A very smart friend of mine once said to me, “All business is sales.” It was a truism that needed no supporting data. I accepted it without reservation and have lived by it since. Almost all business dynamics are transactional, even sponsorship. If I’m running a cycling team and want your bike, I need to give you great publicity in return. Winning a bike race isn’t enough. You need photos, interaction with prospective buyers, rides from the dealer and more. I left the board of a cycling team because they thought going fast was enough.
What I came to appreciate later was that successful nonprofit and advocacy work is also sales. If I run a nonprofit and want your cash, I need to give you the feel-goods and a nice tax deduction. A nonprofit can’t do nothing and offer no write-off. Who would give to that?
And advocacy work is much the same as nonprofit work.
If government is to designate some spaces as belonging to the people and to be reserved for human recreation and wildlife habitat, there needs to be a quid pro quo to close that loop. Sometimes it’s tourism, and sometimes it’s quality of life for the locals—both work. That can be enough to draw businesses to a town—knowing that recreational opportunities are good enough to help attract good employees. It’s why companies like Facebook and Google have opened offices in Bozeman, Montana—some people place a higher emphasis on how they spend their time off than who they work for.
Historically, cycling has done a bad job of advocating for itself. From the way riders on the road are treated by governments and law enforcement (not to mention drivers), to the way mountain bikers have been treated by government and other organizations within the environmental movement, we’ve been victims of our own inaction, both in educating our own species and in speaking up.
The current GOP platform on the environment emphasizes jobs, energy and privatization of lands—in other words land is only valuable if it yields a natural resource or can be sold for other development. I don’t think for a second that everyone within that camp thinks that way, but obviously some do. On the other side of the political spectrum there are those who want to preserve wild spaces with no provision for human beings to visit. Neither of those approaches is likely to garner widespread support.
Even if, like me, you’re primarily a roadie, good riding often means getting away from development and into wilder places. Development of these places doesn’t just threaten mountain bike rides and multi-surface road rides, but road rides themselves, as anyone who has had to share the road with a giant earth hauler or logging truck can attest.
In attempting to maintain our access for mountain biking in parks and wilderness, cycling’s greatest foe other than the government itself has often been other environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society. We’ve been cast as the other, and not without some justification. I know the speeds I like to ride at, and I know the speed I’m likely to hike at. There’s, shall we say, a bit of a delta between the two. But it’s not hard to slow to a walking pace when passing hikers and equestrians. It’s not hard to smile, to nod, to say hi.
Advocacy isn’t sexy, but what’s worse is losing access to wild places, or worse-er, losing those places because either they’ve been despoiled by gutting the EPA (also in the GOP platform), or sold off to a corporation for development.
We need to sell ourselves as allies to other environmental groups so that we can provide the loudest possible voice for protecting these places. The only way we will avoid seeing these lands mined, cut, sold or otherwise removed from the realm of recreation—and that goes for the roads through them as well—is if we combine our voices with those of other environmental groups, particularly the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society and the Wilderness Society. This is a “Horton Hears a Who” effort in which we must convince our government that these places mean more, are worth more in their current state than if we suck every sellable resource out of them. But before we can sell the government on this idea, we must convince the other players that we are allies. And the only way to do that is if we come together in numbers by supporting those organizations that speak for us.