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Photo: MORC Facebook Page

Photo: MORC Facebook Page

We’ve been hearing rumblings from all corners of the United States of significant IMBA Chapters leaving the Chapter Program, and others considering leaving. In short our question is, “why?” We reached out to representatives from several Chapters who have left, including the Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association (CAMBA), Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists (MORC), Salem Area Trail Alliance (SATA), and Verde Valley Cyclists Coalition (VVCC) to get concrete answers. We also contacted the San Diego Mountain Bike Association (SDMBA) who have been very vocal about considering leaving, as well as IMBA itself.

Money

By far, the most common answer from these organizations boiled down to one word: “money.” Under the current IMBA Chapter Program, dues collected from chapter members are split between IMBA and the chapter, with 60% going to IMBA at the national level (subsequently referred to simply as “IMBA”), and only 40% staying with the local chapter. As Kevin Loomis, President of SDMBA said, “With 1,200 members averaging $50 per membership, that is a lot of money leaving San Diego.” To crunch those numbers for you, SDMBA is collecting roughly $60,000 in membership revenues every year, and only $24,000 remains with SDMBA. $36,000 is handed off to IMBA

IMBA Chapter Program Overview & Benefits from IMBA on Vimeo.

In their marketing video for the Chapter Program above, IMBA claims that “you can keep 100% of a smaller pie, or get 40% of a larger revenue base,” thereby coming out ahead financially. Based on the feedback from the chapters surveyed, by and large they have not found this to be the case. I asked Ron Bergin, Executive Director of CAMBA, about this issue specifically. He noted that when they became a chapter, their membership numbers actually dipped a little bit, but then rebounded “through efforts on our side to do more focused membership drives.”  He continued, “in the end we learned that we needed to be fairly aggressive on our own to try to stimulate renewals and new memberships in any way we could.”

CAMBA never saw the membership increase that the video above claimed would happen: “We never quite did see that spike that we had hoped [for.] And that was in fact one of the selling points for becoming part of the chapter program–we’d recoup a lot of [the shared revenue].”

Not enough benefits

Photo: SDMBA Facebook Page

Photo: Jose Galaz, courtesy of SDMBA

With 60% of the money leaving the chapter and going directly to IMBA, the question that all of these chapters are asking themselves is, “what benefit is IMBA providing to us in exchange for the 60% split, and is it worth it?” For the four chapters that have left, they’ve answered “no” to that question. But interestingly, the things that the individual chapters want from IMBA, and what they think IMBA is providing or doing well, varies pretty widely from chapter to chapter.

Generally speaking, most chapters agreed that having IMBA do all the leg work to manage memberships and renewals is one of the major benefits of being a part of the program. “One major benefit we hear over and over from our chapters is the ability to have IMBA handle all aspects of membership processing—think credit card brokering, technology assessments, recruitment tools, data tracking and financial reports,” said Dave Wiens, Executive Director of IMBA.

However, the technology is currently lagging behind the times a bit. “Operationally [IMBA needs] to bring the organization into the digital age by updating their website and CRM system,” said Loomis of SDMBA. Wiens acknowledged this technological shortcoming himself, saying:

“As is a common case with non-profits, we let our technology lag while we were full-steam-ahead focusing on our mission. And dated technology has hurt us now, no doubt about it. We are working on a website redesign and testing a mobile platform that will make it easier for chapters to recruit more members at trail work days, events and meetings. These changes will be huge for chapters, for our membership team and for IMBA staff.”

Changes to the Chapter Program

Unfortunately for IMBA, one of the major benefits they provide isn’t offering the performance it once did, and some chapters don’t seem to have the patience to wait for change to happen. Kevin Adams outlined some of the key changes in the new Chapter 3.0 Program in a recent article, but some chapters, upon hearing that the program was changing, decided to leave before learning about those changes.

“IMBA provided notice to MORC on December 1st that the Chapter Program, and therefore our current Chapter Charter Agreement, would be ‘going back to the drawing board,'” said Matt Andrews, Executive Director of MORC. “This means the current terms and conditions of the Charter would change, and since IMBA could not readily provide details as to what the new Charter would entail, it made little sense for MORC to remain tied to that Agreement.” However, despite their departure from the Chapter Program, MORC might consider becoming a chapter once again, depending on how the Chapter 3.0 Program plays out.

