Sunday Afternoons has carved a successful niche and customer following over the last 25 years for its line of sun protective hats and other clothing items. But it’s “giving back” program could be considered a template for other businesses seeking to become more socially responsible corporate citizens.
When the International Dark Sky Association needed financial support and a platform for educating people on the impact of light pollution on the environment, it found a willing partner in Oregon-based Sunday Afternoons Inc.
Together, the two organizations developed a new product line for Sunday Afternoons, the Constellation Collection, which features a theme of stars, planets, and constellations in the design and hat names. The line was inspired by a theme of “one big sky under which we all live and play,” said Sarah Sameh, Sunday Afternoons’ chief executive officer for the past two years.
The new product line was launched with a cause marketing campaign that generated awareness for both the products and International Dark Sky Association’s work to preserve the night skies. The campaign includes educational outreach as well. Sunday Afternoons and Dark Sky will promote five stellar places to enjoy the night sky.
“It’s an authentic relationship,” said David Ashley, the international association’s associate director of philanthropy. “They’re open to collaboration and brainstorming. That’s really great for us,” he continues, “because it’s a struggle to get the word out.”
Likewise, She Jumps, a nonprofit devoted to educating women and girls about the outdoors, used a generous donation from Sunday Afternoons to run a camp in Utah this fall.
The partnership started when Sunday Afternoons agreed to give between $1,500 to $2,000 to She Jumps from hat sales at a trade show, said Smallwood.
The final amount grew to more than $3,000.
“We weren’t expecting that,” said Smallwood. “It felt incredibly empowering to our organization. And that was money that we hadn’t budgeted for the year.”
Giving this type of unrestricted funding with no strings attached to a nonprofit “will make a big impact even if it’s as small as $500 or $5,000,” said Smallwood.
“We’re hoping this is just the beginning of a long partnership” with Sunday Afternoons, she said.
“We were honored” by the more than $3,000 gift, said Claire Smallwood, She Jumps’ executive director and a founder. “It’s a feeling that you’ve made it.”
Building a culture of giving
Sunday Afternoons’ giving back program formally dates to 2009 through the leadership of company founders Robbin and Angeline Lacy, who caught the entrepreneurial bug while living off the grid in Northern California.
Their initial product? All-weather “Adventure Blankets” that they made and sold at weekend craft shows. That success led to sun protective headgear, and sales orders followed.
The Lacy’s officially launched Sunday Afternoons in 1992. The company — a C2FO client — draws its name from the owners’ favorite day of the week — a time when families can slow down and spend quality time together.
Over the last 25 years, Sunday Afternoons carved a successful niche and customer following over the last 25 years for its line of sun protective hats and other clothing items, but its “giving back” program could be considered a template for other small businesses seeking to become more socially responsible corporate citizens.
Find authentic partnerships, especially for cause-based marketing efforts
As a company built around outdoor products, it’s no surprise that Sunday Afternoons channels its support to groups that, as stated on its website, “conserve natural wonders and improve communities for future generations.” Organizations they support are 501(c)(3) nonprofit partners devoted to outdoor education, preserving water, wildlands and wildlife, and protecting the environment from light pollution.
But the vetting process doesn’t stop there. It might require a phone call or a face-to-face meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page. Sunday Afternoons lends a hand to not only large organizations with broad reach, but smaller groups in its own backyard around Ashland, Ore.
“We have a conversation with them,” Sameh said. “We want to know what are they working on and how might we help. It becomes a relationship that can be built in many different ways.”
Unlike some companies that rely on strict guidelines for corporate giving, Sunday Afternoons doesn’t have a written policy or system in place. Rather, it simply tries to connect with 501(c)(3) organizations that share similar values and ethics, said Sarah Sameh, Sunday Afternoons’ chief executive officer for the past two years.
Your need for guidelines may depend on the size of your organization or turnover of staff. The most important thing is consistency of partnerships with your brand mission and clarity of your purpose.
“It’s not a formal process,” said Sameh, “but it’s something we take seriously.”
Authentic partnerships are critical for success, especially if a brand is planning cause marketing efforts. Consumers can be quick to call out inauthentic partnerships and any type of “greenwashing.” Brands must choose nonprofit partnerships and the shared activities carefully, especially when it involves cause marketing.
