Washington Bikes may dissolve its current organization and join forces with a restructured Cascade Bicycle Club by the end of the year.
Under the initial plan for combining organizations, “relevant” WA Bikes staff would join the newly reworked organization and WA Bikes members would become Cascade Bicycle Club members (as many already are).
Cascade Bicycle Club’s board has already voted to sign a Letter of Intent (PDF) crafted jointly to guide the merger. The WA Bikes board has discussed the letter and plans to vote early next week.
With 36 staffers and a series of major rides that attract tens of thousands of paying riders from around the region and world every year, Cascade is obviously much bigger than WA Bikes, which has only about five staff members (depending on grant cycles). But both Cascade ED Elizabeth Kiker and WA Bikes ED Barb Chamberlain were clear in a joint interview recently: “This isn’t a takeover or an acquisition,” as Kiker put it.
“The work is what’s important, and the work will continue,” said Chamberlain. “Cascade and WA Bikes will both evolve in this process.”
Under the merger plan, WA Bikes would become the name of the primary advocacy wing of the reworked organization, legally empowered to conduct direct political campaign work in a way WA Bikes currently cannot.
Blake Trask, current State Policy Director at WA Bikes, will become the Advocacy Director of the new WA Bikes and lead current Cascade advocacy staff. This is convenient timing since Cascade is searching for a new Advocacy Director to take over for Jeff Aken (full disclosure: My fiancée Kelli is an advocacy staffer at Cascade).
The Cascade Bicycle Club name would then refer primarily to the 501(c)(3) tax-deductible non-profit work focused on education, Safe Routes to School and other non-political advocacy, which both organizations currently conduct in often overlapping efforts.
Kiker will remain the Executive Director, and Chamberlain will join the staff in some yet-undefined significant position
“We still need to work out more details about titles, job descriptions and responsibilities,” said Chamberlain. Other WA Bikes staff will likely lose their jobs, though they will get priority for any job openings at the new Cascade according the letter.
The WA Bikes storefront on 1st Ave in Pioneer Square would close (pro tip: Stuff at the shop is on sale if you’re looking for a deal). But the WA Bikes annual auction is still on for October 17. Chamberlain hopes the auction will become a celebration of the impending changes.
As we reported earlier this year, Cascade’s board had considered ditching direct political advocacy work and consolidating into one tax-deductible 501(c)(3) charity organization legally barred from endorsing or directly assisting political campaigns.
In the end, the Board voted to remain a two-part organization with a 501(c)(3) charity (currently called the “Cascade Bicycle Club Education Foundation”) and a 501(c)(4) membership organization. But they also started work on more clearly defining the roles and structures of each.
The merger and renaming of the 501(c)(4) to WA Bikes is part of their plan to better define the two non-profit structures. But it also means that Cascade will be widening its advocacy range to include the entire state rather than focusing just on the Puget Sound region.
And on the flip side, the merger also means WA Bikes will have the power to directly fund and organize for political campaigns all across the state. Currently they can really only lobby electeds. Having the power to help elect (or unelect) them is a whole other level of influence.
Kiker and Chamberlain both drank identical smoothies from Caffé Umbria in Pioneer Square, laughing about how they have been organizing their weekly meetings around their mutual taste for French fries dipped in ranch dressing.
It was at one such meeting in April (at a restaurant that didn’t have ranch, to their dismay) that Kiker and Chamberlain started to discuss in earnest the potential to combine the organizations.
“We think it’s a great idea, but now let’s hear from a much bigger group,” said Kiker.
Once both the Cascade and WA Bikes boards have approved the Letter of Intent, the organizations will go out to their members and supporters to hear what they think.
The Cascade Board plans a final vote on the merger in September, along with changes to the bylaws of both the 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) arms of the organization to reflect the new structure. Cascade members will get a say at the December meeting. If the WA Bikes Board also votes for the merger on schedule, the whole deal could be sealed by the end of 2015.
Though both Kiker and Chamberlain stressed several times that this would not be the end of WA Bikes, it would be the end of a distinct entity that has been a player in bike advocacy statewide for 28 years.
Founded in 1987 as the Northwest Bicycle Foundation (NowBike), WA Bikes has merged with other organizations and changed names many times.
In 1994 NowBike merged with the Bicycle Federation of Washington and became the Northwest Bicycle Federation. That same year, it spun off the Friends of the Burke-Gilman Trail.
In 1998, Barb Culp took the helm and the name changed to the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, as it was known until a rebranding effort in 2013 under the leadership of then-new Executive Director Barb Chamberlain.
Funny enough, NowBike was founded by Cascade members who thought the state could use a state-wide advocacy voice. Now it looks like it could come full circle.
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It’d be great to ditch the exclusivity of “Club” and restructure it as a “Coalition” – clubs are something I have to pay to interact with, and where I expect some personal return for my participation.
I have belonged to both organizations at different times. I think it could be a great thing, especially if the BAW ends up with the ideological spine that Cascade has had at times (and has kept me, living in far southern Washington a paid up member) looking at issues that affect cyclists in all parts of the state.
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