The New IMBA Local Program: What Mountain Bike Advocacy Organizations Need to Know

After nearly 30 years, IMBA is no longer a membership-based association moving forward. Instead, membership now resides at the local level, and IMBA has introduced a new system to connect with local mountain bike advocacy organizations, called "IMBA Local." This article provides an analysis of the different Local levels, the Services that IMBA is providing, and whether or not IMBA Local is a good deal for your mountain bike club.

Building trail in Salida, CO. Photo: Greg Heil

IMBA announced its Chapter program replacement, IMBA Local, on December 14, 2017, describing it as an “evolution” providing IMBA’s “partners and other organizations with a variety of options to engage with IMBA.” Perhaps a better description is “revolution,” as IMBA Local is quite thoughtful, and may positively challenge IMBA staff and program participants to think differently about mountain bike advocacy in unanticipated and unimaginable ways.

What changes under IMBA Local?

The big news is that IMBA is discontinuing joint memberships. Under IMBA Local, membership now resides at the local level. The new model does still allow program participants at select levels to outsource their membership management or processing requirements to IMBA. IMBA Local Program Manager, Anthony Duncan, confirmed that after nearly 30 years, IMBA is no longer a membership-based association moving forward.

Participants wishing to utilize IMBA’s membership services will pay either a $12 or $15 processing fee per member per year, with the exact amount determined by whether the participant is part of an IMBA Local region. This annual flat fee per member is deducted by IMBA from the dues payment at the membership point of sale. Duncan is looking into how membership returns and cancellations will be handled based on a question I recently asked. Participants utilizing IMBA’s membership outsourcing services will be paid their members’ dues, less the processing fee, quarterly in arrears by IMBA. Checks will be issued by the middle of the following quarter for the previous calendar quarter.

The most important news is that IMBA-defined geographic regions are replaced by IMBA-defined requirements on how regions are formed by coalitions of IMBA Local participants. Regions can now be a state, a regional grouping of states, or a portion of a state, as locally determined. Region representatives will have the opportunity “to provide feedback and recommendations to IMBA leadership.” While IMBA has been talking about a formal feedback/recommendation process for a long time, IMBA Local regions are the first step to actually accomplishing what is, in my opinion, a badly-needed measure.

However, my enthusiasm for this step in the right direction is tempered, as there is no guarantee that IMBA’s leadership will actually act on any feedback or implement any recommendations, especially as they affect national policy matters. In my opinion, that won’t happen until IMBA formally changes its bylaws to become accountable to IMBA Local participants (aka “customers”).


Next, IMBA Local offers three engagement levels – Chapter, Affiliate (Co-Branded/White-Label), and Supporting Organization – instead of the current Chapter program’s one-size-fits-all engagement model. The primary difference between levels is whether IMBA Local participants use IMBA’s membership outsourcing services and/or IMBA’s IRS 501(c)3 group exemption.

After almost two years of attrition, Region Director positions have been eliminated. They are replaced by a fee-for-service offering, referred to as “Services,” which is available on a call, click, or consultation basis. These services are available at discounted pricing to all IMBA Local participants.

Some of the services provided by IMBA Local’s in-house Services offering include access to IMBA University, IMBA’s onsite professional services, and IMBA’s annual Dig In Campaign. When developed, IMBA University will include “shareable resources, self-navigating educational tracks, webinars, and fee-based webinars on such topics as governance, fundraising, government relations, and trail building.” IMBA’s onsite professional services include governance and strategic planning; grant writing and fundraising; trail planning, design, and construction; and government relations and policy. As of January 8, 2018, the inaugural Dig In campaign has raised $122,000, before IMBA’s fee, for 68 mountain bike projects in 31 states. For more information, check out the full list of Services contained in the official announcement.

In addition to the annual flat fee per member for membership management or processing services, IMBA will charge a $200 (or $250 for White-Label Affiliate participants) one-time setup fee, not applicable to existing or past Chapters, according to Duncan. Charges for its Services will vary depending on the specific IMBA Local participation level and specific service(s) used. “Services” will also be offered to non-IMBA Local participants, but at a higher price level.

