Bay Area Ridge Trail Council Revises its Outreach Strategy to Overcome Funding Cuts

Anticipating a major donor’s funding would end soon, BARTC turned to Stanford ACT to revise its marketing plan.

August 01, 2015

A mountain biker smiles as she rides down a hill.

Almost 30 years ago, the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council (BARTC) was founded to create a continuous 550+ mile trail ringing the San Francisco Bay for hikers, mountain bicyclists, and equestrians to enjoy. BARTC needed to ramp up its outreach as its primary source of funds from state bond measures, distributed via the Coastal Conservatory, would be ending in the coming years. The Stanford ACT team investigated marketing options.

Project Methodology

The ACT Team interviewed over thirty stakeholders, including Board members, local agencies, landowners, and major donors to understand perceptions and motivations to donate or volunteer. BARTC also allowed ACT to send an online survey to its entire email list of over 5,000 past trail work participants and members, and received over 900 responses.

Findings and marketing recommendations were presented in two mid-project updates and a final report, including a presentation to the full board. BARTC has a large board with many “local legend” outdoor enthusiasts who had differing points of view on marketing options.

Marketing Recommendations

From the online survey of members, the ACT Team found that increased engagement, such as attending a trail cleanup or maintenance day, resulted in increased trail usage and more donations to BARTC. Interviews showed that BARTC’s mission of completing the entire trail loop was the primary reason for donations, and stakeholders appreciated BARTC’s unique cross-agency coordination to link together access to multiple properties for one continuous trail.

Building on these findings, the ACT Team’s recommended messaging strategy for BARTC was about the unique mission of a complete ridgeline trail providing access to Bay Area open space. The team’s channel strategy associated with this messaging included providing high touch contact for major donors, using social media and creating regional BARTC chapters to increase outreach to individuals, building on a successful partnership with REI for corporations, and identifying supportive foundations.

BARTC Executive Director Janet McBride said “We use the ACT Team’s plan all the time.” She continued, “I often circulate its findings and recommendations to staff and Board as reminders of our new strategy.” At the last Board retreat, Janet created message boards on the ACT Team’s recommended marketing messaging for each audience.

Consultant Experiences

“It was a great window on grassroots environmental organizations to be involved with this project,” said co-team lead Russell Hamilton. “A continuous ridge trail arouses a lot of passion among outdoors enthusiasts, and working with the full board was a real education on trying to get consensus among a large group of diverse stakeholders.”

Team member Luke Baxter said “the Ridge Trail is a truly visionary and ambitious idea, and a great story to tell … it was a privilege to partner with such a committed team on sharing their message with key audiences, and activating supporters in the most effective way.”

By Russell Hamilton (MBA ’01) and Luke Baxter (MBA ’08), ACT Volunteers.

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