I spent a near-80 degree afternoon in Effingham yesterday walking the Calico Trail, a ribbon of concrete that plunges, rises and twists through gorgeous woodlands, with Frank Brummer. (We put up photos from the walk on Flickr.)
Frank’s the president of League of Illinois Bicyclists, and president of Trail Recreation in Effingham County, or TREC. Frank’s involvement with TREC can be directly credited for their success in getting the Calico Trail planned and built; about 2 miles of the 3+ mile trail is complete while the rest, primarily bridges over the Little Wabash River and I-70 is under construction.
While he has doggedly and expertly advocated for the trail with public agencies, Frank’s been especially adept at bringing in the private funding that fuels the project, particularly by shaking loose public funds: Frank estimates that TREC has leveraged hundreds of thousands of dollars in private donations to raise $5-6 million in just six years for the trail.
We like to study the process behind trail development, particularly when it’s successfully leveraging private funding and investments. We’ve been enamored by the success of Terry Whaley at Ozarks Greenways, Terry Eastin and Little Rock, AR’s Medical Mile, and Fort Wayne Trails’ work Indiana. So the time Frank spent with me walking the trail yesterday was welcome (I’d been sitting in a dark, cold conference room for a rural health workshop, of all things), encouraging and educational.
I want to share with you some takeaways from our conversation that I think are replicable by trail-builders across the state. We’ll call them Frank’s Principles:
1. Use the Three Ws to upgrade your board. For many trail builders, the task at hand is to find funding. Frank says that when he joined TREC’s board, the board members were primarily like him—people who loved trails and wanted more opportunities to ride them. He asked them to resign. “You only need one or two people passionate about trails on the board,” says Frank. To take their seats, he recruited a former bank president, the CEO of the local hospital, a CPA, a prominent lawyer…. Frank uses the three Ws as a screen for board members: Work, Wealth, and Wisdom. “Two of those is better than one,” for a board member says Frank. “But they got to have at least one.”
2. Fundraise using the 80-20 rule. “Eighty percent of your fundraising comes from 20% of your supporters,” says Frank. That means focusing fundraising on the big check writers, and leveraging small events as friend raising, not fundraising. “I don’t want someone to give $10, get a free burger and feel like they’re pitching in,” says Frank. “I’d rather boost numbers by giving burgers away for free.” Boosting numbers of supporters gives politicians cover to support a project. And big supporter numbers prove to business leaders and private donors that the return in good will and recognition will be worth the big check.
3. Bring credibility to the ask. Frank has tremendous standing in the community as a father, a business leader, as a tireless volunteer. But he’s also put his own skin into the Calico Trail, making a substantial monetary donation of his own as well. When he takes a donor out to dinner, he makes sure they know of his personal commitment. And he piles on the credibility by bringing a board member to the ask whom the donor is likely to know and respect.
4. Identify a kick-off donor. For each phase of the Calico’s development, Frank has first identified and worked to win a kick-off donor, typically with the promise of naming rights. Again, it’s about letting others know that someone else has skin in the game—people feel better about decisions, including decisions to donate, knowing they’re not alone.
5. Sell everything. Benches line Calico Trail, each with a plaque acknowledging the donor. Kiosks, trail markers, and trail maps will offer donors naming opportunities, as will the bridge over the Little Wabash. The benches, markers and kiosks can bring thousands of dollars each—”We ask the donor based on what we think they can give,” says Frank. Naming rights to 160-ft. Little Wabash bridge will be $100,000 or more.
6. Make friends to influence people. The head of the local IDOT district who initially wrestled with Frank over adding trails and bike accommodations is a Frisbee golf player, Frank discovered. “I told him I had an 18 hole Frisbee golf course on my property, and I found out we have a lot of shared interests.” The district head now serves as an engineering advisor to TREC. “It’s just like doing business—you have to start with relationships. TREC doesn’t even have a website yet, or its own phone number. I told the board I don’t need that yet; I’ve got to get to know people.”
How are you getting your trail project funded and built?