Dave Wiens entered into the midst of this transitional fray when he became IMBA’s Executive Director in February. When asked about the changes rolled out in Chapter 3.0, Wiens said:

“The current changes to the chapter program are one component of a continuously evolving program—we know there will always be things we can keep working to improve. Chapter 3.0 solicited feedback from chapters to settle on the highest priority components of the program to keep and to change, including moving to a 50/50 revenue share with chapters to help them develop and maintain more places to ride.”

Changing the revenue share definitely addresses the number one problem cited by all chapters, but what remains unclear is if putting 10% of the pie back in SDMBA’s pocket will be enough.

Advocacy concerns

Photo: CAMBA Facebook Page

Photo: CAMBA Facebook Page

Many of the clubs expressed concerns about IMBA’s advocacy efforts, but the analysis of those efforts varied widely. Bergin of CAMBA said,

“We don’t face a lot of the challenges that clubs might face in other parts of the country, say in regard to land access and those types of challenges. We’ve always been pretty fortunate to have really good cooperation with the land managers we work with. I see that as one of the big things that IMBA does nationally is with those types of issues.”

So one of the reasons that CAMBA has chosen to leave is because they think IMBA is doing a lot of advocacy work, and that it doesn’t benefit them. Other chapters, like SDMBA on the other hand, think that IMBA’s advocacy work is misguided. “IMBA has lost touch with advocacy on the ground resulting in policies out of step for many chapters,” said Loomis of SDMBA. “Until recently, IMBA was doubling down on unpopular stances such as being against mountain bike access within wilderness and a pro industry eBike policy,” he continued.

Other clubs are concerned about the split of local advocacy versus national advocacy, with many local IMBA positions having been terminated recently. Some of those employees, like Matt Andrews with MORC, were able to transition into full-time positions with local clubs. Others weren’t nearly as lucky.

Continued Support for IMBA

Photo: IMBA Facebook Page

Photo: IMBA Facebook Page

Despite leaving the Chapter program specifically, all of the four departed clubs surveyed say they still believe in IMBA’s mission and that they still want to be involved in supporting that mission. Whether these organizations will give an annual donation to IMBA that they feel is appropriate or remain affiliated as a club and not a full-blown chapter, the support for IMBA is still quite positive.

As Andrews of MORC said, “Even if the new Agreement is viewed as unfavorable, MORC plans to remain a Supporting Organization via annual contribution.” This was a sentiment echoed by all of the Chapters.

Interestingly, the organization we surveyed that seems to be the most opposed to IMBA’s current trajectory and leadership is the one that is still a chapter: SDMBA.

“[IMBA] needs to start communicating as one voice and always support mountain bikers. There is no room for mountain bikers to speak against mountain bikers. This failure has caused our local members to push away from IMBA. Furthermore, IMBA needs to drop their continued statements against the Sustainable Trails Coalition which SDMBA supports both philosophically and financially. If IMBA continues to fight STC and the advancement of cycling within Wilderness, our members would force us to leave,” said Loomis.

SDMBA also spoke out against some of the current IMBA leadership:

We also want the board to bring chapter leaders onto the board while reducing industry representation (currently over 40% of the board is from the cycling industry). The new Chairman (Chris Conway) has a fresh, open and transparent leadership style which makes us hopeful. SDMBA has already made it crystal clear to IMBA (in writing) which board members should resign immediately, including Bob Winston (past Chairman). The actions or inactions of certain board individuals has resulted in IMBA’s current demise. Furthermore, many of these board members rebuffed calls for change and refused transparency. While IMBA Boulder slashed personnel by 50%, not one Board Member has been terminated – that is unacceptable. While some of these members term out late 2017, they should leave now.

Trails 2000 at work in Durango, CO. Photo courtesy of Scott DW Smith.

Trails 2000 at work in Durango, CO. Photo courtesy of Scott DW Smith.

“What do you think IMBA needs to do to be successful?”

At the end of the day, very few mountain bikers want to see IMBA fail. Despite disgruntled ex-members and chapters leaving the program, ultimately I think mountain bikers want to see mountain bike access preserved and expanded, and want to see mountain biking succeed on many levels. To accomplish this, change is needed, yet everyone’s perspective on exactly what needs to change differs.

