Have you heard the one about the for-profit organization with 3,500 members, dedicated to fun and exercise, staffed entirely by volunteers, and which raises more than $1 million for charities every year? Neither had I, until I sat down with Merle Kaplan, president of the Baltimore Bicycling Club.
By year's end, the local club, the largest one in Maryland, will have helped raise about $1.5 million by assisting charities of every size and description in organizing and carrying out a bicycle touring event.
Charities are under constant, unrelenting pressure to raise funds through a wider variety of sources than was true in past years. Government funding has decreased, and the need for social services has increased. This has reduced the available financial pie, despite increases in giving by individuals. For many charities, especially those that were able to gear up years ago, bicycling events have proved to be very successful fund-raisers.
Just ask Susan Vogel, director of special events for the Maryland chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. When the national organization told the chapter it would have to put on a bicycling event, the staff was at a dead end.
"None of us was familiar with how to run a bicycling event," Vogel told me. "So we consulted with the Baltimore Bicycling Club. They were able to provide us with very valuable information, everything from soup to nuts. " Club President Kaplan put Vogel together with Betty Beaumont, the club's coordinatorfor charitable events. "We recommend that charities contact us one full year prior to the event. They may not realize that it is an enormous amount of work preparing for a successful event."
In the case of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the many months of planning paid off handsomely. It netted close to $20,000 in its first year. Of course, there are non-financial benefits to cycle touring events, too. Public awareness may be equally important.
That was the experience of Young Audiences of Maryland, a group that brings the performing arts and educational programs to schools. That group, too, contacted the Baltimore Bicycling Club for help with its recent cycle tour. Though the event did not do well financially because of conflicting vacation schedules and promotional snafus, Executive Director Patricia Thomas is still upbeat. "It was one of the best consciousness-raising experiences we ever had," she reports. " A key issue in any cycling event is liability-insurance coverage. If a charity is not able to place the event with its carrier, it can place it through the club's carrier for a modest $1 per rider.
Once the club's Beaumont enters the picture, the charity is in good hands. A veteran event organizer, Beaumont has developed a comprehensive manual to guide the non-profit through the entire year of planning. Included in the manual are a month-by-month time line of tasks, instructions on advertising, how to create brochures, how to maintain a data base of participants, how to recruit sponsors, event-day registration forms and even thank you letters for post-event recognition.
As part of the planning, the club assigns its members to staff the charity's event committees and attend all organizational meetings. And, because the club operates statewide, it can accommodate charities throughout Maryland. Though many clubs and corporations help charities run events, it is rare to find an organization that guides the charity through an event as completely as does the Baltimore Bicycling Club. Charities interested in a bicycle tour fund-raiser may contact the club at (410) 792-8308.
(Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md, 21921;  392-3160.)