Self-charity RidesEvery Spring and Summer bicycle companies get pitched by riders who want to free new bikes and gear for their dream tour. The riders point out that when others see them on a certain bike or wearing these particular shoes, they’ll want one, too. Most people tend to overestimate their influence and drawing power, but manufacturers know the score.
If you can’t ride on your own dollar (like the previous generation did) but are still a good person down deep, here is a list of do’s and don’ts that will help your chances of getting some aid. Even if you strike out, you’ll do it with some dignity intact. Not all, but some.
Email your request to “To Whom It May Concern” and write a generic letter that can be sent with no changes to a hundred different makers.
Refer to “your product,” over and over again without naming the product. You might as well just say, “I’m using the shotgun approach. I’m interested in anything I can get for free.”
Play up your value as equipment tester. That suggests they don’t test it themselves and need your expertise to keep them from looking like idiots. It is insulting. Remember, this is under “Don’t.”
Be vague about what you want (remember, this is a "don't), or leave it up to the business to suggest something. Beggars are always afraid to ask for too little or too much, and that puts the onus on the business to stick its neck out. You contacted them, so you ask.
Say you’re writing a book or magazine article unless you also show them the contract without them asking.
Tell the company exactly what they will get in return, and come up with something better than “good will.” If you can't think of anything, your plan is too one-sided.
Could you offer to put on a video presentation or slide show in their shop for customers, even if it’s inconvenient, requires organization, and you don’t like public speaking? If you offer, actually do it.
Get the name of the decider, and spell his or her name right in a real paper-and-envelope letter. Ask on paper. Don't pretend to be green by sending an email.Your bike trip has a carbon footprint a thousand times bigger than a one-page letter.
Ask your question in the first sentence. No wind-up. The details can follow, but a bold request is more impressive. It really is. Every measly beggar beats around the bush, and you’ll stand out if you don’t.
Ask for a discount of 30 percent off of retail. Thirty percent probably amounts to the company’s employee discount, and it can probably handle one or two more of those without folding. Asking for thirty percent is another way to stand out among the true beggars, and shows you’re not greedy. The company will give more if it can, and it feels good for a business to feel like it’s going overboard for you. If thirty percent isn’t enough for you, don’t ask at all.
Over-deliver politenesss. Actually, it’s not possible to be overly polite. Send postcards you didn’t say you’d send. Send a written thank you letter if you've already said thanks in person, over the phone, and by email. Be “1950s polite.”
Be humble. Not falsely humble, just humble. Acknowledge what the company already knows—that their business is no more likely to benefit from this than Nike has by your wearing its shoes. If you’re begging for gear, you’ve got plenty to be humble about, and acknowledging that won’t kill the deal.
If you already use their product or products, and you like them, tell them that. (And if that’s true, maybe you don’t need another one.) But maybe you want the latest model, or yours is worn out from lots of love. But if you’ve been sleeping in North Face tents for eight years and now you’re asking Marmot for a freebie, it doesn’t look good.
Once you get a freebie or a deal, there’s a tendency to think of yourself as “beyond retail” from that point on. Don’t let that happen. Be grateful and buy retail from them in the future. You’re not a pro, and one discounted trip is enough.
I’m all for charities, but lukewarm on charity rides, because it’s hard to tell if the ride or the charity came first. I think, just give the money privately and just ride your bike privately. The idea of hitting up other people to give their money so you can ride your bike as the “fundraiser” is a little off. I know a lot of money is raised this way, and I suppose it shouldn’t matter how the money is raised, as long as the research is funded, or the wheelchairs are purchased, or whatever. But it just seems a little off, to me.
If you’re considering going on a charity ride, at least find out how much out of every dollar actually goes to the cause directly, as opposed to administration. Some charities spend 80 cents of every dollar on to salaries, travel, and administration. If the person in charge can’t answer or isn’t forthcoming, pick another charity ride.
If you happen to be the rider and it’s your job to get pledges:
1. Donate out of your own pocket first.
2. Hit up your family next.
3. Then friends who you don’t mind losing.
4. Then co-workers who you don’t mind alienating.
5. When you ask anybody for a donation, specify an amount. If you have a quota it’s tempting to leave it open and hope for some big ones so you can stop hunting early, but leaving the amount up to the person you’re asking is a double dose of bad form. It puts the person you’re hitting up in an awkward position of either giving too little and looking cheap, or giving too much and feeling like a doormat. You’re the person asking for money, so you should shoulder all that awkwardness. Be specific, and ask on the low side—$5, or maybe $10. If they come up with more than that, fine, but the main thing is, they won’t feel cheap for giving only that.
This is not a veiled tip on how to get free Riv-stuff. We got people to employ.