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Funding for trails and greenways: how to do it

"Be first, be daring, be different." -- Anita Roddick, founder and owner of The Body Shop

Presentation Notes by Skye Ridley, former Executive Director, American Trails

Traditional Fundraising

  • Membership campaigns. The return from this can be significant (The Pikes Peak Area Trails Coalition raises $18,000 per year), but your effort must be repeated every year.
  • Buy-a-Foot-of-Trail campaigns. Success depends on trail location, trail type, and local popularity of trails. For example, long rural bicycle trails would be too difficult to fund with this method. But it would be easy to market a short stretch of a very popular, multi-use urban trail.
  • Foundation donations.
  • Government programs.
  • Sales taxes are successful where tourism and concerns about quality of life issues are prevalent.
  • Excise taxes on bicycles or outdoor equipment can work in some places. The Colorado Springs bicycle excise tax, $4.00 per every new bicycle sold, raises over $60,000 a year for bike lanes and bike trails.
  • Bond issues take a lot of work but can bring big dollars to trails. Better if campaign is combined with parks and recreation rather than just trails.
  • Lottery funding works incredibly well in Colorado, works well in AZ &other states.
  • ISTEA. Can bring big $ to trails but you must educate yourself on it, be prepared, and spend time over a period of years.

Entrepreneurial fundraising

  • Merchandise. The Pikes Peak Area Trails Map is generating $6,000 a year, with very little continuous effort and no initial investment. T shirts don't work; too many available. Sell something useful and different. Don't expect this to be big fundraiser.
  • Services. Trail tours, guided trips.

PROS and CONS
Businesses can be very supportive
Takes careful planning
You can raise significant amounts Your money is tied up in inventory
It's a quicker way to raise funds Tracking and planning requires work

What about UBIT -- Unrelated Business Income Tax?
No problem as long as your sales are related directly to your mission.
Trail maps and trail tours would be OK, but fruit baskets and babysitting services would not be. Ask the IRS and a lawyer familiar with nonprofits.
  • Get a copy of Filthy Rich by Richard Steckel, 10-Speed Press. Great book on entrepreneurial fundraising.

Events and Programs

  • "Change for the Better" Program. Local merchant donates 25 cents into jar on counter for every sale he makes, and asks customers to match it. Pikes Peak Area Trails Coalition raises around $1,000 each month of this program, from only one small outdoor equipment store.
  • Voluntary/Temporary Tax. Similar to Change for the Better Program, except it is run by many retailers. Customers are asked to donate 25 cents, or some other amount, or their loose change after every sale for a specific purpose. When enough money is collected to fund the trail, the "tax" is lifted.
  • Challenge Grants. Funders and donors never want to be the first to donate. But once you get that first amount, they love to match it or add to it. Ask a funder or donor to issue their next grant or donation as a challenge. It's a great publicity tool: "If we don't raise $10,000 by March 31, we'll lose this $10,000 challenge grant money!" The Pikes Peak Area Trails Coalition raised $17,000 in addition to the original $10,000 challenge grant.
  • Hire a fundraiser? This is controversial. Legitimate professionals don't usually work on commission. However, a few do, so if you really can't raise the seed money, consider hiring on commission. If you do have some seed money, it could be worth the fundraiser's fee. Research is essential for this strategy, though.

In general

Accept the following facts about all fundraising:

  • This takes significant amount of time and effort,
  • You must educate yourself on new techniques,
  • A certain amount of risk is unavoidable, and
  • You must combine several funding vehicles; no one way will work on its own.

This runs counter to most beliefs about funding charitable activities. Committe or board members will have to be convinced.

Contrary to the Be first, be daring, and be different quote, I say: copy successful programs. Don't try an unproven strategy unless you can afford the risk and have great confidence. You'll save time and effort by not reinventing wheels.

To fund your trail, you need support from a critical mass of people in your organization and the community:

  • The business community
  • Elected officials
  • Government agency reps
  • Community leaders

How to get it? Educate yourself and talk constantly about

  • Economic benefits (get free NPS publication, The Economic Benefits of Rivers, Trails, and Greenways, by calling 415/744-3975).
  • Quality of life
  • Recreation
  • Transportation
  • Safety
  • Appeal to hikers, bikers, seniors

To get trails built, you need patience and persistence!

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