At REI, we’re working to reduce the barriers to life outside. The co-op business model itself is focused on that work. Our philanthropy and advocacy work helps us push ourselves and our partners to imagine a world where green, outdoor natural space is within an easy walk from every American’s home or work place. A lot of our work supports rural communities across the United States that serve as connection points to our iconic outdoor places. We’re also committed to “rewilding” our big cities by developing green spaces and creating sustainable transportation alternatives because close to 80% of the American population lives in cities now.
Since 1976, REI and The REI Foundation have invested more than $87 million in organizations across the country that share our goal of creating access to outdoor places and enabling transformational experiences in the outdoors for all people. Our co-op model means that as we grow, so does our ability to support these partners and places. In 2017, we reached another high-water mark in annual philanthropy, supporting over 400 organizations with community investments totaling $8.8 million.
REI also is in a unique position to support and convene organizations on the front lines of this country's most important outdoor public policy issues. With our partners, we advocate on a range of national, state, and local legislative measures with the goal of sustaining, and increasing, recreational opportunities to meet the needs of a changing population. We continue to strengthen our advocacy partnerships and build new ones in allied fields, such as public health, transportation, and public lands.
We appreciate hearing from our members about their values and how the co-op can continue to reflect those values in our community investment and advocacy efforts. Please feel free to drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Community Investment and Engagement
Each year, the co-op invests in local, regional, and national nonprofits throughout the country. At the very local level, our outdoor programs and outreach teams work with local store managers to identify partners that we invite to apply for grants. Applications are evaluated according to the applicant's ability to successfully maintain and enhance diverse, accessible, and popular areas where our members play outdoors. Our broader-scoped national and REI Foundation grants are also by invitation only. They support more expansive landscapes (like National Parks), innovative ways of connecting people to transformational outdoor experiences, and advocacy work that aligns with human-powered recreation.
In 2017, our $8.8 million in investments supported over 1,000 outdoor places.
This map includes data from our strategic philanthropy programs and does not include all gear donations, cause marketing initiatives, sponsorships or REI Adventures grants.
National nonprofits: At the national level, we work with organizations that are looking at and working on systemic issues that affect the future of life outdoors. Here are just three examples from 2017:
National Forest Foundation (NFF): Our multi-year, multi-million-dollar partnership with the NFF supports on-the-ground restoration projects and youth engagement efforts in National Forests and Grasslands across the country. From Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Chicago to the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina, the ten projects in 2017 benefited hikers, paddlers, and urban recreationalists.
Outdoor Alliance: The co-op continues to support the mapping capabilities of the Outdoor Alliance, an advocacy organization that works to unite the voices of outdoor enthusiasts to conserve America’s public lands and protect the human-powered outdoor recreation experience.
Protect our Winters (POW):In 2017, REI supported POW, an organization comprised of professional athletes, industry brands, and the outdoor community, in its work to quantify the impacts of a changing climate on the snow sports industry.
Local nonprofits: At the very local level, we are again supporting more than 300 nonprofits that positively shape their local communities. Here are just three highlights from 2017:
A $30,000 REI grant to the Georgia Conservancy helped the organization steward nearly 60 established trails at Len Foote and Cumberland, Ossabaw and Sapelo Islands, and advocate for 160 miles of multi-purpose trail of the Coastal Georgia Greenway. In total, these projects impacted over 625,000 hikers, bikers and paddlers; and engaged 500 volunteers. REI has invested over $250,000 in Georgia Conservancy’s stewardship efforts since 2010.
Friends of Boundary Waters Wilderness works to protect, preserve, and restore the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in Minnesota. The BWCAW encompasses an estimated 1,175 lakes, 1,200 miles of canoe routes, 500 miles of trails, and 2,050 campsites. A 2017 $10,000 REI grant helped support the Superior Wilderness Volunteer Connection program, which engages volunteers to help maintain and improve portage trails, campsites and much more for the 200,000 hikers, campers and paddlers that visit the BWCAW each year. This was their twelfth REI grant.
The San Diego Mountain Biking Association (SDMBA) is a nonprofit organization that works to improve and create more legal trails for all users. A $10,000 REI grant in 2017 helped build more than 80 miles of new trail in the Pamo Valley/Orosco Ridge area of the Cleveland National Forest. Mountain bikers, hikers, and equestrians will benefit from this project. This was their tenth REI grant.
