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Often bicycle touring cyclists and bike tour websites promote or try to raise money for a charity or cause. This is usually done by posting a blog or website about the trip and including a page describing a charity. Often there is a button for visitors to donate money or a link to the charity where visitors can give directly.
I am not talking about charitable events like the MS 150 where cyclists pay an entry fee, either from personal funds or by soliciting funds from friends, then riding in the event and having a good time knowing most of their entry fee went to a good cause. I am also not talking about getting sponsors to supply bikes, gear or funds for a bicycling trip or asking visitors for personal donations to add income for their travels. This article generally discusses an independent bicycle tour where the cyclist posts a journal or blog about their trip and hopes the interest in the trip also brings in donations or creates publicity for the charity or cause they like.
Supporting vs. Promoting (You could do both)
I think it is important to distinguish between promoting and supporting a charity or cause Promoting is trying to draw attention to the topic and supporting is when you give actual money or volunteer time. I do not promote a charity with my ongoing tour and website but I do support some causes through cash donations or volunteering. Through the sale of my books, advertising on my site, and gear sales I earn a modest living and have a quarterly budget set aside to donate to various charities. I occasionally volunteer to do things like teach English in a special school to Tibetan refugees in India. The point is that you do not have to display an organization's logo on your web site or jersey to give back to society. A common thing I hear from the people operating the organizations I support is that website hits and social network buzz is fine but money is the most useful in their cause. I am sure a lot of people who promote charities on their travelogues also donate to those causes.
Believe it or not promoting a non-profit group or charity while bike touring is controversial in some circles with camps on each side of the issue. I believe it stems from an over-exposure to cyclists on charity rides in the bike community.
I will try to summarize each position below but please keep in mind that this is just my opinion.
The Pro bicycle tour for a cause
Arguments for promoting a charity include:
- Even $1 raised for a good cause is a good thing and occasionally there have been some big success stories, where a lot of money or awareness was raised, especially when cyclists have had a personal involvement in the cause.
- Riding for a cause is often seen by the bicycle tourist as a way to give back to society through the publicity they generate from the excitement about their trip and online presence.
- Sometimes the goal of riding for a higher cause is the only way to get a potential bike tourist on the road. I have met people who had not ridden a bike in years until they were recruited by a church group or friends to join their fund raising ride across a state, province or country and rediscovered cycling. This is a great example of a win/win arrangement.
- If you are on tour and don't promote a cause (like me) you will likely, at some point, get email or forum comments asking why you do not promote a charity. I have had a handful of such comments, almost always from other bike tourists. So, adding a cause to your tour will go a long way for public relations.
The Anti bike tour for a cause camp
- Several years ago the late great Sheldon Brown wrote about how the idea of biking for charity grew from Bike-a Thons of the past. http://www.sheldonbrown.com/thons.html
- A common complaint is there are simply too many bikers pushing a charity on their bike tour. I have no way of tallying statistics but I would bet that a good majority of people I meet on bike tours are raising money or awareness for something and too much of anything dilutes the purpose. It is interesting to watch them meet on the road or in campgrounds and promote their various charities and causes to each other. Many, after learning how common it is, become a little embarrassed and downplay the idea a month into their trip.
- Bicycle touring is a fun recreational sport that doesn't deserve donations. I once heard it put this way, in a campground from another touring cyclist, "If I were to take a 14 day cruise (ship) around the Caribbean and post a blog about it, should I be asking people to donate money to a cause? Bike touring is fun, not a hardship." Obviously every touring cyclist has different goals and not all tours are like vacationing on a cruise ship. I think the point is that cyclists voluntarily choose to tour in their free time. It is not like building a home for the poor or working in a soup kitchen to feed the hungry. It is a fun and personally rewarding endeavor even if it is grueling at times.
- Some will accuse you of taking the money for yourself. While most bicycle tourists would never dream of diverting funds to their own pockets, I am sure some have. It is the case where a few scam artists have cast a shadow of doubt over anyone legitimately raising money for a charity.
- I have heard from a few people that a possible downside to bike touring for charity is various commitments and responsibilities to the organization. I have not heard this first hand or know of any concrete examples. I am sure a few exist, but for the most part, I think this idea of added responsibility is speculative. Most of the time I think cyclists go to a service like justgiving.com and select a charity from a list, put the donate button on their blog and do not have any commitments after that. They may voluntarily do more, and many do a lot more, but I do not think it is a requirement.
I personally do not see anything wrong with promoting a charity or cause with a cycling tour but also do not see it as a requirement. How could raising even a small amount of money or awareness for a good cause be wrong? On the other hand, it should never be expected that all bike tourists have a cause or that bicycle touring for pure fun is selfish in any way. If you are thinking about raising money or awareness for a cause, I think it is important to make sure your heart is in the right place and you are not doing it to promote your trip or attract gear/money donations for yourself. The goal should be bringing attention to the cause, not the other way around. If you do not promote a cause, then it is important not to criticize those cyclist who do and vise versa- especially in a public place. We should all get to do our own thing.
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