There's no silver bullet for the challenge now facing Free Cycles. The nonprofit is nearly two months into its six-month campaign to raise $1.1 million and there's no question in Executive Director Bob Giordano's mind that success requires a multipronged attack. One of the six Cycles of Change committees has already launched a revamped website complete with donation portal. The other five have fanned out to separately tackle canvassing, marketing, events, large donor outreach and grants. Based on turnout at three planning potlucks, Giordano estimates Free Cycles' volunteer army at around 60.
"There's a rhythm here," he says. "Seeds have been planted over the last month and they're going to start sprouting. Days are getting longer, people are getting happier, more bike riding is happening. This might be a little harder if we started in September and had until February or March ... so the timing, rhythmically, is really good."
If Free Cycles hopes to secure the cash needed to purchase the South First Street property it now occupies, that sprouting better happen soon. By Giordano's account, the campaign has raised just $5,000 since early December, along with roughly $10,000 in pledges. The anecdotes are heartwarming—a $10 donation from a pre-schooler, a $28 donation from a couple of buskers—but the reality of a May 8 deadline looms large.
Giordano is fully aware there are skeptics in the Missoula community, people who doubt the 20-year-old nonprofit can turn that trickle of money into the torrent it needs. In fact he recently bumped into one naysayer at a local coffee shop. Without naming names, Giordano says the individual told him the campaign couldn't possibly succeed. Giordano's response was to ask if the two could discuss those misgivings further, hoping the conversation might help inform Free Cycles' fundraising efforts.
"There's that quote, 'Kites don't fly without some resistance,'" Giordano says. "You get a few people saying, 'You can't do it. No way.' It's like, 'Oh yeah?'"
- photo by Alex Sakariassen
- Free Cycles still has a long way to go before raising the $1.1 million it needs to purchase its current home. But far from just passing the hat, Executive Director Bob Giordano says the Cycles of Change campaign is focused on a wide range of fundraising avenues that could spell success by the Mother’s Day deadline.
For Ben Weiss, manager of the city's Bicycle Pedestrian Program, the motives behind the initiative make total sense. Free Cycles is ideally situated along Missoula's two main bike paths, and the impending completion of the Missoula to Lolo trail only strengthens the appeal of staying put. The nonprofit has earned a name for itself, Weiss adds, not only by putting bicycles in the hands of countless locals but by loudly advocating for more bike-friendly infrastructure. Weiss even credits Giordano in part for his position with the city, citing a conversation the two had years ago during a Free Cycles ride to Ovando.
That said, $1.1 million "is a lot of money," Weiss admits.
"I'm half confident that they can raise the money," he says. "I think that the money is there to be raised and I hope that they have friends in the right places to help them find it."
The small amount raised so far may make it seem like Free Cycles is merely passing the hat. But Giordano says his cadre of volunteers "haven't been ready to just start shouting yet." Instead, they've spent the early weeks of the campaign laying groundwork for the hard push to come—recruiting interns from the University of Montana, crafting donation mailers, reaching out to other community bike shops across the country for support. A newly drafted business plan outlining long-term goals for the space will be used both in grant applications and to inform larger donors. Those goals include a host of new programs aimed at improving the public's access to bikes and emphasizing a sustainable urban community.
"Transportation is often overlooked as a solution to economic and social problems," says programs director Emily Jensen. "So we're just trying to raise awareness of that as well."
Giordano and Jensen gave a Cycles of Change presentation at a meeting of the Missoula Lions Club earlier this month with the goal of spreading the word outside their usual circle. Orange Street Food Farm has agreed to host an in-store campaign display. Local bands like Wartime Blues and Local Yokel are scheduled to play benefits at Free Cycles next month. Giordano says there's talk of a door-to-door bike ride around Flathead Lake later this spring. Free Cycles is throwing everything it can think of at the fundraising effort. Only the next few months will tell what works and what doesn't.
"I hate to even say 'If we don't make it,'" Giordano says, "but it's not going to be for a lack of trying or spending too much time on the wrong things."