How Big City Mountaineers Works with Corporate Partners to Get Kids Outside

    November 13, 2017
    by Emma Walker

    Big City Mountaineers’ (BCM) weeklong wilderness expeditions and camps offer under-resourced teens opportunities to build critical life skills through the framework of the hands-on, in-person setting of the Great Outdoors. Trips are made up of a one-to-one ratio of teens to adults, so kids build relationships with adult mentors. At BCM, we rely on “People, Partnerships, and Places” to fulfill our mission. People are our volunteer mentors and supporters, Partnerships are the youth agencies and institutional funders, and Places are the inspirational public lands we visit with our kids. Our multi-faceted approach makes it possible to run about 50 expeditions and 14 overnight camps each year. BCM runs programs out of its headquarters in Denver, Colorado, as well as Miami, Boston, Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco, serving more than 800 teens annually.

    For us, ensuring each trip is safe, fun, and effective requires contributions from many different players. Most notably it has been the partnership of the outdoor industry that has helped BCM succeed for the past 27 years. Our corporate partners have supported us and our kids by outfitting them from head to toe for trips, sponsoring our programs at multiple levels (individual students, entire expeditions, or regional programs), and by hosting BCM “graduates” as interns or summer seasonals. Here’s how we engage our corporate partners to get more kids outside.

    Public Recognition
    For each sponsorship, we aim to deliver some benefit back to companies in terms of marketing or public recognition. Our social media coordinator and a corporate relations director organize our communications to support and recognize each sponsor. We set very clear goals to recognize varying levels of support and we articulate this directly to each sponsor ahead of time.

    With many of our corporate sponsors we engage in cause-related marketing campaigns through which a percent of sales connected to a product’s promotion goes back to BCM. This year, we’re working with Vibram to support their “Sole Factor” campaign. Through this partnership, Vibram makes a donation back to BCM for every boot re-soled with a “blue sole.” To date we have raised $12,000 through this program. We have done similar campaigns with other partners including The North Face’s “GivePack” program, “May with Merrell”, and Columbia’s “Try On” campaign.

    In-Kind Support
    Our kids come to BCM in need of most, if not all, of the technical equipment required to participate on a trip. BCM will outfit every kid in the outdoor-friendly equipment they’ll need, including but not limited to rain jackets, fleeces, gloves, hats, sleeping bags, mattress pads, tents, and cooking equipment. Not only do our partners want their gear in the field, they solicit our feedback. We’ve become some of their best gear testers. This has created a wonderful reciprocal relationship with many of our strongest partners.

    Therm A Rest donates sleeping bags and mattresses. Timberland, Vasque, and Columbia donate hundreds of hiking boots each season, enabling kids to take their boots home after their courses are finished. Gregory and Osprey donate backpacks. And JanSport—one of BCM’s longest and strongest partners—donates summit flags and t-shirts for each student and adult participants on expeditions and at overnight camp to bring home.

    Employee Engagement
    Employee engagement is another key component of our corporate relationships. We’ve leveraged our Summit for Someone program, in which climbers tackle some of the world’s most renowned summits while fundraising to support BCM youth expeditions, to engage sponsors and their employees. Summit for Someone participants—who can sign on to climb with guided expeditions, or come up with their own custom challenges—take part in a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, reaching out to family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers to spread the word about BCM.

    Corporate partners like Backpacker Magazine have been title sponsors of signature climbs. Brands have also sponsored their employees’ climbs—Vista Outdoor, for example, coordinated a Summit for Someone climb for ten of its employees to climb the Grand Teton. They matched each dollar raised by their employees and collectively raised $25,000 for BCM. And some, like Stanley and The North Face, encourage their sponsored athletes to be Summit for Someone Ambassadors.

    Engaging employees on youth expeditions as adult mentors is the best way we weave the mission of BCM into the culture of a corporate sponsor. These volunteer mentors—the heart and soul of BCM’s summer programming—build safe spaces for teens in the field, where kids learn critical skills like resilience, empathy, and self-efficacy.

    Companies like Smartwool have partnered with us to recruit their employees to volunteer at overnight camps and on expeditions. Zappos engaged two of its brand partners, Fjallraven and KEEN, to fill two expeditions with their employees in Colorado and Oregon, respectively. Each company commented to me that this partnership was a great way to build relationships and culture between the brands.

    At the end of the day, it takes a village. Our vital programming is possible thanks in large part to our corporate partners, who help to create opportunities for under-resourced teens across the country to have transformative experiences outside.

    If you’re interested in learning more or sharing ideas, please feel free to contact Doug Sandok, BCM’s Corporate Relations Director, via email

    Emma Walker is a freelance writer in Golden, Colorado. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and B.A. from the University of Colorado. Emma has worked, volunteered, and climbed for Big City Mountaineers. She has worked as a raft guide, avalanche educator, and backpacking instructor around the American West. You can find more of Emma’s writing at


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