Even More Inventive Philanthropy
Since the co-op’s inception 80 years ago, we have supported a wide variety of stewardship and trail maintenance work. In recent years, we’ve deliberately begun investing in more innovative ways of connecting people to nature.
We launched the Force of Nature Fund. Across the co-op, we focused our efforts in 2017 on creating more opportunities for women and girls to take part in life outdoors. Why? Because we believe the outdoors is—and should always be—the world’s largest level playing field.
REI supported this effort in many ways, including issuing 29 grants totaling $1 million to organizations that connect women and girls to the outdoors. Approximately $500,000 supported current partners and another $500,000 supported organizations that applied through the 2017 Force of Nature Fund (our first ever open grant call).
The National Park Conservation Association (NPCA) received a $25,000 Force of Nature Fund grant to support a national pilot program called “EmpowHER for National Parks.” EmpowHER seeks to educate, engage, and empower a diverse group of 60-100 young women ages 13 and up to serve as park advocates within their local communities and at a national level starting in Los Angeles and San Antonio. Through meaningful, hands-on experiences interacting and connecting with nature and wild spaces through National Parks, these young women will become empowered, gain leadership skills, and grow in confidence to become pioneers as the next generation of environmental advocates.
We entered year three of our rewilding projects. The average American spends 95 percent of their life indoors. One way we help address that problem is by reimagining how people connect to the outdoors in large cities across the country, where so much of our population now resides. Our Rewilding Projects use our broader influence and network to accelerate change in select regions. These are multi-year projects that connect city-dwellers to outdoor spaces.
- Bay Area Ridge Trail: When complete, the Bay Area Ridge Trail will total 550 miles and circumnavigate the Bay Area, surrounding 8 million people. Currently, 365 miles of the trail are open to the public. Our investment is helping accelerate completion by increasing the Bay Area Ridge Council’s capacity and supporting efforts to convene key stakeholders.
- San Gabriel Mountains National Monument: The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument in the Angeles National Forest provides recreational opportunities for millions of people in the Los Angeles area. The co-op’s investment in the National Forest Foundation and The Wilderness Society supports sustainable access, restoring and rerouting trails, enhancing infrastructure, and increasing connectivity between the city and Monument by linking urban trails and developing alternate transit-to-trails transportation options.
- Southeast Chicago: The co-op’s investment is supporting the long-term transformation of the Southeast side into a thriving outdoor recreation hub. This project has supported the development of a brand that raises awareness for the area; planning and implementing transportation options that will improve access for the community; and developing the Big Marsh property to include mixed-use trails, paddling opportunities (in the future), and one of the biggest mountain bike parks in the country. REI is partnering with the Chicago Parks Foundation, Active Transportation Alliance, and Friends of Big Marsh on this project
- Washington, D.C. Capital Trails Coalition: In partnership with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and the Trust for Public Land, the co-op’s investment is supporting the work of the Capital Trails Coalition to complete a more than 500-mile multi-use trail network in the Washington, D.C., region. This project will connect existing trails with new ones to provide outdoor recreation and alternative transportation to more communities.
- Duwamish River Valley Trail Connectivity: In partnership with the Seattle Parks Foundation, Forterra, Cascade Bicycle Club, Trust for Public Land, and Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, this project seeks to advance environmental justice, address racial and neighborhood-level disparities in access to trails and open space, reduce health inequities, and create strong economic opportunities through trail and open space connectivity.
- The Evolution of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie: This wilderness playground is 20 miles from the 15th largest metropolitan area in the nation (Seattle). Few other major population centers stand so close to such vast, accessible, public natural lands. We are partnering with The Greenway Trust to help chart a sustainable future for the Middle Fork, not only by building trails and facilities, but by forging a new model for locally-driven, cooperative land management.
The REI Foundation continues to innovate in connecting people to nature. The Foundation is a separate 501(c)(3) affiliate with a multi-million-dollar endowment that helps us sustain long-range projects. Its primary mission is to connect the next generation of adventurers and environmental stewards to the outdoors by partnering with key organizations that promote the benefits of the outdoors.
