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SNEWS Qs: Sally Grimes talks philanthropy and business

In her new position at Benchmark Outdoor Outfitters, Sally Grimes is hard at work supporting organizations that get kids outdoors.

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Former executive director for the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition, Sally Grimes, has continued advocating for the future of the outdoor industry in her new position as the vice-president of retail operations and marketing at Benchmark Outdoor Outfitters in Cincinnati, Ohio.


The industry veteran is currently working to support Outdoor Adventure Clubs, a project of Green Umbrella in Cincinnati, Ohio. Grimes chatted with SNEWS recently about philanthropy and business and how to get the ball rolling on both.

Throughout the month of October, Benchmark is launching a gear drive to provide local youth with gear they could keep and continue to use on outdoor adventures. The retailer is looking to both industry manufacturers and local customers for help.

“We know many of our customers are replacing their gear and have gently-used gear at home, so if we can be the conduit to get that gear to kids and enable kids to get outside more, then we wouldn’t miss the opportunity,” Grimes said. Any person who donates gear will get a 20 percent discount to the store.

Tell us about Benchmark’s gear drive?
During a conversation with Denny McFadden, who runs Outdoor Adventure Club (OAC), he mentioned that the next step is to get gear that the kids can keep, so that after they’ve participated in the club, done the tutorials, and gotten outside to try the activity a couple of times, they could have the gear they needed to get outside on their own. To help reach that goal, we are going to ask our customers to bring in their gently-used or new gear that they don’t want anymore, to donate to the OAC.

OAC would also happily accept donations from any industry vendors as well. They are looking for tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, stoves, cookware, food, flashlights – basically any camping gear you can think of.

Why is the Outdoor Adventure Clubs is a worthy cause to support?
For a few years now, the outdoor industry has talked a lot about the need to get more kids outside and to reach more diverse audiences. Here at the Benchmark, we couldn’t agree more, and the OAC does a bang-up job of reaching both of those goals, nearly quadrupling its reach to inner-city high school kids in just one year

The OAC started last year by hosting recruiting events at three public high schools to see if kids (the vast majority of whom have never done any kind of outdoor activity) were interested in participating in outdoor activities. Hundreds of kids came to the recruiting fairs and about 50 ended up participating. These after-school clubs included tutorials on biking, camping, paddling and then monthly outings for each of these activities.

Our community in Cincinnati received this new program so wholeheartedly via media, partner support and more that OAC was approached by funders, and thanks to a local Foundation, is fully funded for the current school year. This year, the program is at 11 public high schools (up from three) and is expanding into snowsports and other areas.

How did the store get involved with the Outdoor Adventure Clubs?
Benchmark is a member of Green Umbrella, a coalition of all outdoor and environmental groups in the Cincinnati region, and is an active participant in the Meet Me Outdoors team of Green Umbrella. OAC began as a brainstorming session at a Meet Me Outdoors meeting, and the program took off from there. When the organizers were ready to host their first outreach events, they called all of the local outdoor retailers, including Benchmark, to ask for help.

Tell us about the tutorials you held last year for the program?
The tutorials were held once a week at three different high schools in the city. Each month the presenters focused on a topic and went to the three schools, three weeks in a row (one school per week). One month focused on hiking and backpacking, the next month focused on mountain biking, and the third month focused on kayaking. At the end of each month, the kids from all three high schools went on a field trip to get outside and participate in the activities they had learned about during the tutorials.

What was the student response to the tutorials?
Kids loved learning about each outdoor activity and checking out the cool gear. They also enjoyed hearing about outdoor adventures and looking at pictures taken by the presenters. Knowledge of and experience with the equipment prior to the actual field trip eased student fears and gave them a greater sense of confidence for the actual trip. Students who attended the tutorials were visibly more excited about getting outdoors. During the field trips, these students became helpful mentors to students who had not attended the tutorials.

What is your advice to other retailers in finding a nonprofit to work with?
It is key to find the right nonprofit partner and then do all you can to support that nonprofit. But one retailer can’t do it alone. In Cincinnati we have been lucky to partner with Green Umbrella, which has accomplished amazing collaborative efforts by bringing together all of the outdoor recreation and park groups in the region. If that doesn’t exist in your region, I would start by bringing together all of the recreation groups so they can begin working together towards common goals.

How does participating with programs like this help your business?
People like to know that they are helping, so we are providing a way for our customers to contribute to this outstanding program. In addition, programs like this are critical for the success or our entire industry. None of us will have customers years from now if today’s kids don’t care about being outside.

McFadden at Outdoor Adventure Clubs and Grimes at Benchmark are more than happy to talk to any retailers or vendors who are interested in supporting this program or getting a similar program started in their community. McFadden can be reached at and Grimes can be reached at