Jul 25, 2012

Non-Profits Leverage OR as a Powerful Fundraising Engine

Outdoor Retailer has emerged as one of the year’s top fundraising opportunities, making it as critical a gathering for non-profits as for brands and retailers. In addition to providing a platform for fundraising initiatives and events, the show also facilitates relationships, meetings and partnerships for non-profits, which might have difficulty securing meetings with key industry players otherwise.

“It’s the only place where we can really meet, because as a non-profit, we don’t really have any travel budget,” said Heather Metivier, director of marketing and communications for Big City Mountaineers. “The show is really the only two times a year we can meet our partners face to face.”

Outdoor Retailer (OR) provides free 10’X10’ booth space to qualified non-profits, promotes show fundraisers in its marketing collateral, and also sponsors and/or organizes a few fundraisers directly. Show Director Kenji Haroutunian, for example, helped organize the Industry All Star Jam, which has raised money for many smaller non-profits, such as Paradox Sports, POW, Buffalo Fields and Rios Libres by donating all proceeds from donations made at the door. The event now raises about $6,000 at each of its performances.

Exhibitors also help raise funds in various ways, including selling discounted product at their booths, charging entry fees for races at the Open Air Demo, and collecting cover charges for afternoon and evening parties.

“These Outdoor Retailer fundraisers are pretty significant for us,” said John Sterling, executive director for The Conservation Alliance (TCA).

Last year, TCA raised $40,000 at the show, or more than 10 percent of its $300,000 operating budget. Next week, 22 brands are offering pro deals at OR to raise money for TCA, which was founded in 1989 by REI, Patagonia, The North Face and Kelty. Since then, the non-profit has raised more than $10 million for conservation projects through its corporate membership dues. Because it has vowed to invest 100 percent of these dues in grassroots conservation projects, it relies on fundraisers like the ones at OR to help pay its expenses, said Sterling.

The Outdoor Foundation — the non-profit organization established by Outdoor Industry Association® to inspire and grow future generations of outdoor enthusiasts — is teaming with several industry partners to raise money at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market next week. Yakima is hosting a “Garage Party” at its booth, featuring free beer and music, and a raffle to benefit the Foundation’s Outdoor Nation initiative. Northside is selling discounted Brille II watershoes and donating the proceeds to the Foundation. The Paddlesports Advisory Council is organizing a competition at the Open Air Demo to benefit Outdoor Nation. (See related story.) Finally, several industry partners will be helping promote the Oh, Ranger! Parkfinder App the show. A portion of all the app sales benefit Outdoor Nation.

“Outdoor Retailer is a very important opportunity for us to promote our programs and recruit industry support,” said Chris Fanning, executive director of The Outdoor Foundation. “The money we raise and the connections we make at the show are critical to our work to get more youth outside and active.”

Keen alone raises about $15,000 for non-profits each year by selling about 500 pairs of shoes at the OR summer and winter shows. In the past, the company donated proceeds to TCA, but as other brands have stepped in to support that cause, Keen has started contributing to grassroots organizations. Proceeds raised next week will go directly to TCA grantees California Wilderness Coalition, Save our Canyons and Wilderness Workshop.

“Since we started this in the summer of 2006, Keen has given about $75,000 to support the effort by donating shoes for the sale,” said Chris Enlow, care and community manager at Keen. “We’re glad that many other brands have joined the effort to support organizations that protect our natural playgrounds.”

For a listing of pro-deal fundraisers, attendees should check the back of The Show Daily, the daily newspaper published during the show. Remember, many of these sell out by the second day of the show.