See the amount and recipients of annual Foundation grants here. Examples of REI Foundation grants include:
- Camber Outdoors: The co-op has been a longtime supporter of Camber Outdoors (formerly the Outdoor Industry Women's Coalition). REI CEO and president Jerry Stritzke signed a CEO pledge in 2015 to accelerate women's leadership in the outdoor industry. We committed $1.5 million to Camber to spark innovation by, and mentorship of, women entrepreneurs.
- Demonstrating the Health and Nature Connection: The REI Foundation continued a series of investments in university-led research into how time in nature provides physical and mental health benefits. For instance, at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, the REI Foundation is supporting Dr. Nooshin Razani’s research into nature’s impact on children’s health and development, especially in low-income communities. The foundation has been funding research at UC Berkeley on how time outdoors more generally reduces neurological stressors and is conducive to pro-social behavior. And in 2017, it initiated a line of research at the University of Washington examining how group-based expeditions help reduce PTSD symptoms in war veterans.
- Fresh Tracks: Recognizing that time outdoors, especially among groups, can strengthen relationships and open the mind for deep, inspired learning, the REI Foundation again supported the Fresh Tracks initiative. Fresh Tracks enables young leaders from diverse, disadvantaged backgrounds to experience different cultures, explore the outdoors, and build critical leadership and workforce skills using the outdoors as an educational platform.
The REI Foundation researches and invites grant proposals connected to its mission; it does not accept unsolicited proposals. We file a federal Form 990 disclosure each year that details expenses, grant-making and other operating details. The 2016 Form 990 disclosure is the most recent and is available here.
The co-op’s investment in nonprofit partners extends beyond grants. Many of the outdoor places where people love to play can remain open and accessible only with the contribution of volunteer hours and hands-on stewardship. At REI stores across the country, we support and promote nonprofits' efforts (whether grantees or not) to engage volunteers in caring for those outdoor spaces. Our employees also regularly volunteer for stewardship projects, often as team-building activities.
We launched our trail chats program in 2015 in partnership with some of our Every Trail Connects partners. The goal of this program is to engage nonprofits, thought leaders, government agencies, elected officials, local businesses, community members, and co-op employees in meaningful discussions about challenges and opportunities facing the future of the outdoors. We have learned that convening these conversations outside on local trails and waterways helps ignite and inspire discussion in ways that a typical indoor conversation cannot. We believe that listening, learning, sharing, laughing, and exploring outdoors also helps connect diverse groups of people to tackle important issues that impact the outdoor community and their lives at large.
Through our retail stores and distribution centers, we donate a limited amount of REI Co-op Brand gear to nonprofits whose mission is focused on caring for or increasing access to outdoor recreation places, or connecting people to the outdoors. Our store and outreach teams determine which partners to support in their markets based on available budget and local strategy.
Advocacy for the Outdoors
REI drives industry collaboration, establishes community partnerships, and engages public officials with a goal of connecting more Americans to the outdoors through public policy. We believe that a love for the outdoors is one of the rare issues that transcends party lines. That belief grounds our working philosophy on public policy, which is always anchored in the belief that we should be #UnitedOutside. We believe such advocacy is in the best interests of members, employees, and society. Long term, our advocacy efforts focus on:
- Ensuring Access to Public Lands. REI is unwavering in our commitment to the public lands, waters, and parks that Americans have enjoyed for generations. Policymakers need to ensure that all Americans and all demographics have access to inspiring outdoor opportunities – both close to home and in the backcountry.
- Supporting Connected Communities. REI supports policies that create safe routes for biking, walking, and running. As America urbanizes, people need safe access to low-impact outdoor experiences. We are committed to working with policymakers to help create better connected communities.
- Promoting Health and Wellness. REI supports policies and initiatives that increase active, healthy living, and encourage outdoor engagement across demographics. We want all Americans to reap the physical and mental benefits of an outdoor life.
- Sustaining the Co-op and the Planet. We engage on public policy matters that directly impact our daily business operations and the broader outdoor industry. Where we feel the co-op’s voice has out-sized impact, we engage in policy debates on how to address climate change.
In 2017, we leaned into two specific bodies of work: defending the Antiquities Act at the federal level and assuring that state government leaders fully appreciate the outdoor sector’s economic and societal contributions.