I concluded my respective interviews with these five chapters and Dave Wiens by posing the question, “What do you think IMBA needs to do to be successful?” Here are their unabridged answers to highlight the diversity of needs experienced by these various organizations, and the difficult waters that IMBA must navigate as they move forward from here.

Dave Wiens, Executive Director of IMBA

Technically, I asked Wiens a slightly narrower question, specifically: “What else do you think IMBA needs to do to make the Chapter Program successful?”

“First and foremost, I’m committed to talking to our chapters more regularly. I want chapters hearing from us, and I want us hearing from them too. There is so much incredible work happening on the ground for mountain biking. We need to work together to share these stories.

With our region directors, we are making a transition from a face-to-face system to a virtual environment. Staff used to spend many hours a week on the road connecting with an ever-growing chapter network, often unable to take calls or respond to requests. We have the opportunity to provide even more service to chapters through virtual offerings. Part of this transition is determining which tools to use, training our staff, and working with chapters to fully utilize the offerings. This is tied closely to the website work and will include a redesigned online library and resource center so chapters and volunteers have the information they need, when they need it.”

Matt Andrews, Executive Director of MORC

“This is more of my personal opinion, rather than that of the MORC organization. If the Chapter Program is to continue, and thrive, IMBA needs to be present at the local level. It is a commonly stated phrase that “all politics are local” and, whether we like it or not, mountain biking is political. Additionally, the clubs and associations behind the trails are grassroots, boots on the ground, localized groups. So, in essence, “all mountain biking is local.” I believe IMBA should choose a direction as being involved in local politics (Chapter Program) or national politics (National Advocacy efforts); attempting to do both seems too large a scope and task to be successful.”

Ron Bergin, Executive Director of CAMBA

“That’s a hard one. I know they have strength in their ability to make the contacts at the federal level and the state level when there are issues regarding access or other legal matters. I know some aspects of the program they’ve offered have been really positive; the IMBA Trail Care Crew has been a great thing. We’ve had several visits here and we’ve learned a lot. That’s kinda what got us on the way to being able to build trails better and more sustainably. They have some interesting initiatives with the Epic Rides and Ride Center programs, both of which we’ve taken advantage of over the years. They offer good things like regional summits, and I attended the world summit last year–those are great events.

Organizationally, I don’t have a good enough sense to make a real profound comment on what they might need to do financially. Maybe just pull back in a little bit and focus on the things that you do best and find a way to assist smaller clubs, and chapters, with things that they need–advice and counseling, even some hands on once in a while.”

Kevin Adams, VVCC Board Member

“First, get their financial house in order. Second, there’s been no shortage of strategy out of IMBA. What it’s fallen short of is execution. The formula for success is simple: Strategy = Execution. I give Dave Wiens great credit for making the Chapter 3.0 decision. I think that Dave’s going to find that his current strategy will not survive first contact with reality, and unfortunately, IMBA’s financial issues, if not timely addressed, will severely hamper Dave’s ability to adapt and improvise IMBA’s way to success.”

Jeff McNamee, President of SATA

“From SATA’s perspective, IMBA might consider focusing on what it has historically been very successful at – advocacy/communication at the federal level and grassroots education. Moving forward, IMBA will need [to] reconcile the perception by many clubs, including SATA, that the IMBA Chapter Program is/was asking small local (overwhelmingly volunteer) groups to ‘prop up’ IMBA, rather than the other way around.”

Kevin Loomis, President of SDMBA

“IMBA needs focus on WHY they exist and then act on that answer. Operationally they need to bring the organization into the digital age by updating their website and CRM system. They need to improve communications through all channels to attract members while engaging new advocates. They need to think differently and listen/embrace other MTB organizations within the US! IMBA also needs to rethink their funding model. As is too often the case, the cycling industry demands a ‘pay for play’ role from IMBA – this is unacceptable! All industry funds need to be agnostic and solely to support mountain biking. If IMBA takes the easy money, they will become a toothless industry puppet – that cannot happen. Further, the board needs to regain credibility within the community. The board needs to hang a sign stating – ‘Under NEW MANAGEMENT!’ This should start by removing board members who were against transparency, fought against change, and oversaw the fall of IMBA. Those leaders need to be replaced with forward-thinking, change-focused, cycling advocacy leaders with turn-around experience.

