In an age when communications are facilitated by the web and everyone, it seems, is on Facebook, Bob Sandler of White Plains has become one of the top five fundraisers for the New York City Southern New York Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society by sending hundreds of letters to donors who support his 20 mile bike ride during the annual Bike MS fundraiser, to be held in Tarrytown on September 25.
Last year, the 81-year-old raised $21,757, which goes toward research and services provided by the MS Society to people who suffer from the disease, which has no known cause or cure. Over the last twelve years, Sandler has raised over $200,000 and has spent many hours helping out at the not-for-profit organization’s White Plains office.
An avid bike rider since the 1970’s, when there were few cyclists on the roads, Sandler helped found the Westchester Cycle Club. He used to ride up to New Hampshire to visit his children at summer camp, them got a ride home with his wife.
“The other parents thought I was out of my mind,” he said.
After retiring from a successful career in the banking industry, he began volunteering for several organizations and got involved with the MS Society after his niece was diagnosed MS several years ago. He saw a flyer about the bike ride and was intrigued by the route, which goes over the Tappan Zee Bridge and back.
“I prepared a letter and sent it to 125 relatives, friends and business associates and lo and behold checks started flowing in,” he said. “E-mail is to impersonal.”
He raised $15,000 the first year and figured he was done until representatives from the MS Society took him out to lunch and asked him how much he thought he could raise the next year.
“I thought I was done, but once you get involved it’s a commitment,” he said.
So he sent out more letters, including a return envelope and his 200 or so recipients began to expect them every year.
“I usually send them out in August, but I saw someone in July who asked me ‘where is the letter? I haven’t seen it,’” he said. “I said ‘don’t worry, it’s coming.’”
The letters consist of a printed template along with a photo taken at the finish line from the previous year’s ride. He includes a personalized, handwritten message at the bottom. When he receives a check or contribution, he sends out a thank you note.
One acquaintance offered to double the contribution if Sandler didn’t ride, but he is still in great shape and shrugs off the 20-mile distance, which he covers on a 1970’s issue bicycle that is in tip-top shape.
“I may not be as fast as I once was, but raising funds to end MS is most important,” said Sandler.
His approach has been so successful that he’s something of a celebrity to officials at the MS Society.
“We have a lot of online tools that people utilize, including an email template and connections on the social networking channels,” said Meghan Finn, vice president of communications at the National MS Society, NYC-Southern NY Chapter.
“We have badges that people can put on their Facebook page and thermometers that show how much has been raised toward the goal, but the letter writing works for him and works for his donors.”
Sandler “is someone we depend on a lot,” she said. “He’s very generous with his time and is so passionate and full of energy; everybody loves him here.”
He is so busy helping out with MS and other causes that his wife jokes that she never sees him, he said.
“Someone asked me ‘why do you do it?’ and I responded that ‘you have to give back as much as you possibly can even in a small way,’” he said. “I’ve told my kids over the years that it’s easy to stand on the outside looking and let someone else do but it’s important to get involved. You may fail, but at least you tried.”
For more information, to register for the race, or donate visit www.bikeMSnyc.org