While we're certainly the biggest proponents of making social good a priority in the sports industry, we also realize these efforts can have their fair share of challenges, from identifying the right relationship, agreeing on goals to addressing the financial hurdles. And then, there are often logistical issues to making a for-profit/nonprofit collaborative program a reality, especially when scaling up on a level where it can have significant national impact. When you have 635 locations around the country and over 11,000 employees, these issues are a definite reality. But that didn't seem to slow down the folks at Finish Line, one of the nation's leading athletic footwear retailers.
As a company, Finish Line is already well beyond the standard "pick a charity - write the big check - take the photo - get the story" scenario. The company's charitable arm - Finish Line Youth Foundation (FLYF) - has been active since 1998 through grants supporting programs around the country that "place an importance on youth development and a healthy, active lifestyle" as well as emergency funds for disaster relief, providing aid in recent years to the communities of Joplin, Southern Indiana, New Orleans and Haiti.
Internally, the company was seeking a national program where they could engage their employees and activate their participation on a local level. So they did their homework, hiring a research firm to poll employees around the country and at Finish Line HQ in Indianapolis to identify a cause that resonated and presented the best fit, and Special Olympics was the clear favorite.
Special Olympics is one of the most well-known organizations in the sports nonprofit space, thanks to a long history, global reach, high-profile support and most of all, impactful sports and health programming for people with intellectual disabilities. Finish Line's research found this was the cause their employees were most interested in supporting, as they understood and greatly appreciated the Special Olympics mission and programs. At the same time, they also realized there's still a need to clarify what Special Olympics does within the communities they serve.
As such, a big part of the collaboration going forward is on education and awareness at the store level. "We feel the education side is our responsibility to our employees as well as to our customers," said Marty Posch, Executive Director of the Finish Line Youth Foundation. "If we can get our employees AND our customers talking about Special Olympics, that can build both engagement and financial support for the organization in their community.”
This is one of the more unique nonprofit/retail relationship in the sports industry, as there are layers beyond traditional in-store exposure and fundraising initiatives. Finish Line employees will be volunteering at the Special Olympics Summer Games in Indiana and at other events in Chicago and Atlanta this spring, and additional markets will be added in the coming years. And the sale of Special Olympics branded merchandise at 635 locations nationwide kicks-off with the back-to-school shopping season.
Finish Line has also chosen to support a new Special Olympics initiative, serving as the only national sponsor of the organizations' new TRAIN program - a first of its kind sports assessment and nutrition education program designed to help athletes stay active, stay healthy, and achieve their personal best. In addition to helping to finance the program, Finish Line employees will help activate the TRAIN program for Special Olympics athletes in key markets.
The program kicked off this month in Chicago with upcoming events in Atlanta (5/19) and Indianapolis (6/01). "Our plan is to get it right in these markets, then roll this out on a larger scale from there," said Posch.
For more on the relationship, check out the official press release and visit Finish Line Youth Foundation