SDMBA wants IMBA to succeed and is willing to help wherever possible. We are in agreement with Dave Wiens stating ‘together we can do so much.’ However, this requires drastic and immediate change. Without change and strong leadership, IMBA will no longer be the voice of the mountain biker. That would be a sad day for all of us.”

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# Comments

  • John Fisch

    “If IMBA continues to fight STC and the advancement of cycling within Wilderness, our members would force us to leave,”

    Although just a small line in the overall article, this is really key. Most people support IMBA because they believe it to be focused on cycling advocacy. Their history of not only not supporting this advocacy, but in some cases actively working against it, defeats the very core of their stated purpose. No organization can endure with this kind of disconnect. Either they change their stance, or they change their purpose; anything else is an intolerable discrepancy.

    • Gregory Justin Smith

      Completely agree! I decided not to renew because at this point its to muddy to see what my money is doing. At this point there ignoring past stc comments it all seems murky, they need a new mission statement signed by everyone before I renew…

    • Aaron Chamberlain

      Indeed. One of IMBA’s biggest problems is messaging. Over the past few years they haven’t been able to articulate what their mission is and why it’s important to support them. I hope that changes with Wiens leadership.

    • isawtman

      It just shows what contention the Sustainable Trails Coalition has brought to mountain biking.

  • k2rider

    I agree with John Fisch above in that “it’s all about access and advocacy”….at least to me. I’ve been an IMBA member for 20+/- years for the most part with the last several with SDMBA here is San Diego. I’m sure I’ll renew in June as well **BUT**, I gave STC twice the amount of money I give IMBA because I believe in their cause. I’ve never gone to an SDMBA affiliated event or met Kevin Loomis but I’m really happy to hear what he has to say. I agree with pretty much everything he said above.

    • Susie Murphy

      @k2rider thanks for your support of SDMBA, IMBA and STC. We believe there is room for everyone to support who they want. We hope to see you at a SDMBA event soon!

    • isawtman

      K2, STC is a disaster. They are spewing misinformation every time they open their mouths. Just check out my blog post here. http://preservingthepct.blogspot.com/2016/10/the-sustainable-trails-coalition-just.html
      And Susie, The Bikes in Wilderness Issue is absolutely terrible. STC keeps getting the worst possible lawmakers on the Environment sponsoring their Bills. The latest is Tom McClintock who wants to sell off 3 million acres of Federal Land. I hope none of SDMBA’s trails are on not on land he wants to sell off.

  • mongwolf

    Great write up Greg. Thanks. And thanks for everyone’s comments. Very informative.

    • Greg Heil

      Thanks Floyd!

  • mongwolf

    I think IMBA should probably also consider a name change along with some possible refocusing of their mission. Considering their primary focus, should they really have “International” in their name and does this represent the interests of its member? It may just be “haggling” with words, but their name should represent their primary strategic direction.

  • bitterroot

    The chapter leaders in the Northern Rockies (Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming) had quite a few discussions about what direction to take, and while some chapter left and some grudgingly remained no one was happy with IMBA’s direction. The region and assistant region directors were key in uniting chapters and IMBA. That on the ground knowledge was key, and simply cannot be replaced by virtual conferences. I think this is perhaps more true in the rural parts of the country that don’t have the populations base to have paid staff. The addition of one chapter president to the board is inadequate. The chapters should have a majority voice in creating IMBA’s policy and vision. That is the only way to create a voice that unites everyone. A board that is 40% industry and a staff that is only in Boulder is inevitably going to become insular and out of touch with larger community.

  • Scott Cotter

    Having just interviewed several people from IMBA for an article here on Singletracks, I have to say I think the folks I talked to are 100 percent committed to making mountain biking better. They were, to a person, helpful, supportive and understood what it is we all want out of this incredible sport.

    That said, I come from a place that has a long history of incredible advocacy where members attended meetings of all sorts over years and years, worked with local officials (sometimes at the glacially slow pace demanded by public projects), then designed, built and maintained hundreds of miles of trail. It is a true volunteer success story. But I also hear every person who has been in those meetings, walked the woods over and over, swung a pulaski, and wielded a weed eater say “IMBA doesn’t do anything for us.”

