Devastating natural disasters have become an all-too-familiar phenomenon in recent years, especially on the heels of 2017’s deadly hurricanes, floods, and fires. While it will take years for some of these communities to rebuild, occasionally we hear about incredible examples of people coming together to help each other rise above the hardships and inspire us all.
For F.K. Day and Leah Missbach Day, they were stirred to act after witnessing one of the deadliest natural disasters ever recorded: a tsunami that struck in December 2004 in the Indian Ocean. It was the result of a magnitude 9.1 earthquake that hit beneath the ocean near Indonesia, claiming more than 230,000 lives in 14 different countries. Like many people around the world, they were glued to the television and newspapers, wondering how they could help alleviate some of the suffering.
As a founder of SRAM, a bicycle component manufacturer based in Chicago, F.K. believed in the power of bicycles as an easy, inexpensive means of transportation. And for Leah, as a documentary photographer, bringing these victims’ stories to light was important to the relief effort.
Together F.K. and Leah helped launch World Bicycle Relief as a means to provide bicycles to people in need. Partnering with aid organizations on the ground in Sri Lanka, WBR was able to distribute more than 24,000 bicycles to displaced survivors. These bikes helped provide them access to education, healthcare, and work, and at the same time allowed their communities to begin rebuilding.
By 2016, WBR’s mission had expanded, and the agency had distributed over 300,000 bicycles through a combination of philanthropic programs as well as social enterprise projects. As fans of this energizing nonprofit, we reached out to World Bicycle Relief to find out how they stay connected to their audience.
Question: World Bicycle Relief began in 2005 with two people and a great idea. How big are you now? And how would you describe your growth?
World Bicycle Relief: Our global fundraising and supporter community includes a plethora of countries including offices in the United States, Canada, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Germany, the United Kingdom, and we’ve recently launched in Australia. In the past 12 years, we have distributed over 360,000 bicycles and trained over 1,700 mechanics in more than 19 countries.
World Bicycle Relief has grown through a combination of things: hosting a series of global fundraising events, sharing compelling stories and data via our website, growing awareness and support through public relations, and of course through the generosity of our supporters.
Q: What tools have you used to reach a bigger audience? How have you used these tools? And other social media?
WBR: One of our most important tools for outreach is our website, as it expands our global reach. We also have a robust e-communications program that includes emails and inquiry management systems. Social media has also been a great tool as well. With such low cost, we value our social media platforms and their capability to be such a high-touch outreach tool.
Throughout the years, World Bicycle Relief has been able to reach a broader audience through nurturing partnerships with corporate and media players through targeted media outreach and placement.
Q: While online accessibility is essential, how about good old-fashioned human contact? What do you do to connect with your audience—both current and prospective donors—on a human, face-to-face level?
WBR: Yes, in today’s world, online communication is definitely vital. However, we love to interact with our supporters in person. Whether at a ride, event, fundraiser, learning opportunities and conferences, or a simple phone call, we are always keen to connect with our supporters and individuals who care about issues concerning education, healthcare, and entrepreneurship.
We’re always seeking out opportunities to create deeper connections with our support community.
Q: Looking ahead, what is World Bicycle Relief’s biggest need in the coming year? And how will you convey that need to your audience?
WBR: Our biggest need is continuing to build and diversify the support base that provides funding to help us execute and monitor programs of excellence. We work to do this through storytelling, invitations to participate on a personal or corporate level, and through fundraising campaigns.
Also see: Behind the Scenes of a Small Nonprofit Helping Syrian Refugees for another inside look at successful social good efforts.