooed:

  • Department of Youth- After-school programs, minority programs, technical education
  • Department of Juvenile Justice- Crime prevention
  • Department of Education- Environmental education, service learning, vocational education, industrial arts
  • Department of Sanitation- Recycling & reuse
  • Police 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 generation.

Corporate Sponsors

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.

Private Donors

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.

Special Events

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.

Educational Fees

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.

Bike Sales

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 'fund-raising?'"

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 kids.

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 labor laws!).

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.

Bike Repairs

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 her business.

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.

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