    In large part, that’s a result of having a strong local mountain bike group who knows how to handle the issues they confront. It’s also in large part to dealing with a system whereby there are no conflicts or political pressures related to the land. However, it also illustrates that IMBA has not been so good in communicating their impact on mountain biking, especially at the grassroots level. And, as well, it illustrates that they’ve lost focus and that their mission didn’t change with the times.

    Instead of a failure, I would postulate about this being a normal part of organizational evolution. IMBA was formed long before there was a strong grassroots level of organizing in most places. Through their efforts — at least in our case — they helped build a foundation for a strong chapter that eventually knew what to do, how to do it, and with whom we needed to work to accomplish our goals. The fledglings, as it were, left the nest. To me, that success is in part, due to IMBA.

    Now we need to let IMBA know what we need from them and see if they can reshape who they are to meet our changing needs.

    • Greg Heil

      Extremely insightful comment as always, Scott! Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  • Greg Rollins

    I am the chapter president for rvaMORE in Richmond Virginia. I was invited to be an adviser to the IMBA board in June 2015 when they were working on their 5 year strategic plan. Mike Van Abel was the ED at the time. All of the board members are highly successful along with plenty of industry clout; Dave Wiens was also a guest at that meeting. They spent too much time on the mission statement that has nothing to do with acting. The meeting had no real outcome, I don’t think the mission statement was changed, no take away, no action points I never saw a new strategic plan and I feel especially two years later it was a waste of time. At the meeting I told the IMBA board; the rvaMORE board does not understand what we receive for our 60% share we send to IMBA. I suggested serval times IMBA needed to add more value to the chapters over and above the CRM and even presented numerous things that would add value. My take away from that meeting was that the ED had an immense about of leeway to do as he pleased. The board is more of an advisory board and because they still had money change was not necessary.
    Several comments mention that IMBA has not changed with the times. That would be my assessment. We have great relationships with the State of Virginia and all the local land managers. What IMBA has provided rvaMORE is the knowledge of how to build trails. The advocacy part is as I think many others will agree with; advocacy is learning as you go. It is all about relationships and patients. IMBA was successful in getting more and better places to ride. Local groups did the work IMBA provided the resources.
    How can IMBA be relevant? I think there are some great comments about being the national voice and let the chapters be the boots on the ground. I think that has been going on from sometime, because IMBA has been in disarray for many years. Trail Solutions should be sold. rvaMORE experienced IMBA and Trail Solutions wanting to control every aspect of a huge project with the state of Virginia and their costs were 30% higher than the market.
    If a group needs help, then they can contact IMBA and negotiate how IMBA can help. If IMBA wants to keep the chapter model then it needs to provide something in return. I could suggest tons of resources chapters need to make their job easier that IMBA could offer and Dave Wiens knows what they are. I assume there are no funds or staff to even attempt to add more real value.
    It is sad that IMBA has fallen so far. I hope Dave can bring it out of the ashes. I have and will always think there is a need for a national organization for mountain bikes and IMBA has a huge knowledge base that has shaped trails all over the world. But maybe it is time to let burn and start over.

    • bitterroot

      Thanks for the insight, Greg. It gets at I what I sense is missing as an organization is passion. The individuals I know at IMBA are passionate, but it doesn’t to get translated to the whole organization. This may be the result of having becoming an established organization that in general has had success mainstreaming mountain biking and building relationships, but is now risk averse. Here in Montana we are constantly butting heads with groups such as the Montana Wilderness Association, which is 2/3 IMBA in size. Although we disagree on access issues, one of the things I admire about them is that I never doubt their passion when it comes to preservation. IMBA, on the other hand, all I ever sense is caution.

  • Fixedwing71

    Good article, thanks for posting. My free time is split between two hobbies: MTB and model aviation. I have enough drama in my model aviation club (yes, there’s drama in a model aviation club) but I have to be a member of the club, and also a member of AMA (our club is sanctioned by the AMA so you must be an AMA member to be a member of the club, and therefore fly at our field). If it wasn’t for the fact that we have the most beautiful field in Eastern NC I’d probably not renew my membership come next year. Just too much drama.

    What does that have to do with MTB? I’ve got enough drama in one club, and don’t need more. Thankfully a membership to my local MTB chapter isn’t required to ride the trails around here, or I probably wouldn’t have gotten into MTB in the first place. While I am deeply appreciative of their efforts, I’m just not interested in the drama.

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