But do you really like me?

Modern social media and technology is a mixed blessing. Overall it is an advantage for an advocacy organization like the Wisconsin Bike Fed. It allows us to communicate quickly and much more widely.  It is easier for people to share their concerns and we can respond more quickly. We can now have virtual conversations with “friends” we have never met, but know a lot about because our lives are on public display.

There is a downside to the transparency of our virtual social network. I think people feel like that are supporting us just by “liking” us or joining in on one of our digital conversations. Don’t get me wrong, I love lots of comments from a wide ranging audience of people who care about our mission to make bicycling better in Wisconsin. It helps me believe that if I continue tilting at windmills, we can win small battles (like plowing the Hank Aaron State Trail) and move Wisconsin cycling forward.

It used to be that if someone wanted to support the Bike Fed’s efforts to move cycling forward in Wisconsin, one of the first things they would do is join our organization. Now many people just “like” us on Facebook and consider themselves to have joined the movement. The problem is, while I don’t do what I do for the money, I couldn’t afford to do it if I didn’t get paid. Certainly the Bike Fed gets financial support from a lot of different sources: contracts for services, fees at events, donations from individuals and support from the bicycle industry, but at the core we are a membership-based organization. We can’t continue to expand our work unless we grow our membership.

While some memberships expire and other renew constantly, as of about 30 seconds ago, and we had 3,916 active members and 5,636 likes. Two years ago at this time, we had about the same number of members, but only 3,360 “liked” our Facebook page. I understand the two things are different, but I do struggle to understand why some of our “friends” who genuinely seem to care about what we do don’t join. When I look at the photos of bikes some of our non-member friends ride (I know because they share that info on their Facebook), I know it isn’t the $35 annual membership fee.

I’ve read studies about Millenials not being “joiners,” but some of the people I am talking about are in the Generation X or even Baby Boomer age brackets. I ask myself, why would a guy who is a doctor who commutes to work by bike all year, races in the spring, takes part in the Wisconsin Bike Challenge we help organize not take the time to actually become a member? Why would a woman who bikes to work even when it is -9, races mountain bikes during the summer, and comes to our Bike Fed events at our Milwaukee office, not join? Perhaps they feels like by writing regular supportive comments under our posts and showing up at events, they are supporting us.

I’m not going to name names, but these examples are based on real people, and I could cite a lot more. Certainly, the most important thing is that these are enjoying wide range of what Wisconsin has to offer people who ride bikes. If lots more people did that, maybe we could close up shop at the Bike Fed. But while Wisconsin is a great place to ride a bike, I hardly think many people would say we don’t have a lot of room for improvement. We have been cutting what we spend on cycling while other states invest more. For instance our neighbors in Minnesota and Michigan are making huge strides in new facilities to make it easier to ride for transportation and recreation and they are getting a lot of national attention for it. From Cuyuna to  Copper Harbor are attracting tens of thousands of new visitors, even in the winter, because they made relatively small investments in professionally built next-generation mountain bike trails. Duluth is building a new 100 mile trail system. The Minneapolis Off-Road Cyclists were able to hire away one of the Bike Fed’s talented staff because they have almost 140 miles of mountain bike trails right around the Twin Cities.

Again, I like it here in Wisconsin. I am fiercely proud of our state and love our diverse communities, but we are falling behind. In order to stop the fall and restore Wisconsin to our place near the top, we will need to work very hard. My fellow staff members and I love what we do and don’t mind hard work. Help us keep doing that work and join the Bike Fed. If you have friends who ride a lot, ask them if they are members. If they are not, ask them why, then suggest they join. There is strength in numbers, and we need you all if we are going to make Wisconsin America’s Best Ride.

Please note, if your membership has been expired for over a year, you will need to click “Join Today” instead of “Renew.”

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

8 thoughts on “But do you really like me?

