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Advocacy unification 'continuing apace'

Published May 15, 2012

BOULDER, CO (BRAIN) Tuesday May 15 2012 11:06 AM MT—A few preliminary details are emerging about the plan to merge three of the country's most powerful bike advocacy organizations.

Bikes Belong, the League of American Bicyclists and the Alliance for Biking & Walking announced in February that they hoped to merge their groups by early next year. The groups have a created board for the proposed organization, led by Bikes Belong president Tim Blumenthal. The combined groups would have an annual budget of near $10 million and represent cyclists, the bike industry and advocacy professionals.

Since the announcement, leaders of the three groups have met several times, including once in Madison, Wisconsin. They will meet again June 18 in Chicago.

The League's British-born president Andy Clarke said progress is "continuing apace."

"We're continuing to meet and dig into details," said Clarke, who added that League members have been "overwhelmingly positive" about the proposed merger.

"Inevitably there are some concerns about keeping the League's traditions and history alive, but we've been able to address those concerns and allay everyone's anxieties. I was probably expecting a little more pushback," he said.

Blumenthal said his hopes for a successful merger have waxed and waned over the last few months. "I've been up and down on this; you got me on an up day," he said recently. "It's not a slam dunk, but we are moving, we are starting to bust through stuff."

The three groups are just beginning to dig into the organizational bylaws and legal implications of the merger, which has the support of each of the group's boards. It doesn't appear that a membership vote will be necessary for the merger to be created.

Blumenthal said one challenge is making sure the new organization can think and act globally and locally. "When people join a group, it's because they are wanting to see improvements locally. That's what makes most people want to write that check (to join)," he said. While the proposed group would be powerful on a national scale, it still will need to prove its worth to potential supporters who want to know what it's done for them lately.

As acting president of the proposed group, Blumenthal said he expects to be a candidate to lead the new organization. Preliminary plans are for the group to be based in Boulder, where Bikes Belong is based, with an office in Washington, DC.

Blumenthal has said he thinks the new group has the potential to have a larger staff than the sum of the three current organizations' staffs, in part because the larger group will be more attractive to sponsors from outside the bike industry.

Alliance president Jeff Miller agrees, saying the merger shouldn't be compared to a corporate acquisition, where redundancies and efficiencies often lead to significant staff cuts.

"This is not like a corporate merger, it's more of a unification. Each organization is coming to this from a position of strength ... There is a lot for this new organization to do and we need strong teams. We may very well add staff as we develop new programs," he said.

Miller said he expects that he and Clarke will "have leadership roles" within the new organization and said Blumenthal is the heir apparent for the top position.

He said a few efficiencies are likely to be found that could lead to staff reductions.

"That's one of the most sensitive and challenging pieces that is not yet figured out," he said. "There is talent (on the three staffs) that we don't want to lose ... but there is obviously some nervousness," Miller said. "There will definitely be a few changes, but everyone will be treated fairly."

There is perhaps less nervousness but more speculation about the name of the proposed organization. If the three leaders of the current groups have any ideas, they are keeping them close to their chests. Miller joked in an email that he had found the solution.

"I didn't tell you the new name that bridges the heritage? LAB League Alliance Belongs ;-)"

Steve Frothingham

Topics associated with this article: Advocacy/Non-profits

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