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Outside Business Journal

REI Launches DEI-Focused Charity with Initial $1 Million Investment

The REI Cooperative Action Fund will support “nonprofit organizations promoting justice, equity and belonging in the outdoors”

REI storefront
Eric Smith

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REI Co-op is putting its money where its heart is.

The Seattle-based outdoor retailer, which has been ramping up its diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, on Monday announced the creation of the REI Cooperative Action Fund, a 501(c)3 charity whose grantmaking efforts will support “nonprofit organizations promoting justice, equity and belonging in the outdoors.”

REI said the new community-supported public charity “harnesses the collective strength and size of the co-op’s 20 million members and more than 15,000 employees, empowering them to fight for a more sustainable and equitable future for the planet and the people on it.”

The Fund will allow co-op members, employees, and the public to contribute and support nonprofits that are working to make the outdoors more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. 

“We believe connection to nature is fundamental for the health and well-being of all people and that time outside is a human right,” said Ben Steele, REI chief customer officer. “As a community of millions of members, thousands of employees, and hundreds of partners, we are uniquely positioned to drive meaningful change. Through the REI Cooperative Action Fund, we can harness the collective strength of the co-op to ensure that all people have their right to the outdoors protected.”

REI is launching the Fund with $1 million to support 19 nonprofits. As contributions roll in over time, the Fund will “scale this investment accordingly.” The Fund will focus its grantmaking on three specific initiatives: 

  • Connecting more people outside: This includes “outdoor-focused organizations led by and serving Black communities, Indigenous peoples, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, people with physical disabilities, and women.”
  • Creating more space outside: This includes nonprofits that “increase equitable access to the outdoors, with specific emphasis on community-led carbon reduction projects that bring environmental benefits closer to home for marginalized communities.”
  • Centering health outside: This includes organizations that “strengthen and amplify scientific research, and support Traditional Ecological Knowledge to demonstrate that time outside improves mental, physical and emotional health and well-being.”

“REI has worked for decades to drive meaningful change against some of the most complex issues facing our industry and society,” said Kristen Ragain, managing director of the REI Cooperative Action Fund. “Now, with the REI Cooperative Action Fund, everyone can contribute to the organizations, community leaders, and initiatives building more just, accessible, and inclusive outdoor spaces and places for everyone.”

The Fund will have its own board of directors, staff, and compensated community advisers. REI said it “will continue to invest more broadly in its local, national nonprofit partners through its annual philanthropic giving while providing additional support for the Fund’s operations and grantmaking. In the coming years, REI will wind down its private charity, the REI Foundation, and direct its $6 million to the Fund. To start, REI will also pay the full salary of every staff member of the Fund and provide compensation for the Fund’s community advisers and board members. This will ensure that 100 percent of donations from the general public to the Fund are invested in organizations promoting justice, equity, and inclusion in the outdoors.”

REI members and the public can support the Fund through various means, including direct donations, purchases with the REI Mastercard, purchases of REI gift cards, purchases of certain products, and recommending future grantees.

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