Steps to Build a Blue Trail: Plan

Raise Money

Congaree River - Jamie MierauThere are a number of investments that must be made to create and maintain your Blue Trail. This section provides basic information on finding funding for your Blue Trail. Seek planning assistance from a small business development center or contact River Network, a national non-profit organization that provides information, training, consultation, and resources to groups working for clean and healthy rivers.

Create a fiscal plan: Major project expenditures include the one-time cost of conducting a feasibility study and creating a master plan. To form a comprehensive program to meet these financial needs, a finance and fundraising committee should develop a fiscal plan and revise it as needed. Once the study and plan are completed, costs for developing the blue trail should be known and maintenance and operating expense estimates should be available. Sources of funding to meet each expense must be identified and developed. The plan should include a timeline showing major project expenditures to help keep fundraising activities on track.

Start up: Start up costs could include printing initial brochures, recruiting members, soliciting donors, and conducting kick-off events. Small foundations and individual donors are often willing to provide seed money for start-up costs, hoping to catalyze additional investments in their community. As this money may not be renewed, it is critical to spend it in ways that will generate additional funds.

Organizational operating: Few donors and grant makers are willing to contribute to annual operating expenses such as rental office space and overhead. Consider using membership contributions, conducting annual appeals, and holding fundraising events to generate operating revenue.

Promotional and fundraising activities: Many organizations have difficulty obtaining initial funds to finance efforts to develop additional revenue. Money from memberships and individual donors should be earmarked for these efforts. Occasionally, individuals or businesses will underwrite the cost of promotional materials. Local businesses may be willing to underwrite a fundraising event in return for positive exposure.

Matching funds for grants: For grants, a substantial local match is often required and commitments or pledges for these funds usually must be obtained in writing, prior to application. Fulfillment of these commitments may be contingent upon a successful grant application. Municipal governments, corporations, and individuals may be solicited for these commitments.

Operation and maintenance: Ongoing operation and maintenance expenses may be covered by user fees, membership dues, contributions, annual fundraisers, or proceeds from product sales. Cost sharing among governmental and non-governmental entities may be spelled out in a maintenance agreement. An endowment can be established, possibly through a community foundation, to hold funds raised through a planned giving campaign, large contributions or bequests. Business and industry or local civic organizations may adopt a section of the blue trail and maintain it.

Attract members: As your Blue Trail will provide direct benefits to your community, fundraising efforts should begin with an appeal to the community residents. People who subscribe to your mission should join the effort. Some blue trail groups charge nominal membership fees. A higher fee is generally charged for businesses and agencies to affiliate themselves as members.

Members can be recruited through a brochure, a display, or an event. Most often, however, they are recruited by word-of-mouth. Once individuals are enrolled as members, they should be solicited for additional donations in an annual giving appeal.

In addition to monetary contributions, each member is valuable as an ambassador of the program. Be sure they are fully informed of the mission of your blue trail and all activities. Periodically remind them to help widen the circle of supporters by bringing guests to events, distributing membership brochures to friends and acquaintances, and providing referrals. Be sure to follow up and solicit each guest and referral for membership and additional contributions.

Members can be recruited to help raise funds in other ways. One successful strategy is to have member families host dinner parties for their friends on a certain night, and then convene everyone at a central location for entertainment, education, and fundraising activities.

Seek individual donors: The vast majority of donations are from individual donors. You should identify people who are prospective donors and ask them to help by contacting people they know. In contacting individual donors, ask questions to ascertain their interest in the blue trail. Do they paddle, fish, birdwatch, bike, hike?

Host fundraising events and sales: The variety of fundraising activities is limited only by your imagination.

Seek foundation grants: Many large community, family, and corporate foundations make grants to trail groups. The Foundation Center is the nation’s leading authority on philanthropy and maintains the most comprehensive database on U.S. grant makers and their grants and operates research, education, and training programs.

Small family foundations and charitable trusts are often managed by trust officers at local banks. Arrange in-person meetings with trust officers to present your case, and ask for assistance identifying which trusts will fund activities related to trails.

Seek corporate support: Identify corporations with a track record of community giving or a high stake in the quality of life in your community. Insurance companies, healthcare providers, and sporting goods manufacturers often see the benefits of supporting blue trails. The chamber of commerce or other business associations may help identify good prospects.

Many corporations have a community relations officer or committee who controls a community gift or grant budget. Identify these individuals or committees and meet with them in-person. Ask for a specific contribution and tell them how it will be spent. Often, once a corporation qualifies your organization for a contribution, they will in renew it in future years.

Federal funding programs: If you are exploring conservation easements or land acquisition as part of your blue trail, there are a number of federal funding programs that can be applied. To learn more about federal funding programs see funding database.

Recognize contributors: Give some thought to how contributors will be recognized and rewarded. Common ways to thank individual members and donors include a decal, newsletter subscription, member discounts at local cooperating merchants, and recognition in a newsletter or annual report. Grant makers and major donors may deserve a plaque at the project site or a certificate of appreciation to display in their home or office. Special member events can be rewards as well.