How to Fund Your Bicycle Tourism Project: Part One

How to Fund Your Bicycle Tourism Project: Part One

Suppose that you can see in your mind’s eye a brilliant new bicycle tourism project that will bring huge benefits to your local community. You might have been dreaming about this project for years or it might be a flash of inspiration from something you’ve seen elsewhere on a recent vacation.

Your only problem is, you know it will cost five million dollars to turn your vision into reality. If you’re a multi-millionaire and happy to pay the bill, then you can skip the rest of this blog! But for most of us mere mortals, still working to pay the rent, what can you do?

Before you start, realize that if you’re going to one day be taking part in a ribbon cutting ceremony, you’re in for a long journey. No doubt there will be some setbacks along the way. So you need to genuinely believe that your project is worthwhile and that success is possible, provided you persist.

Here are some steps that you’ll need to take. Although they’re listed here in a nice neat order, in the real world the order might be different, and you’re likely to be tackling more than one step simultaneously.

Build the strongest alliance that you can.
Start by identifying all the people who would benefit from your project. Suppose it’s a rail trail. Are there any small towns along the way with hotels, cafés and other businesses that will see more business from your project?

What about like-minded individuals who would like to ride your new trail, or just want to see your local community progress? One way of finding out who these people are could be to call a public meeting and get the contact details of everyone who attends.

Other organizations you should approach include your local government, be it a County, Council, City or whatever, any local cycling clubs, your local Chamber of Commerce or Business Development Group.

Every community has its leaders: people who are prominent in the local media and who have influence. They will almost certainly have good networks of influential contacts, so seek people like this out and try to convince them about the merits of your project. Of course, elected officials will come within this group.

Image: Community meeting - Many people who live anywhere near your project are going to want to see exactly what you’re proposing and how it might affect them.

Identify Sources of Funding
Although it makes things harder to pull together, you’ll almost certainly need multiple sources of funding. We’ll look at the pros and cons of four key groups: grass roots, government, business and philanthropy.

Grass Roots
Don’t underestimate the value of small-scale grass roots fundraising such as a cake stall, fundraising dinner, bike rides and many other tried and true methods. You might think, ‘What’s the point of having a cake stall that will raise $500 when the project will cost five million?’ But every small event brings multiple benefits:

  • It proves to potential large funders that you have local community support.
  • It helps raise the profile of your project.
  • It’s a way you can meet and build relationships with more potential allies.
  • It can provide early stage money you need for things such as planning, mapping and other expenses.
  • As worthy as grass roots fundraising is, you’re still going to need major funders to get to your $5 million target. This is likely to come from a combination of three remaining sources: government, business and philanthropic.

    Image: Bake sale - Big visions start with small steps. Grass roots fundraising is not just about the money but community support, awareness and activation.


    Many cycling projects will include at least some public land, public roads or old right-of-ways, which will immediately have you dealing with government.

    Before you make your first approach to any level of government, it helps to understand some fundamentals of how government works. For the purposes of this blog we’ll stick to democratically elected governments and societies with free speech and freedom of the media.

    At any level of government there are two key elements you’ll need to deal with: elected officials (Mayor, Governor etc) and salaried government workers, ‘public servants’ if you like. These two groups share power in a complex and often tense tango. As someone seeking funding, you need to get both groups on side, or at least to find the key people within both groups who have the power to get funding for your idea over the line.

    Most elected officials ask themselves this question, ‘Will supporting this project help me at the next election?’ Unfortunately very few politicians are brave enough to support you if they think the answer is, ‘No!’ Therefore you need to prove to them that your idea will be popular with the majority of their voters.

    Meanwhile most government workers don’t like to ‘go out on a limb’ to support some left field project. Being associated with a failure or controversy could cost them future promotion. And they don’t like getting bypassed by people who go straight to the elected officials. This is especially true of ‘staffers’ – the immediate support staff within each politician’s office. If they’re not happy for whatever reason, they might not be able to kill your project when the Mayor announces his or her support, but they might be able to reign it back with red tape.

    Later we’ll share ways that you can reassure both of these groups and win their support. But there’s another key issue you need to deal with when seeking funding from government – it’s structured in ‘silos’, that often don’t talk to each other. First there’s the separate local, state and federal levels of government. Then there’s the departments within each level such as tourism, transportation, health and so on.

    The ‘problem’ with cycling projects is that their benefits flow across multiple government departments. But it’s very difficult to win co-ordinated government funding from multiple departments because these are silos with separation from the lowest employee to the highest elected official in charge. As we’re talking in this blog about cycle tourism orientated programs, the tourism department would be your first point of focus, but keep in mind that you may have to interact with the transportation department, environment department and others too.

    In our next blog we’ll look at two more key funding sources, Business and Philanthropy, then go into the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the stages you’ll need to go through to get your project funded and built.

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