Defending the Antiquities Act
Nationally, 2017 proved to be one of the more tumultuous political years in decades. Of particular concern to the co-op were steps taken to dramatically reduce access to our public lands. The Department of Interior reviewed 27 National Monuments, and took several steps to reduce acreage that had been conserved for adventure and solitude in nature. This equated to the largest rollback of protected lands in American history. We believe that actions affecting the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante Monuments in Utah not only limit recreation access in that state, but threatened to undermine the integrity of the Antiquities Act of 1906. The Antiquities Act has been used by 16 presidents of both parties for more than a century to conserve for all Americans the richness and beauty of the nation’s most unique outdoor places.
In response to the Administration’s review of monuments, the co-op engaged constructively and in an effort to unite across party lines. We leveraged our cooperative spirit, REI and our industry and nonprofit partners came together like never before. We helped assemble industry letters to our lawmakers, eventually attaining signatures from hundreds of CEOs; we posted op-eds; helped lead an industry and NGO walk to the Utah state capitol; and brought this issue to the attention of our members and staff, helping millions of Americans constructively share their views with the Department of the Interior. Through this work, we believe the co-op helped build a cohesive view of the value – economically and societally – of our public lands and, in so doing, helped the outdoor community realize the strength of its collective voice. This work will continue.
Raising Awareness of the Sector’s Breadth and Depth
The U.S. Department of Commerce recently estimated that outdoor recreation accounts for at least two percent of GDP (more than either mining/extraction or utilities). However, the heft of the sector is not fully appreciated by either state or federal policymakers. One fundamental challenge is that outdoor enthusiasts are spread from coast to coast, living in both rural America and urban centers, and not organized like a singular population. The places outdoor enthusiasts love also are diverse. And many of the businesses we frequent are Main Street, mom-and-pop operations. So despite the amount of time and number of dollars Americans spend outdoors, unifying our voices is not easy.
As steps to overcome that challenge, REI continues to support efforts that quantify the size of the recreation economy. We have come to appreciate that lawmakers more fully embrace the importance of the outdoors when it is seen as not only good for the adventurous individual, but also good for the economy. To this end, in 2017 REI helped unveil the latest industry assessment of the sector’s size. Per industry economists, Americans annually spend $887 billion on outdoor recreation, and the sector directly supports over 7 million jobs.
On a parallel track, the co-op and our industry and nonprofit partners have been working in state capitals to assure that governors and legislators know the full value of outdoor recreation to their individual states’ quality-of-life and economic well-being. Many states take pride in their high-tech employers and manufacturers. Our sector is on a path to ensure state decision makers know that outdoor recreation is integral to their states’ success. At the beginning of 2017, three states had created advisors to their governors, or “outdoor recreation sector leaders.” By the end of the year, five more had joined those ranks. And in January of 2018, all eight states, plus a collection of delegates, came together in Denver for the first-ever “confluence” or congress of state recreation leaders and advocates. The goal is to advance principles and best practices that elevate the outdoors to the top-tier of state lawmakers’ priorities.
Collaborating with Industry Partners
To complement our own advocacy efforts, we invest in organizations that likewise advocate on behalf of the outdoors. These organizations share our goal of maintaining recreational access and transforming the recreational landscape in our own backyard and across the country. Our national reach puts us in a unique position to convene outdoor industry partners, policymakers, volunteers, vendors, nonprofits, and trade associations to support the outdoors. Our goal is to catalyze stakeholder collaboration, amplify our shared voice, and realize our collective potential to influence and enact change. The Outdoor Industry Association’s (OIA’s) government affairs team is one of our core partners in this effort. On a state by state and a regional basis, we work with them to create or join coalitions that share our objectives. For issues that specifically affect retailers, we participate in some of the policy initiatives driven by the Retail Industry Leaders Association. In Washington State, we are members of the Washington Retail Association.
Federal and state laws require REI to file forms describing certain, more detailed, aspects of our work on policy matters. These disclosures are updated on a regular basis. We believe the most useful tools for tracking the data are:
- Public disclosure for federal policy advocacy
- Lobbying disclosure for federal policy advocacy
- Policy advocacy in Washington state
With respect to financing campaigns for public office, REI as a company makes no contributions to candidates, either directly or indirectly via super PACs. REI employees and executives may choose to make personal contributions to political campaigns. In addition, the OIA operates a political action committee, and eligible REI employees may make contributions to it. At both the federal level and the state level, there are systems in place that capture and disclose information about campaign contributions. In our view, the best tools for tracking that data are: