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Advice on starting a similar organization

Here's our advice on starting a bike education facility, compiled from
replies to people's queries. Feel free to call or visit, after you have looked at these resources, and if you are close to Cleveland, look at our Group Membership at the bottom of the Membership page which provides training, parts and supplies, and new-parts discounts.

There are lots of resources available on the many different models of bike co-op/bike re-cycling/educational facility; I'll list some below.

First, my most important general advice is to get funding for the organization lined up before starting any programs. We did the reverse, and spent a lot of time under-funded and over-worked. Though it is hard to get grants for an organization without a track record, going through the steps that funders require also makes sure that you have looked at all the details needed to start a program that will actually survive and grow. Getting bikes, kids and customers is not hard — getting reliable space, money, and volunteers is. Another approach is to get affiliated with an existing group (YMCA, Girl Scouts, Trips for Kids (external link), a church or school) that can act as "fiscal agent" for getting grants. Getting your own 501(c)(3) non-profit status from the IRS is a chore that legally does not need to be done until you have a certain amount of income, but it seems to be much easier to do if you don't have a too much of a track record (we did, and it was a pain).

Good places to start for more information are:
International Bicycle Fund (external link), Youth Bicycle Education Network (but (external link) seems to be down), Bike Collectives Network (external link),|Bike! (external link) Bike!],the League of American Bicyclists (external link), and the Foundation Center (external link) — the last is the best source of information on grantmakers. They have a branch in Cleveland that is free to use, and would be worth a trip if there's not one near you — we'd be glad to put you up while you're here!

All our public information is (or will be soon) on our website. You may use any of the educational materials, with attribution please. Our IRS nonprofit determination application (including our Ohio articles of incorporation), which may serve as a model, is on the non-profit information page

The Nat'l Bicycle Dealers Association is where we found insurance coverage from Nat'l Ins Professionals Corp in WA; their phone is 360 697 3611. You will need a local agent to get coverage; ours has us with Diamond State Ins Co.

If you are doing any kind of bike rides, release forms are a good idea, but only if you also actually do something to assure safety — otherwise they are a travesty, and probably worthless in court. We always give safety talks (and lead bike and helmet checks) before rides, so the release form's most important feature is the list of EMERGENCY PHONE NUMBERS, which our ride follower carries along, with the first aid kit and cell phone.

I feel the text of the release itself is better kept short, rather than a bunch of legal mumbo-jumbo that nobody will read (disclaimer: I am not a lawyer!). Ours is very simple — for a while it actually just said, "Be careful! It's not our fault if you hurt yourself!" Our current Earn A Bike release (not in any way vetted by any lawyers!) is at: (external link)

If you really are worried about liability, this may not be the activity for you. You could stick with fixing bikes (though there is plenty of liability there too: see our Safety Check) and teaching vocational skills, which is plenty to do.

Teaching safe riding skills was always part of our mission, so getting certified by the League of American Bicyclists was an important step: having at least one League Cycling Instructor (LCI) involved gives credibility, insurance and real teaching advantages. It also teaches YOU the most dangerous and common causes of crashes, so you know what to look out for on the road with students. If you have ten people with $175 each and a (long) weekend to devote, a trainer can come to your location for the certification seminar, which makes it a great team-building experience too.

The hardest part may be getting solid bike mechanical skills. If you plan to be selling donated bikes, but have never done retail repairs, you might think of spending some time working in your local bike shop. The skill that is most valuable is diagnosis (just like for retail repair take-ins), as we don't want to handle bikes that are beyond hope (having a scrap plan is essential!).

If you plan just education, no sales, it will be easier than managing all the bikes (though you'll still have to do maintenance if you have loaner bikes), but sales means unrestricted cash which grantors like to see, and is nice to have, as most grants are restricted to purposes defined in your proposal, and rent is often not included.

It's a good first step to write a business plan-type description of your ideas and goals; you'll need that honed for the "stock" parts of any grant proposal. If you want to send a draft, I'd be glad to comment.

Finally, it took us a long time to learn to stay focused on our core mission: it is easy to get involved in lots of different, bike-related activities, and not have the capacity to do any of them very well. We have scaled back a lot on rides and events, for example, to concentrate on bike education.

Update, 2015: We are just completing a strategic planning process, and as a result, are scaling back MANY other programs to concentrate on the work of teaching our many volunteers to help refurbish the many bikes we have donated now. My last advice: plan for change!

Good luck, and, to paraphrase Robert Fripp, in everything you do try to: help someone, learn something, get paid, and have fun!

Jim Sheehan
Director, Ohio City Bicycle Co-op
1823 Columbus Rd
Cleveland, Ohio 44113
216 830 2667

Created by: JSheehan. Last Modification: Monday 18 of May, 2015 19:51:12 UTC by JSheehan.