14 Tips to Make Your Club Politically Savvy
1. Get Organized
Don't wait for a crisis. Be organized and develop communication systems including website and email lists.
2. Get a Feel for Your Political Landscape
Post a map of your region and use pins to represent bike shops, cycling clubs and members. Identify political leaders: city, county, state and congressional elected officials as well as state trail council members and recreational trail committees.
3. Pick Up the Phone and Schedule a Meeting
If an access issue is imminent, do something. Pick up the phone and respectfully ask for a meeting with a local land manager. Too many times, trail access closures and restrictive decision-making occurs because of poor communication. Be the first to reach out and understand an issue before you form an opinion. Most land managers will be glad you called and happy to talk.
4. Make Your Message Simple
Develop a clear, simple message about how important cycling is to the local community (i.e. cycling combats obesity, brings tourism revenue, etc.) and be ready to repeat it over and over.
5. Establish Connections with Policy Makers
Your club should appoint official liaisons for parks and trail systems in the area. These delegates help land managers schedule trailwork days, offer advice on management issues, and alert the club when new trail management plans are being considered. Having existing working relationships with local elected officials helps everyone negotiate a satisfactory conclusion.
6. Invite Elected Officials to Address Your Group
Invite policy makers to address club meetings or trail dedication ceremonies. Use the event as an opportunity to educate candidates about local issues and establish your mountain bike club as a constituent group. Hold a candidate's forum or ask them to answer IMBA's candidate questionnaire, available at www.imba.com.
7. Get Mountain Bikers Appointed to Trails Councils
City, county, state and federal public lands have governing councils. Savvy IMBA affiliated clubs attend these public meetings and some even have official capacities. Many IMBA Reps are members of state trails councils, county parks boards, BLM RAC's and city open space committees.
8. Guest Newsletter Column
Ask land managers, elected officials or other user groups to write guest columns on a particular topic for your club's newsletter.
9. Be Part of the Trails Community
Build coalitions with environmental, hiking, equestrian and other groups in your area. The more friends you have, the more collective lobbying power you have as a recreational trails community.
10. Consider Changing Your 501(c)(3) Club Status
Some IMBA affiliated clubs are moving from 501(c)(3) non-profit status to IRC section 527 and other designations. As an IRC 527, a club can endorse political candidates and raise money for political campaigns. There are pros and cons to changing your non-profit status. (A key one: only donations to 501(c)(3) groups are tax deductible.) Research and weigh all factors before deciding.
11. Volunteer for Political Campaigns
Once you have interviewed candidates, and selected one, don't be afraid to support them with old-fashioned sweat equity (unless your group is, or hopes to be, a 501(c)(3)). Stuff envelopes, go door-to-door or work on election day. If they get elected, they won't forget who helped them.
12. Run for Office
One of the best ways to improve mountain biking access is to have mountain bikers at the highest levels of decision-making power. Consider having club members run for trails councils, park board or city and county office.
13. Use Your Voice for the Greater Good
Now that you or your club is represented and active, use your voice for the greater good. Champion the issues of your local land management agencies. Listen to their concerns and offer to convey their message to members of Congress, state legislators, city and county elected officials or their staff.
Write thank you letters to elected officials, trail committee members and land managers letting them know that you appreciate their efforts. Make sure they receive your club newsletter.