“We did an employee survey a year-and-a-half ago, and [it] told us that one of the things our employees were concerned with was a cause,” said Melissa Greenwell, SVP of human resources at the firm. “They wanted the company they worked for to have a cause.”
Although Finish Line has long had a charitable component, the company responded to the feedback this spring by taking its efforts to the next level, signing the Special Olympics as its signature beneficiary and forging a long-term partnership with the organization. The alliance provides opportunities for Finish Line staff to volunteer, including at the 2012 Special Olympics Summer Games in Terre Haute, Ind., Chicago and Atlanta, with more cities to be added as the affiliation grows. The company is also the national sponsor of the Special Olympics’ new TRAIN program, in which employees team up with athletes for athletic assessments and educational programming. Later this fall, Finish Line will sell Special Olympics merchandise in most of its stores and online.
The retailer first began formalizing its philanthropic pursuits in 1998, when it created the Finish Line Youth Foundation, which supports athletic programs, camps and scholarships for children. Employees also have participated in the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Big Brothers Big Sisters. But the Special Olympics is a particularly good fit with Finish Line’s mission to celebrate all types of athletic achievements, according to Greenwell, who is spearheading that program.
“Without question, [the Special Olympics] will be a very important part of our brand going forward,” she said. “[It] is not only important to our employees but also to our customers. When thinking about our target customers — 18- to 29-year-olds — research has indicated this age bracket is very concerned with philanthropy, community development and global causes.”
The Special Olympics organization has more than 4 million athletes in 171 countries who participate in 50,000 competitions.
“Special Olympics is a sports organization and Finish Line is a sports brand,” said Special Olympics chief marketing and development officer Cyndi Court, adding that the retailer pledged its support for five years, but she hopes to extend that for an even longer term. “Finish Line and Special Olympics have some shared values. Being active and supporting athletes to achieve their personal best is core to [both organizations’] values. The fact that Finish Line has selected us as their single signature cause partner gives us an opportunity to connect in meaningful ways with their employees, their consumers and their vendors.”
Finish Line staffers Chad Edmunson and Kamaron Gray noted that participating in the Special Olympics has had a significant impact on a personal level and on the company culture.
Edmunson, the firm’s VP of real estate, recently participated in a pilot program for the TRAIN program at Finish Line’s headquarters in Indianapolis. “It was tremendous and very rewarding,” he said. “You got to see first-hand the dedication and the talent level these athletes possess. It’s also important to show [Finish Line] customers and the community that we are about more than just selling sneakers and athletic apparel.”
Gray, a product merchandiser for Finish Line, also volunteered for TRAIN. “It’s an interactive experience with the athletes,” he said. “[The athlete with whom I was paired] had Down syndrome, so being able to interact and understand what that was all about, and have face-to-face contact, was what I enjoyed. One thing I learned was that you can interact normally with people from all walks of life. We have differences, but we have a lot more similarities.”