Charity Bike Rides: How to Cover Your Costs

Taking on a charity cycle challenge can cost more than just your time. We asked charity rider Steve Fabes how he balances raising money for his charity against the total cost of the ride.

Steve's wheels surrounded by snow in Limousin. Photo: Steve Fabes/Cyclingthe6

Steve's wheels surrounded by snow in Limousin. Photo: Steve Fabes/Cyclingthe6

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There's obviously considerable expense involved in a charity cycle ride – especially a long one. You still need to feed and clothe yourself, and cover accommodation and bike costs. How do you ensure the charity is a central beneficiary, and does not act as an endorser or smokescreen for a free or discounted trip?

I drew a clear line between funding for my journey and fundraising for the charity. The expenses incurred over my five years on the road, the cost of my kit and other expenses related to logistics are all costs I will cover personally, with a little help from some corporate sponsors.

There is also the possibility of some financial support from grant giving organizations and trusts if you’re eligible. The Directory of Grant Giving Trusts and Charities is published annually by the Charities Aid Foundation and is worth a look. Every penny of the money I raise for the charity Merlin goes directly to the cause, and for any charity bike ride it’s important to make this clear to all potential supporters.

Corporate sponsorship is an avenue many cyclists embark on without really understanding how tough it is and how much work it entails, usually for little reward. First, ask yourself if you really need any donated gear or extra money – I would guess that most people will not. The many hours of work involved in enticing sponsors would usually be better spent doing some paid overtime at work.

If you decide you do need sponsorship, then remember that there are a huge number of other people also looking for sponsors, so it’s a very competitive game; you're competing not just against other charity cyclists but also against people on a variety of other expeditions and activities.

Sponsorship in kind is a lot easier than securing cash, but be aware that you may be donated sub-standard cycling equipment that is not suitable for your particular charity ride. Most of the free donated gear I gathered from sponsors fell apart very early into a five-month cycle tour of South America I completed 10 years ago.

In reality, you’re only likely to get significant corporate sponsorship if you're on a spectacularly long ride, if you are attempting to break a world record, if you're claiming a ‘world first’ (there are very few left) or if you have a unique and interesting angle that will go down well with the media and increase coverage of your journey. Think about your unique selling point – why should they donate equipment or help fund your journey when so many others are doing similar rides?

In the end, did you end up getting any decent sponsorship in kind for the trip?

Surprisingly, getting a sponsored bike was the hardest part and, in the end, I only got a discounted price. There are relatively few bike brands that make bikes suitable for long distance touring, and they all get inundated with sponsorship requests. I did secure a number of equipment sponsors who provided camping gear, bike accessories, cycling clothing and various gadgets, as well as a very small amount of financial sponsorship. My main sponsor is, a company who supplied me with a range of great gadgets I have used throughout my journey. I always make sure I keep all my sponsors up to date and regularly supply them with photos, kit reviews or articles upon request.

Reaching the 1000km mark in Limousin. Photo: Steve Fabes/Cyclingthe6

Steve reaches the 1000km mark in Limousin; in all, he's riding 80,467km or 50,000 miles.
Photo: Steve Fabes/Cyclingthe6

Steve's tips for getting corporate sponsorship

1. Use some lateral thinking
Remember that most people will hit up the same companies – bicycle brands, cycling equipment, outdoor companies. They get thousands of requests and turn most down. Think about companies that don’t get as many, or companies with which you have a personal contact.

2. Outline exactly what you can offer and try to be specific
Your package may include promises of media coverage for the company – give details of how regularly your journey will feature, in which media outlets, the estimated readership etc. You could also offer the potential corporate sponsors the rights to your photos, particularly useful for equipment sponsors, as well as a promise of their company logo or banner, with a link, on your website, and promises of a multimedia presentation to the company employees on your return. I categorised my sponsorship packages into gold, silver and bronze. Here's my gold package as an example.

3. If you are cold calling companies for sponsorship, be brief, polite and enthusiastic
Try to get through to the marketing director, mention a contact if you have one and always plan what you are going to say. Ask if you can send information or, even better, arrange a meeting. Never claim you will in any way influence their sales – the marketing manager will be aware that this is not going to happen. Your aim is to better their public image and increase perception of corporate responsibility which will generate goodwill towards their brand.

4. The real key to obtaining corporate sponsorship comes down to that horrible word: networking
Meet people and promote what you are planning, make speeches, hand out business cards, patiently follow things up and stay in touch with people.

5. Design a prospectus/leaflet detailing your cycling plans
Send it out to marketing directors of relevant companies and then follow it up. Phone people directly and be personal in written correspondence. You may send out hundreds of letters and pamphlets and only get a few positive responses. 

You can follow Steve’s progress via his website and blog, and make a donation via his Just Giving webpage.

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