Vista Outdoor Inc. is among the outdoor-focused public companies that have benefited from a surge in more people venturing outside to hike, bike, hunt, fish, or ski. The Anoka, Minn.-based corporation—whose portfolio includes CamelBak, Camp Chef, Bell, Giro, QuietKat, and others—has been riding an impressive growth streak as outdoor consumers buy products from its suite of brands.
Now, the company is leveraging that success with the launch of the Vista Outdoor Corporate Foundation. Vista Outdoor is making an initial contribution of $3 million to the foundation, which next month will begin accepting funding requests from nonprofit organizations for a range of grants.
Vista said the foundation, whose board of directors will include representatives from across the Vista organization, will partner with “nonprofits that support conservation, outdoor access and other causes aligned with Vista Outdoor’s purpose, vision, and commitments.”
To learn more about the Vista Outdoor Corporate Foundation, Outside Business Journal spoke with Fred Ferguson, Vista’s vice president of public affairs and communications, and Dylan Ramsey, the company’s general counsel and corporate secretary who also will serve as the initial chairman of the foundation’s board of directors. Here’s what they shared.
Why the foundation and why now?
Ramsey: Like any company, there are pressures to scale back or scale up partnerships depending on how the business is doing, which is reasonable since we’re a public company with investors. By setting aside some money now in a good year, we feel like we can make longer-term commitments to our partners. That’s the animating force behind setting up a foundation. We can link arms with our partners to make a long-term impact.
Ferguson: Since our September 2019 Investor Day, a lot of change has happened with the company. We had just come off a divestiture of one of our larger businesses and had begun the transformation of Vista Outdoor. Our CEO, Chris Metz, challenged but also encouraged us to do more. It’s been this culture change since that investor day where this idea of doing well so we can do good has caught fire. This past year has been a successful one financially, but as you’re seeing with the foundation, it’s allowed us to lean into that purposeful philosophy that we all share. Doing good in business and doing good in the community are not mutually exclusive.
The foundation doesn’t begin accepting applications in July, but has there already been some response to the unveiling of the charity?
Ferguson: The phone calls are starting to heat up, as expected and as welcomed. We’re hearing from people we already know, but the exciting part is we’re hearing from people we don’t know. One of the planks of the foundation is “how do we expand access?” To do that, we must be willing and able to talk to people we haven’t historically spoken with. That’s a goal for the entire board as we roll out the foundation. If we can bring new people into outdoor sports and outdoor recreation, that will be a long-term measure of success that we’ll grade ourselves against.
Can you share a bit more about the types of nonprofits the foundation will support?
Ramsey: Vista Outdoor is something of a big tent for the outdoors. We have products that serve hunters, hikers, bikers, skiers—anything that you can do in the outdoors, we have a product that you can use. Our vision for the foundation is similar. We want to find those common-ground causes, the ones that unite all outdoor enthusiasts. That could mean protecting open space, getting kids off screens and outside, expanding access, diversifying outdoor sports. These are causes that all outdoor enthusiasts, all our customers, all our employees can find some common ground on and agree on. They’re good for our industry, they’re good for our business, they’re good for our people. That’s where we want to put our weight. Our brands will continue to have their specific charitable partnerships where they want to build their brand and build their partnerships with groups that are more narrowly focused, but for the corporate brand, we are looking for those common ground causes.
Is there another corporate foundation that inspired this move?
Ramsey: Vista is a bit unique, and I wouldn’t say that we looked to anyone for a direct model, but we were inspired by some of our peers like VF Corporation’s and REI Co-op’s foundations that have done some fantastic work. However, I think this will be unique. It will be a very “Vista-flavored” foundation in our criteria and who we partner with.
When does Vista Outdoor plan to kick in additional funding—and how much—for the foundation?
Ramsey: We haven’t come out with an explicit kind of number for Vista’s ongoing support for the foundation. I think that will be something we evaluate from year to year, depending on business conditions and other factors. We feel the initial grant of $3 million is a good start, and it allows us to make some longer-term commitments to some of our partners. That $3 million will go a long way, but it’s not going to last forever.
Are you able to provide a grant amount range for applicants?
Ferguson: We’re going to play it by ear and see how the applications come in and then make decisions about amounts, especially in this first year. We don’t want to have criteria that are so rigid that we close ourselves off, but at the same time, we realize that that specificity helps the grantees. We’re going to grow into that.
Ramsey: It will be based on the needs and merits of the grant requests that we have. We’re going to take those requests one at a time. We have certain minimums from the 501(c)3 regs that we must distribute 5 percent of the foundation, but I think we’ll exceed that. The value here is not in what we give this year. It’s not about giving a partner $10,000 or $50,000 this year. It’s about committing to giving a partner that amount for the next five years, and then working together over those five years to achieve some goals together. It gives our partners a little more assurance that this tool will be there for them.
So the foundation is a long-term plan for Vista?
Ramsey: Absolutely. This $3 million is us setting aside a nest egg for long-term partnerships, but I don’t think anybody here imagines that’s going to be the last contribution Vista makes to the foundation. The foundation will be the primary vehicle for our charitable partnerships going forward. This is Vista’s institutional commitment to help serve those causes that we all care about.