Brian Berge, one half of the team behind TheRidersProject.org, at his Salt Lake City home. Photo: Katie Panzer
Philanthropy is a word that seldom enters the vocabulary of younger generations. It’s not that we don’t care, but between rising gas, tuition and beer prices, there is not much left over after the bills are paid. Add in the overwhelming number of charities hitting us up for money, and it becomes very difficult to decide where our cash should go, even if there is some extra. Enter TheRidersProject.org, a small organization with large aspirations to get young people, especially those active in the outdoors, to donate to worthy causes around the globe. Started by powder-lovers Brian Berge and Tyler Strauss, TheRidersProject.org has been garnering the support of an increasingly interested population of local shredders both on and off the slopes.
Both young men grew up in Steamboat Springs, Colo. and developed a passion for the mountains and the people that inhabit them by the time they graduated high school. The two intrepid souls soon parted ways to pursue higher education. Berge went to Park City and Strauss to Phoenix, then Denver. After spending their winters on the snow and summers in the classroom, they finished their collegiate careers and began trying to make a difference in the world. “We both had just graduated from college and couldn’t find jobs that we were interested in. Tyler wanted to do something for charity and I had the computer background, so we put an idea together,” says Berge.
The two united their efforts towards TheRidersProject.org—a website that sells a variety of action sports gear but donates 100 percent of the proceeds to the charity of the shopper’s choice. After two years of research and saving, their dream started to take shape. “We went to SIA (SnowSports Industries America) in Denver to kind of test the waters and see if people were interested in our idea. After a lot of positive response, we decided it could work and went ahead with it,” says Berge. Now it was time to put a face on the organization, and with the help of local software company Big Cartel, TheRidersProject.org made its debut on the World Wide Web in 2011.
“[Big Cartel] hooked us up with some great designers and gave us a good deal on the site, so it made the whole process much smoother,” says Berge. The guys continued to drum up support from entities within the action sports realm as the site went live. Developing close relationships with athletes and companies involved in surfing, skateboarding, skiing and snowboarding became the next step toward reaching their goals.
The initial period of cold calling and interviews didn’t work out quite as planned, and gathering enough support to make things happen was difficult. “We thought everyone would want to donate to charity,” says Berge. Berge and Strauss also tried their hand at obtaining non-profit status in an effort to lend some credibility to their operation. After careful research and an exhausting interview process with various lawyers, it turned out that their organization would not be eligible for a 501c3 license. Since their prime business was selling things, even if the proceeds went to charity, the tax code got the best of them. “Essentially we are a not-for-profit. Even though we give 100 percent of our proceeds to charities, donations are not tax deductable for individuals,” says Berge. Regardless of what TheRidersProject.org is in the eyes of the law, their mission can be appreciated in the eyes of everyone.
The charities that were originally part of the program were hand picked by the team and included organizations like Protect Our Winters, The Surfrider Foundation and Habitat for Humanity. As the program continued, they decided not to limit the selection to only a few choices, and soon the line up encompassed charities from a wide variety of interests. The site even allows buyers to suggest new charities and the assortment continues to expand. “Growing up, there weren’t many charities that were related to snow sports. What’s happening now is that we can help generate awareness for the lesser-known charities. The smaller ones are also a lot more hands-on and the money goes further,” says Berge.
Organizations like The Billy Poole Memorial Fund use donations to introduce young people to the sport of skiing/snowboarding and give them the opportunity to experience the beauty and peace that is found in the mountains. Poole was a local pro skier that passed away several years ago during a tragic accident in the Cottonwood Canyons. Other charities like Grind for Life provide financial assistance to cancer patients who incur large travel expenses going from their homes to treatment facilities. These programs and others like them depend on the monetary donations of individuals in order to remain viable. Working with TheRidersProject.org has helped increase their presence, and ultimately helped a lot of great people who have been met with some unfortunate circumstances. “We figure if you’re going to buy a jacket or board anyway, why not help the cause you care about?”
Continuing to build relationships with local outdoor companies like Discrete and Skull Candy, TheRidersProject.org is launching its new website as this story goes to print. The updated site will include a one-deal-at-a-time format, branded merchandise and an expanded list of charities. Navigating through the pages will also be easier than ever, and all that visitors need to do is pick their product(s), pick their charities, pay their bill and then 100 percent of the proceeds will go straight towards a great cause. The site also features info regarding the formation of a team of professional and amateur athletes. The teams will work to gain support for the organization, as well as the charities they are affiliated with. Getting involved in the contest scene is also a big part of attracting more companies. Currently, the organization has only been involved with a handful of small rail jams, but they will be looking to up their level of involvement as they continue to grow. Promoting contests and using the teams to generate awareness of the various causes will ensure that TheRidersProject.org can continue to do good for countless generations to come.