As of this writing, there are at least 417,000 registered motorcycles in the state of Florida, about 7,000 (1.7%) of the riders of which are members of ABATE of Florida, Inc. There are also at least 150,000 registered motorcycles in the state of Indiana, about 27,000 (18.0%) of the riders of which are members of ABATE of Indiana, Inc. Stated another way, although Indiana has less than half as many motorcycles as Florida, their SMRO is almost 4 times as large, and their recruitment penetration percentage is over 10 times higher.
I was struck by this vast contrast in organizational impact, and decided it might be enlightening to do a little web research on the matter. I identified four factors that may explain a significant part of the difference:
- web presence,
- lobbying record,
- safety resources, and
- operating approach.
I began my research by logging on to the websites of the two SMROs under study:
“Night and day” would be a fair capsule of the comparison. I found the home page of AbateFlorida.com, for example, to be amateurish, dull and rather depressing. Much of the content seemed stale, and the site offered limited user interaction. AbateofIndiana.org, on the other hand, was distinctively more professional, vibrant and alluring. The content included current newsfeeds, and transactions for everything from memberships to course registrations to merchandise were offered online.
If you go strictly by web presence, it is easy to see how AbateofIndiana.org might be ten times more effective at attracting new members than AbateFlorida.com.
ABATE of Florida has a full-time paid lobbyist. ABATE of Indiana does not. In Florida, helmets are not required if you are over 20 years of age with a minimum of $10,000 in medical insurance. In Indiana, except for instructional permit holders, helmets are not required if you are over 17. That means young riders can start to experience “freedom of the road” 3 years earlier in Indiana, which should make membership in an organization pledged to defending those rights more appealing to the younger riders there.
I have no statistics as to whether or how much ABATE of Indiana has capitalized on this particular advantage. The look, feel, content and imagery of their website, however, definitely reflects the influence of a younger, more web-literate demographic than their counterparts in Florida.
ABATE of Florida unquestionably pays far more attention to motorcycle safety in the real world than they do to their motorcycle safety and awareness program (MSAP) web page … which as of this writing has not been updated since the spring of 2003. Yet even acknowledging their fledgling affiliation with the Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles (DHSMV), their safety resources pale in comparison to those of ABATE of Indiana:
ABATE of Indiana contracts with the state to provide the Indiana Motorcycle Operator Safety Education Program, and offers over 150 MSF-certified safety instructors available to teach the courses. This high-visibility state-SMRO partnership is not only a major source of revenue but also a significant opportunity for publicity and member recruiting that ABATE of Florida simply does not have.
I am told that ABATE of Florida has only one or two paid state office employees, whereas ABATE of Indiana has seven or eight full-time employees staffing the state HQ. That should clearly give Indiana an edge, in that about four times as many people are being paid to champion the interests of less than half as many motorcyclists. ABATE of Florida necessarily enlists, elects and appoints volunteers to fill the breach, but a chronic drawback with that approach is that the criteria for filling key positions can easily end up being favoritism, popularity or expedience more so than proficiency, experience and expertise.
Volunteers are vital to any grassroots organization, but so is proficiency in key marketing (e.g. member recruiting and retention) and administrative (e.g. membership services and database management) functions. If ABATE of Indiana can justify a full-time professional office staff, ABATE of Florida should easily be able to do so with a market base almost three times as large.
The objective of this analysis has been neither to praise nor pan ABATE of Florida or ABATE of Indiana, as there are many noble and dedicated freedom fighters in the ranks of both. Rather, by comparing and contrasting these two SMROs, my hope is that ABATE leaders and members everywhere will gain fresh perspectives enabling greater successes for all those truly dedicated to protecting our freedom of the road.
Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!