Cause-based marketing — done properly — builds sales and expands the customer base. Research shows that when given a choice, shoppers are more likely to buy from a company that shares similar values.
The “right” thing to do will vary by partner and your business situation
Sunday Afternoons’ relationships go deeper than just writing a check or filling a table at a luncheon — though the business often delivers both.
Its philanthropic approach also entails recognizing like-minded non-profit organizations on its website and other social media platforms, donating hundreds of hats to volunteers at fund-raisers, committing time to serve on boards of directors, underwriting conferences and trade show appearances, and providing employee manpower for community service projects.
Call it a mixture of caused-based marketing and corporate social responsibility. Sunday Afternoons employs elements of both.
Some partnerships have larger potential, such as Sunday Afternoons’ support of the International Dark Sky Association. The organizations collaborated on a product line, awareness campaign and educational outreach.
Some organizations would prefer more product donations and marketing exposure than monetary contributions, said Katy Paulino, Sunday Afternoons’ chief financial officer.
Economic conditions also can dictate the nature of support. Many small businesses face a quandary: They want to take on causes in their community with dollars, time and manpower. But that can drain resources away from hitting bottom-line numbers. There’s only so much money and a limited number of times you can say “yes” to an organization seeking support.
“If it’s a good year, we may do more monetary contributions than product donations,” Paulino said. “We can also give our time, which is not something to underestimate.”
Follow your heart and give where you can make a difference, says Sameh. “It could be helping a cause that’s off the beaten path…They need support just like big causes,” Sameh said.
Secondly, focus on what your company can afford to give, and be proud of those accomplishments, no matter how small or large.
Doing good is good for business
From product expansion to brand awareness and increased sales, fostering an attitude of giving back to the community benefits a business. Supporting nonprofit organizations also creates a positive corporate culture and boosts employee satisfaction.
Sunday Afternoons, for example, encourages its 38 employees to get involved in the community. Starting next year, Sunday Afternoons expects to offer every employee a paid day off to volunteer at a nonprofit.
Joining a committee or providing sweat equity “helps a younger workforce understand what it looks like” to become engaged in helping others, Sameh said.
What’s next for Sunday Afternoons?
Sunday Afternoons’ executive team knows they still must take care of the company’s bottom line for there to be resources to donate.
While not disclosing specific financial results, the privately held company has traditionally experienced year-to-year growth of 8 to 10 percent, said Paulino. However, she said, 2016 was an “exceptional” year with over 100 percent growth.
Part of that was due to expanded product lines, stronger direct-to-consumer sales on its website and at its retail store in Ashland, a surge in international sales — products are now sold in 48 countries — and key retail relationships with companies such as REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Cabela’s, L.L. Bean, and Amazon.com.
Sunday Afternoons recently introduced a knit line of caps for men and women to help reach a broader audience in the fall and winter, including shoppers looking for more fashion-oriented headwear. The company’s line-up of kids products, including caps for babies, continues to grow. Altogether, Sunday Afternoons offers about 575 different products.
And for a company known for innovation, its designers and researchers are always testing different patterns, different colors, and different fabrics.
Internally, Paulino said the company is concentrating on getting product inventory out the door from manufacturing and supply chain partners in Vietnam, China, Canada, and Mexico and onto the retail floor in shorter timeframes.
That’s where C2FO helps.
A partner since 2016, Paulino said Sunday Afternoon relies on C2FO for early payments on accounts so it can maintain its cash flow. “It’s a very easy tool to use,” she said.
Now that the company’s founders have stepped back from daily involvement in Sunday Afternoons, a big part of Sameh’s focus involves mentoring three members of the second generation of the Lacy family to develop in their roles within the company — and in their community.
Sunday Afternoons enthusiastically promotes its partners.
The “Giving Back” section on its website currently highlights six organizations. There’s also a link to the home page of each nonprofit.
- The International Dark Sky Association, which works to protect the night skies from light pollution.
- She Jumps, which is committed to increasing the participation of women and girls in outdoor activities.
- Water Watch, which helps protect and restore Oregon’s rivers, streams and lakes for fish, wildlife and people.
- Rogue Valley Farm to School, which educates students about the food chain.
- Southern Oregon Land Conservancy, which focuses on protecting working farms, ranches, forests, rivers and streams in the Rogue River region.
- KS Wild, which advocates for the protection and restoration of the environment in southwest Oregon and northwestern California.
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