REI Cooperative Action Fund will focus on diversity, equality, and inclusion-oriented outdoor organizations.

REI to Retire Its Charitable Foundation in Favor of DEI-Focused ‘Action Fund’

REI Co-op’s Cooperative Action Fund is the retailer’s latest, and most comprehensive, move into philanthropy based in diversity, equality, and inclusion. In its first motion, the outdoor retailer pledged $1 million to 19 DEI-focused outdoor organizations.

On Oct. 4, REI introduced the REI Cooperative Action Fund, a public nonprofit arm with a smaller, specified focus and broader, deeper funding opportunity.

Unlike the co-op’s prior nonprofit efforts, the fund accepts contributions and donations from the public writ large, not just REI employees and members.

The new “community charity pot” model, the brand hopes, will foster more rapid seeding — and thereby, expansion — of the Action Fund. And in helping get the Fund off the ground, REI said it will “wind down” its current charitable arm, the REI Foundation.

It’s part of the co-op’s broader turn to diversity — a new era in which REI plays an active role in influencing environmental policy and producing a diversity-oriented podcast series.

What’s the Big (RE)Idea?

But there’s more to this move than casting a wider net for funding. It’s also meant to improve the organization’s collaborative network.

“REI has worked for decades to drive meaningful change against some of the most complex issues facing our industry and society,” explained Kristen Ragain, Cooperative Action Fund managing director.

“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.”

REI leadership provided its meta-level strategy, which consists of three tines:

  • Commitment of its funds to support DEI-focused outdoor organizations “led by and serving Black communities, Indigenous peoples, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, people with physical disabilities, and women”
  • Continued improvement of outdoor access and environmental conditions through localized carbon reduction projects
  • Strengthening and fortification of Traditional Ecological Knowledge, science-led research, and educational initiatives

Contributing to REI Cooperative Action Fund

REI Action Fund shot
(Photo/REI Co-op)

There are several avenues through which employees, members, and non-members can contribute:

  • Making a direct donation: Anyone can donate to the fund on a one-time or recurring basis. REI notes that all donations to the fund are tax-deductible.
  • Purchasing REI gift cards: Through 2021, $1 per every REI gift card purchased in-store, online, or through REI’s app will go toward the fund.
  • Picking up Cooperative Action Fund swag: REI launched a special Cooperative Action Fund line of goods; the fund receives 10% of the proceeds from the collection sales.
  • Using the REI Co-op World Elite Mastercard: This year, REI will donate up to $1 million to the REI Cooperative Action Fund on behalf of its cardmembers.

Financial support isn’t the only option. In its announcement, the company also promoted neighborly vibes, civic methods, and greater consumer consciousness:

  • Working with the Cooperative Action Network: Anyone can “voice their support” for outdoors-minded legislation.
  • Shopping through REI Used Gear: The brand encourages folks to purchase and trade in their outdoor gear and apparel through its Good & Used gear site. Through it, REI accepts, refurbishes (or responsibly retires), and recirculates used hardgoods and softgoods from a litany of labels.
  • Nominating a grantee: REI members, employees, and the general public can recommend potential grantees insofar as they align with the Action Fund’s mission.

Out With the Old

As it ramps up focus on the Action Fund, REI plans to taper off the old private REI Foundation. According to the Oct. 4 press release, REI will siphon the old Foundation’s $6 million coffers to the Cooperative Action Fund “[i]n the coming years.” So, the exact timetable for rerouting is a bit unclear for now.

But, in the meantime, the company looks to its initial funding, 20 million REI Co-op members, 15,000-plus employees, and limitless untapped non-member potential to effect the change it has in mind. As part of the press announcement, REI’s chief customer officer, Ben Steele, elaborated:

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. We believe connection to nature is fundamental for the health and well-being of all people and that time outside is a human right.

Learn more at REIfund.org.

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Jilli Cluff
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Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college. After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing — and life would never be the same. She now works as a contributor, gear tester, and editor for GearJunkie and other outlets within the AllGear family. She is based out of Atlanta, Georgia where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.