Posted by Jenny Leonard on September 8th, 2009 at 12:28 pm
[Editor’s note: This profile of local livable streets nonprofit Umbrella is the first story of new BikePortland news intern Jenny Leonard. Welcome, Jenny!]
“Umbrella seeks to empower community-based street culture. Streets are meant to connect, not divide, neighborhoods. We support active ideas that develop streets as vibrant, safe, and welcoming public spaces that serve communities.”
–Umbrella’s mission statement
Our city is chock full of community events for alternative transportation. The small organizations that man these events put in a lot of time and effort setting up, running, and enjoying the event. But there is more happening behind the scenes — the nitty-gritty accounting and organization nobody sees.
Often the people who handle these chores belong to a volunteer-run, non-profit group called Umbrella. Steph Routh, the organization’s president (her day job is leading the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition); secretary Matt Picio (co-founder of bike touring organization Cycle Wild), and board member Theo Elliot Roffe sat down with me to detail how Umbrella started, what exactly Umbrella is and how it works in the greater Portland community.
Picio calls Umbrella “the organization you’ve never heard of that probably sponsors half of the stuff you go to.” The group was born during a meeting late in the summer of 2006, after it became clear that Shift, with its growing, decentralized array of bike fun and carfree activism, had outgrown its former fiscal sponsor and needed help legally putting on its free-spirited events without getting bogged down in paperwork.
Shift didn’t want to become a nonprofit in its own right, and a host of other people and small groups were looking for help with event insurance, fiscal sponsorship, and other kinds of structure and assistance supplied by affiliation with a nonprofit. Out of these needs, Umbrella was formed.
“And then started the long protracted discussion of how to formalize that status,” said Routh. In May 2007, Umbrella was recognized as a corporate identity. This means it has a board of directors, a name, and bylaws — things that smaller organizations often don’t have time, humanpower or commitment to formalize.
at her day job as a pedestrian rights advocate.
(Photo © J. Maus)
As a corporate entity, Umbrella began the federal process of becoming a 501(c)3 non-profit. They spent two months on paperwork. Routh stressed the difficulty of making concrete statements and a three year budget for an organization that had barely begun to function.
In November 2007, Umbrella was granted nonprofit status by the government and began considering projects to support. One of its first events was a ride and block party to raise awareness for the plan to relocate the old Sauvie Island Bridge and use it as a I-405 freeway overpass for pedestrian and bicycle use.
Other events and organizations that have come under the Umbrella include Shift, bike dance troupe the Sprockettes, the Multnomah County Bike Fair, the Pedalpalooza Kickoff Party, and the RiverFest Parade. Their most recent project is the Oregon Manifest, a six-weekend long bicycle show this fall that celebrates the art, craft, and community of Oregon bike scene.
Umbrella’s mission is to encourage and enhance community-based street culture, alternative transportation, and art and the environment in the street. Umbrella does not organize events or take a leadership role in sponsored projects — rather, it serves as a fiscal sponsor, lending its nonprofit status to help projects secure financial and in-kind support by making donations tax deductible.
Umbrella also provides its projects with basic bookkeeping, provides a central bank account, covers general liability and event insurance, and provides other basic services, excluding direct funding. And it acts as an incubator to help groups who want to form non-profit entities of their own. “We’ll hold your hand until you are a non-profit,” said Routh.
So far a lot of Umbrella’s work has been bike related, but board members hope to expand their scope. “Umbrella doesn’t want to steer these things,” said Routh. “We want to take the community’s dreams and make them a reality.”
For more information on Umbrella, please visit the website or come to one of Umbrella’s board meetings, which are open to the public. The next one is at 7:00pm on September 14th, 2009, at Green Empowerment, 140 SW Yamhill Street.