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“Umbrella” nonprofit helps navigate the wonky side of activism

Posted by 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.

Eye to Eye campaign launch-1

Umbrella’s board president, Steph Routh,
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.

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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.

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BURR
Guest
BURR

It’s chock, not chalk

Matt Picio
Guest

Note: Theo Roffe is one of Umbrella’s directors.

Elly Blue (Columnist)
Member

Thanks folks, fixed.

Schrauf
Guest
Schrauf

Great article, Jenny! Nice summary of what Umbrella is all about.

Carl
Guest
Carl

There are lots of people who contributed time and ideas to the organization now called Umbrella. Off the top of my head, here are some of the folks that I remember hashing out ideas at early meetings:
-Lauren “Agent Lapis” Petersen
-Dat Nguyen
-“PJ Apostasy”
-Elly Blue
-Rev. Phil Sano
-Shawn Furst
-Steph Noll
-Jonathan Maus
-Adam Douglas
-Sara Stout
-Aaron Tarfman
-Brian Scrivner
-Jacque Authier
-Steven Kung
-Wyatt Baldwin
-Lauren Donohue
-Timo Forsberg

I’m sure I’m forgetting a few, there. Fell free to chime in with who I’ve missed.

Many thanks to all of you who’ve put thankless time into keeping street fun alive.

Note: Umbrella isn’t just about bike stuff. If you’ve got some sort of lemonade stand non-profit idea or a rollerblade posse or a powerwalking festival or a sidewalk liberation army…we want to hear from you.

adam
Guest
adam

really cool, so glad this is happening.

are
Guest
are

was about to scribble something on my calendar for this meeting next monday, but realized the article does not say what time.

jacque
Guest
jacque

Thanks Carl!
Although Phil wasn’t in anyway our “leader”, I think Carl’s list is a start to that mysterious group of no-good doers identified on the Shift list as “Rev. Phill and his group of “funnists””

Matt Picio
Guest

are (#7) – meetings start at 7pm.

Elly Blue (Columnist)
Member

Thanks, added the meeting time to the story.

Matt Picio
Guest

Note: post #5, should say “Lauren (Agent Lapis) Pedersen”, not “Petersen”.

E
Guest
E

Steph R rocks. You go girl! 😀

amos
Guest

It’s true. She does rock.

Jocelyn
Guest

We can’t say enough good things about this exceptional group individuals. Really. They all rock.

chr
Guest
chr

Thanks again for doing the important “unseen” work. You guys really do “wonk and woll”.

amos
Guest

It’s true. They all rock.

benschon
Guest
benschon

The poor overwhelmed World Naked Bike Ride people seemed like they were in need of organizational infrastructure. Maybe get in touch with them for next year’s event.

Matt Picio
Guest

benschon (#16) – do you mean the WNBR itself (i.e. the ride), or the dance party from which it left?

WNBR is practically un-organizable. Last year, there were about 2,200 people, and it was barely manageable. This year there were over 5,000 people. Next year, barring any issues with weather, there will likely be close to 10,000. I can’t think of any group that manages 100% growth year over year. This year was the first year anyone even *attempted* to impose some structure, and while the results weren’t the greatest for a number of individuals, it went extremely smoothly, and there were no arrests made by the police. (I don’t even know of any citations)

If you mean the Pedalpalooza kickoff dance party (where WNBR started) – the venue held 1,600 people, and was the largest venue secured to date for the party – possibly the largest property that ordinarily *can* be secured without extensive cost. For a dance party with no cover, free music, naked dancing, and cheap beer, I don’t think it can be beat, and the organizers who put it together (and the private security who policed it) were all top-notch people who managed a huge event without a: getting fined by the OLCC, b: getting shut down by the fire marshall or the police, and c: anyone getting arrested, ticketed, or hit by traffic.

If anyone seemed “overwhelmed” at the dance party, keep in mind that it was the largest space that could be obtained, the fire marshall set the capacity at 1,600, there were at least 3 times as many people as could be allowed into the building, and the entire event was staffed by volunteers, who were not paid for working the event – even the organizers were not paid.

el timito
Guest
el timito

Plus one for lavish praise to the rockin’ Umbrella-istas! Your blood, sweat, and tears let us ride, sweat, and beer.

Plus another one in praise of the organizers of the WNBR Dance Party.

I think a lot of folks who haven’t had the pleasure of organizing small, under-the-radar events that become huge, above-the-fold events don’t realize: it’s still just your bikey neighbors putting on a fun event with no budget. There’s no PartiesNWAreUs.com Corp. organizing a profit-minded rave for the benefit of their shareholders. (Thank god.)

Wish the space were bigger or the door lines were smaller? Sweet! Me too! Now help us find a free space that will fit 5000 people and can be successfully OLCC-monitored. I know it’s out there…
Oh, and another 50 or 100 volunteers to mind the door/beer-line/cleanup/etc. would go a long way too. And volunteering is fun!

Carl
Guest
Carl

Next opportunity to volunteer for an Umbrella-sponsored event:

Oregon Manifest!
http://www.oregonmanifest.com

Contact: volunteer@oregonmanifest.com

Gasper Johnson
Guest

so that webside failed me, but thankfully i have the colelctive power of the internets! this link is active as of this comment http://umbrellapdx.org/