  1. Dave, this is a problem that has plagued organizations probably since the first two Neanderthals decided to get a bunch of guys together to make it easier to hunt a mammoth:  How do you get people to actively support you?  It’s even worse for a group that people see as primarily recreational: they’ve already paid for their bicycle and (maybe) bought a state trail pass; why should I give the Bigtown Bicycle Club or the Wisconsin Bike Fed more money just so I can ride my bike?  Toss in today’s economy under the policies of Reichsführer Walker, which is leaving people with even less disposable income than before, and you find yourself firmly pinched between a rock and a hard place.  Maybe we need to become more paranoid and vocal, like the crackpots in the NRA — “BIG BROTHER WANTS TO TAKE AWAY ALL YOUR BICYCLES!! JOIN US NOW AND PROTECT YOUR RIGHT TO RIDE!!”

    You and the Federation are doing a fine job, and it is not going unnoticed by those who give a damn.  About all one can do is muddle through as best as one can, and keep pushing forward.

  2. Auto renewing membership options?

    I know that for me, non-mission critical things tend to get put off, and sometimes forgotten.

  3. In addition to my BFW membership I recently used the Greater Wisconsin Combined Federal Campaign website http://www.greaterwicfc.org to donate money to BFW. Their 5 digit code is 61328. It is painless to donate a little bit every 2 weeks. It’s worth it just for Dave’s blog.

  4. Thanks for the reminder; my membership was one in need of renewal.

    I agree with the suggestion for an auto-renewal option. All of my bills are set up automatically at this point and I would be happy to choose that option for my membership. I have one magazine subscription that I probably wouldn’t have renewed over the years, except that it takes care of itself. I have to opt out at this point and that momentum is powerful.

    For what it’s worth, I also don’t feel a strong connection with the Bike Fed locally. Because of that, my overall connection to the Bike Fed isn’t really that strong. I want to support the organization, but it’s a desire that is more mental than emotional. I know it takes time to build up that local presence, but I really think that that will be the key to having folks go from ‘liking’ the Bike Fed mentally (and electronically) to LIKING the Bike Fed emotionally and socially (and financially). I understand that the state-wide efforts are important, but it’s really tough for me to point out what the Bike Fed is doing in my community.

    I also think we need more opportunities for members to be involved outside of their membership dues and voting. While some people may want to limit their membership to a financial contribution or an annual vote, I think many more would welcome the opportunity to participate at a deeper level.

    • Thanks for all the thoughts Grant. We definitely want to get an auto-renewal program going, but our current customer relations manager system doesn’t have that capability. We are probably going to implement a new CRM in the next couple months. The cost of the systems ($25K to $100K) and the work involved in switching have held us back, but we have done a lot of research into different systems lately and are pretty close to pulling the trigger.

      As for you other comment about not feeling very connected to the Bike Fed locally, it sounds from your other comment like you live in Madison. We do quite a few things in Madison: open house events like “Drinks with Dave,” regular commuter classes, the Saris Gala, the Bike Summit, cLips Film and Beer festival, etc. We also table lots of events, like Ride the Drive and the upcoming Brazen Dropouts Bike Swap at the Alliance Center.

      One thing you may notice missing from the list are organized rides! We are also looking at adding some regular, no cost, rides around the state so members can meet and socialize. The Cascade Bicycle Club in Washington State does this better than any bicycle advocacy group I can think of.

      Finally, we are seriously looking at starting some sort of chapter model to better address the local issues. That is not as easy as it sounds. IMBA has a really good chapter model that has proved very effective for them, but if you look it up, it is not a simple matter to start one.

      Other than that, feel free to stop in our Madison office on Main Street just off the Square any time. And let us know if there are any other specific things we can do to connect better with our members at the local level.

      Thanks for reading, writing and riding.

      • Hard for me to improve on Dave’s response. All that is true. But if we have a thoughtful member like Grant Foster who thinks that we’re not connecting well enough than, hey, we’re not connecting well enough. Grant, let’s get coffee or lunch and talk about what we can do better. You know where to reach me and I’m eager to talk.

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