The organizers for the St. Mary's Hospital Bike and Hike for Heart today should get full points for enthusiasm in the face of a freezing cold morning for a fundraising bike ride, low turnout and poor receipts.
Apparently, it was right in front of my eyes that the longtime signature sponsor, Manulife Financial, had withdrawn from the event that benefits the regional cardiac care centre at St. Mary's. I knew the date of the event was changing for this year, the 20th anniversary of the ride; I posted on the change back in February. What I thought at the time, was that while Manulife had switched its volunteer energies and support to the Ladies Professional Golf Association event in June, that the highly committed Manulife volunteers would continue to turn out for the Bike and Hike's new Sept. 23 date.
The proceeds from the June LPGA event -- a whopping $250,000 -- went to St. Mary's and the Regional Cardiac Care Centre: great news for St. Mary's and very generous on the part of Manulife. I continued to assume that Manulife would continue their grassroots involvement with the bike/hike event.
Supporting that misperception was the use on the Bike and Hike home page of photos of people wearing the "Manulife Bike and Hike, Be a Heart Hero" T-shirts. Even when you register online, you are given the option of identifying which Manulife team you are with.
I arrived late enough this morning to miss the introductory remarks and grabbed a yogurt and went out to the start line, in time for the warmup stretches and the starting "horn." It wasn't until we were approaching the Manulife HQ on King Street in Waterloo and I was looking for the regional police officer in the street to wave us into the usual Manulife rest stop, that I realized something was different.
No rest stop at Manulife. Wow. In more than 17 years of doing this event, we have always stopped at Manulife. Even when the route changed years ago and dropped the St. Mary's Hospital stop, we still managed to accommodate a Manulife stop. What happened?
The fog lifted once we got back to Waterloo Park. Way fewer cyclists. Registration was down: 600 riders from the 1,000 registered last year. The weather was likely a factor (two peeps on my team were shivering uncontrollably). But the Manulife presence was dramatically reduced: there were fewer Manulife staff corporate challenge teams, and the Manulife reps I have become used to seeing over nearly two decades weren't obvious (maybe I missed some).
So the bulk of corporate sponsorship for the event fell to this group: Erb Transport, M&M Meats, Ziggy's Cycle, Boston Pizza, Pattison Outdoor Advertising and a lineup of media partners (CTV, Waterloo Region Record, KIX 106, CHYM, and 570 News).
As of today, only $85,000 was raised by the Bike and Hike for Heart, compared to $200,000 last year. Of course, add the LPGA proceeds and the total for the two events is $335,000. Clearly, if the national LPGA event keeps raising big bucks for the hospital, that's positive. What is sad is that it appears that the fundraising responsibility is shifting from the grassroots to a group who can afford to attend an LPGA. I regret the declining role the local community has in raising funds through a supportive, outdoor, healthy lifestyle event that is open to anyone who can raise a few bucks to come out.
From where I sit, the St. Mary's Bike and Hike people should rethink the 2013 event. Manulife has already switched the 2013 LPGA to July, so a return to an early June date for the Bike and Hike would still provide a month of separation. Manulife employees who want to field a team will still have a month before they are out on the golf course.
I always saw the Bike and Hike as an integral part of the unofficial Bike Month activities of June (which include the Commuter Challenge and the Cambridge Tour de Grand). The Bike and Hike really kicks off the fundraising season. A September event is in a charitable crowded house (Terry Fox Runs, CIBC Run for the Cure, Cycle for Sustainability, Wiggle-Waggle WalkaThon, etc).