Stop by REI for Some Expensive Socks and Maybe a Trails Grant

Anyone who’s walked into one of those REI mega-stores on a Saturday knows that place is a gold mine. A fleece gold mine. But the outdoor gear retailer gives some back, recently announcing $4.6 million in grants for parks, trails, and other outdoor recreation areas. 

Outdoor recreation may be about getting back to nature, but it’s also big business. Just ask REI, which topped a whopping $2 billion in sales in 2013. REI is also a co-op, albeit a gigantic one, that pays out modest dividends to its 5 million members. As part of its outdoor recreation initiative, it runs classes, leads trips, organizes volunteer work, and yes, makes grants

The company (fine, the co-op), just announced its 2014 grants of $4.6 million, to a lengthy list of 300 grantees. This is up from the previous year, when the co-op made $3 million in corporate grants. (Most of REI’s giving comes right from the company, but it does have a separate foundation that, in 2013, made about half a million in grants.) They’ve given around $37 million to nonprofits in the past decade. 

As you might expect, REI tends to give to the environment; specifically, feeding the golden goose—recreation. That means parks, trails and waterways across the country, along with some funding for regional and national groups. 

Grantees have included groups working on bicycling, running and hiking paths; maintaining climbing landscapes; and general protection of open space for recreation. For example, The Trustees of Reservations in Massachusetts receives funding to preserve scenic places in the state, including 320 miles of trails. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association was funded to help create a healthier, more livable D.C. and plan a network of bike trails. And they also back that philanthropic favorite, Friends of the High Line, which maintains the smash-hit park on an elevated rail line on Manhattan’s West Side. 

One curious thing that we see sometimes in corporate retail foundations is that their grant process involves their stores, with employees serving as de facto program staff. In the case of REI, they don’t even take proposals; the local staff endorse organizations they value for funding. Guidelines suggest getting involved with local REI activities so they can get to know you. Maybe it's time to buy a kayak.