IMBA Local began January 1, 2018 for select organizations. IMBA Local’s Services and the program’s full rollout are expected to begin sometime in the second quarter of 2018.

Is IMBA Local a good deal?

With this new program offering, leaders for existing and former IMBA chapters, member clubs, and organizations unaffiliated with IMBA have a business decision to make in the first half of 2018.

Since IMBA Local is a membership management and Services offering, the first step in answering this “good deal” question is to evaluate your organization’s business requirements. The appropriate IMBA Local engagement level is dependent on the answers to the following four business questions, as well as other questions pertinent to each organization.

1. Does your club have a 501(c)3 Designation?

First, does your organization have its own IRS 501(c)3 designation? If not, give serious consideration to obtaining this designation as it’s easier, cheaper, and faster than ever before. Obtaining your own 501(c)3 designation will provide more flexibility moving forward.

The vast majority of current IMBA chapters using IMBA’s group exemption will qualify to use the 1023-EZ Streamlined Application. This application makes obtaining non-profit status less daunting and time-consuming than in the past, but it does require a one-time $275 user fee payable to the IRS. Currently, the processing time is averaging 14 days, and 99.96% of 1023-EZ applicants are approved.

Whether your club has its own 501(c)3 designation or you choose to use IMBA’s group exemption will impact which level, if any, of IMBA Local you choose to participate in (see below).

2. Do you have the means to manage your membership yourself?

Second, does your organization have paid staff or a sufficient volunteer base to evaluate, choose, and implement its own membership management software platform and conduct membership drives? There are more robust membership management platforms available than the one offered through IMBA Local. While these other platforms automate many functions, only charge between 30% and 50% of the price of IMBA Local’s annual fee per member, and payout dues more quickly to the club, these factors aren’t the only considerations.

For example, IMBA Local offers, at the Chapter and Co-Branded Affiliate Levels, premium membership levels and membership drives with incentives (e.g. socks with the former and bike drawings with the latter). Because IMBA incurs the extra costs for the premium membership levels and the membership drives, as well as including the credit card fees as part of its flat per member processing fee, Chapter and Co-Branded Affiliate Level participants may experience a higher average net membership dues amount per member and more members overall through using IMBA’s platform than they could obtain locally using one of the “less expensive” platforms. Put another way, while IMBA’s platform might seem more expensive on the front end, it could prove less expensive over the long term.

White-Label Affiliates do not participate in IMBA’s premium membership levels and IMBA-sponsored membership drives, possibly resulting in a lower net membership dues amount per member than Chapter and Co-Branded Affiliate Level participants. But, IMBA does still incur the credit card processing fees as part of its $15 per member fee for White-Label Affiliates, and this must be taken into account when evaluating the different platforms.

If you’re a current IMBA chapter leader, be sure to ask IMBA how many new members joined last year and what the average dues per member in your territory were to help determine if you can achieve these metrics as a White-Label Affiliate, or on your own. Any cash flow concerns with IMBA Local’s arrears payout scheme may be offset by the upfront or monthly subscription payments, regardless of activity, offered by the other platforms.

Finally, the cost of staff or volunteer time to evaluate these membership management platforms, choose the right one, set up the platform, test the platform, implement the system, etc. must also be factored into any decision.

3. Will being affiliated with IMBA help or hurt the perception of your club?

The third set of questions concern the perception of your club if you’re affiliated with IMBA. Is your IMBA affiliation causing, or will it cause, your organization to lose members? Are you likely to experience non-renewals or have problems recruiting new members if you remain, or become, affiliated with IMBA?

On the flipside, would being affiliated with IMBA increase the likelihood of gaining new members in your area? Would it increase your clout as you negotiate with land managers in your area?

4. Will you use IMBA’s Services?

Finally, will your organization utilize IMBA Local’s Services offering (discussed above) and to what extent?

Building trail in Salida, CO. Builder: Andrew Mesesan. Photo: Greg Heil

Analysis By Participation Level

Overall, IMBA Local participation at the Chapter or Affiliate Level boils down to whether your organization has, or plans to obtain, its 501(c)3 designation, and/or the resources to take on membership acquisition, processing, and retention responsibilities. If not, IMBA Local is probably a good deal at the:

  • Chapter Level: to take advantage of IMBA’s IRS Group Exemption and full range of membership services;
  • Co-Branded Affiliate Level: if your organization has its 501(c)3 designation, but wants IMBA to perform its full range of membership services under both entities’ names.
  • White-Label Affiliate Label: to have IMBA perform membership processing services under your organization’s name to offset any member loss or opportunity costs while your organization takes on membership acquisition and retention responsibilities.
  • Supporting Organization: if you might want to use Services at some point in time, and since the $200 one-time fee is not applicable to current or former IMBA chapters. Note that you won’t incur any cost for IMBA’s Services unless you actually use them. Bear in mind that IMBA has not published the cost for these Services yet and you can always change your participation level later if, for instance, it turns out you’re a heavy Services user and it’s more cost effective to participate at a different IMBA Local engagement level.

Is IMBA Local a good deal for clubs that have never seen the value in IMBA’s current Chapter program?

It depends.

Current IMBA member clubs may find participating at the Chapter or Affiliate Level meets their needs after answering the above business questions. If not, they may decide to become a Supporting Organization to take advantage of IMBA Local’s Services at that level’s discounted rate. Member Club dues and participation may result in actual savings in the first year when combined with the IMBA Local Services discount.

Since the new IMBA regions have the flexibility to include non-IMBA Local participants at their discretion, I doubt that the large mountain bike advocacy organizations that currently aren’t IMBA members (Evergreen, MORC, NEMBA, DORBA, etc.) – who already have their IRS non-profit designation and membership management capabilities – will pay the upfront fee to join IMBA Local at any level, until 1) IMBA demonstrates that IMBA Local regions actually influence IMBA’s national agenda, or 2) they find themselves desiring to participate in IMBA Services offering(s), and the discount for such participation exceeds the non-IMBA Local fee.

What steps should be taken if my chapter decides to become a Supporting Organization or not sign up for IMBA Local and become independent?

There are seven steps to take:

  1. Obtain your chapter’s 501(c)3 designation, if applicable. Plan on 14-120 days start to finish, depending on whether you qualify for the 1023-EZ Form.
  2. Download your organization’s Civi data from IMBA’s server into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet (or equivalent), and keep it current during the transition period.
  3. Evaluate membership management software platforms and choose the one that best meets your needs. Plan on 30-90 days to evaluate, choose, test, and implement.
  4. Establish membership levels, pricing, premiums, and incentives. For the latter two items, be sure that you have the resources to effectively implement their distribution.
  5. Develop and implement a strategy for communicating with your members, contacts, allies, sponsors, and partners. Be sure to include a FAQ.
  6. Reach out to former IMBA Chapters for lessons learned.
  7. Ensure your chapter termination or Supporting Organization start date notice to IMBA takes the above steps into account.


IMBA is attempting to solve several challenges with the previous Chapter program’s structure with IMBA Local. Hopefully, IMBA is also taking the first steps to creating a formal input and/or review process, especially with national issues near and dear to mountain bikers (e.g. ebikes and Wilderness access) currently taking center stage. This could actually unite mountain bikers across the country over the long run.

For any organization (current chapter or otherwise) that wants to join IMBA Local, I recommend reviewing the IMBA Local Service Agreement and negotiating any changes, unique to your organization, that you require.

For additional information or questions, contact Anthony Duncan, IMBA Local Program Manager, at (276) 274-2035 or [email protected].

Kevin Adams served as IMBA’s Vice President of Chapter and Member Services until he retired in July, 2016. Prior to serving at IMBA, Adams was a board member for the Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts (MORE). He now serves on the board of the Verde Valley Cyclists Coalition (VVCC) in Sedona, AZ.