WHAT THE FUNDRAISING
45: Building Authentic Equity: All About Patagonia’s Path to Support Trust-Based Non-Profit Partnerships with Whitney Clapper
“I didn’t do the business route of asking for a team and building a budget. I actually demoted myself to follow enviro and actively carved out a position as just an enviro marketer.”
– Whitney Clapper
In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…
If change is hard, massive and meaningful change can seem impossible. But my guest on this episode of What the Fundraising is up to the task. As Head of Community Impact and Partnerships for Patagonia, Whitney Clapper is innovating strategies designed to accelerate a paradigm shift in the way we live together and treat the planet. It’s a conversation that Patagonia started some 40 years ago, pushing ever since for sustained, transformational change.
Much of our discussion focuses on the partnership dynamic between nonprofits and Patagonia, and what Patagonia looks for in its non-profit partnerships. Whitney shares that the strongest partnerships come from organizations that – no matter their size, depth of experience, or demonstrable metrics – speak simply about their concrete goals and limitations. “It might not yield the dollars right away,” she says, “but it’ll yield that trust-based relationship in the long term that both sides are wanting.”
We also touch on the science of influence, the uneven power dynamic that sometimes influences partnership, and why buzzwords aren’t necessarily your friends. While it’s not her area of focus, you’ll find out the four specific areas that are currently the focus of Patagonia’s grantmaking. And you’ll hear how Whitney acts as a conduit among all kinds of communities – expanding and binding together the network of activist organizations with the environmental and human causes they serve.
Whitney’s marketing experience positions her perfectly to grow a community engagement platform based on communication, empathy, inclusion, and education. With regular employee training for 200+ Patagonia employees, myriad sponsored environmental and human impact programs, ambassadors to highlight cultural awareness onsite and beyond, Patagonia Action Works’ reach is tremendous. But, as Whitney points out, the work actually starts with the most basic of connections: Sharing stories. It’s what knits us together in all our diversity, and is our best hope. “We’ve got to get out of our own way and figure out how to be in partnership with one another if we are ever going to survive this world and climate change,” says Whitney.
Listen now to join us in this boundary-pushing conversation about business partnerships, human connection, and what it will take to actually tackle the challenges ahead of us – like climate change.
This episode is a part of a mini-series on What Funders Want thanks to our incredible sponsors at Givebutter. With modern donation forms, fundraising pages, and events, Givebutter raises more than $150 million annually in support of more than 35,000 meaningful causes – from local youth groups to world-renowned charities. To learn more about how you can get started on Givebutter, head on over to givebutter.com/mallory.
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Mallory: Welcome Everyone. I could not be more excited to be here today with Whitney Clapper of Patagonia. Whitney, thank you so much for joining me for this conversation.
Whitney: Thank you. It’s nice to be here.
Mallory: I know we’re going to get into sort of all the pieces, but let’s just start a little bit with your background. And what brought you to Patagonia? What brings you to your current role? I know folks are so interested in how people make the move into positions like yours. So just give us a little background.
Whitney: Yeah. That’s always such a funny question because I definitely do not have the traditional background that one might expect. I grew up in the Midwest, and always had a love for the outdoors. I actually thought I was going to be an outdoor educator. I went the path of sociology and biology and needed to mix the world where you debate forever with the kind of practical facts of science. And that took me into what I thought would be my career, which was outdoor education, but part of getting through school and part of being where I was when I was growing up and wrestling with all that was there, was long runs, was long bike rides, was adventure. And so I always had this love of the outdoors.
And there just happened to be a moment in my life where a job in the outdoor industry opened up. So I applied, even though I was absolutely not qualified on paper at all. Luckily my hiring manager somehow saw something in me. I was brought into the outdoor industry and worked my way through a couple of different brands. Essentially became brand managers for brands like Chaco Sandals for Patagonia footwear. And then that led me to Patagonia, the clothing side of Patagonia. At the time, there was not a brand team, there were product teams and kind of sports marketers, but there was not a brand team. So I helped start the brand team at Patagonia over six years ago.
And that was a somewhat random mix of projects. It was our food provisions had just started at that time. We had our worn wear program, which is our care and repair program. We had our films that was not yet a department of its own. We had books, we had in our enviro, all of our environment advocacy work. So that all was lumped into my work on the brand team. And quickly thereafter, we discovered that each of these different pieces of the brand team just needed their own love and own teams and own budgets and all of that. So they got to be separated out a little bit from that moment. And I think I had this kind of reality check when there was all of this on my plate, but I wasn’t doing any one of these divisions justice because I was one person, I wasn’t able to do as much work as each of them needed.
And so I didn’t do the traditional kind of business route of asking for a team and building budget. I actually demoted myself. Just like, I actually wanted to just focus on enviro. And so I actively carved out a position as just the enviro marketer, which I shouldn’t say just, it was, it’s still a tremendous amount of work, but it felt like a just because I was taking away all of these other parts of pieces.
So I became the enviro marketer, gosh, probably six or so years ago and with doing that for a while, up until this last year, where we’ve had COVID life and pandemic life and lots of shifting and transitioning of kind of leadership and structures within Patagonia. That I’m now actually gratefully I am not in marketing anymore and now over on the enviro team and our in enviro advocacy team and working to community engagement and impact from our enviro perspective. So a little bit of a wild journey in that most of my professional career in the outdoor industry, there were no templates to follow. I seem to be the person that was plopped into new positions and they’re like figure it out. So I was able to do that at a lot of different brands, which taught me a lot. Gosh, had me eat a lot of humble pie along the way, but here I am still at Patagonia, seven years later, and working on figuring out what it means for Patagonia to be in community. How do we show up? What is our position? What is our role? And a lot of work that’s really centered more around actually centering people.
We haven’t always centered people in our advocacy and conservation work. So actually figuring out what it means to center people and what it means to be working with a lot of people that don’t necessarily look like our common core. So a lot of BIPOC, a lot of LGBTQ plus groups and communities that aren’t necessarily represented currently in kind of Patagonia colleague and structures. So that’s exciting. It’s good, it’s fun.
Mallory: Wow. Okay. I have to choose which way I want to go. But I first want to say, I love that you shared a self-demotion story because that is a part of my own story as well. And I don’t hear a lot of people talk about that. And so I’m really grateful for you just sharing that piece of your journey.
Okay. Tell me a little bit about, and maybe this just goes right to the core of what you’re currently grappling with and what you said there at the end around centering people. But how do you define community impact, what does that mean first to Patagonia? What does that term even mean?
Whitney: In all honesty, I think we are in that very question. I don’t know if I could speak for the company on what we mean by community impact. I think you talk to our sports teams, right? That they are going to be focused on their sport, their athletes, where the product that they’re making for those people in those communities. That to me is a different impact than maybe the impact I’m focused on, which we actually have been working on values within our own enviro department. And I was looking up, we have a value, it’s not finalized, but it’s down for impact. And right now we currently have it as regenerative enduring impact is our north star. We are committed to creating equitable change for people and the planet. Our impact starts internally and radiates out to the partners and communities we serve.
So still noodling on that. But to me, impact is this kind of nexus of i this unification, right. Of bringing people together, starting with people in our conservation efforts and working with people who are on the ground to help make the change needed for whatever it is that we are working on in that either that area or for a bigger purpose of reversing climate change, there’s a lot of different ways to define it.
But to me, I think what we’re looking at from an impact perspective is really working to make sure, it’s not just saving a wild place or a home planet that is void of reality and the people who are there and the people who have been there and the people that have been in these fights much longer than maybe most of us.
So that’s where I keep saying this because centering the people, bringing the justice element back in to them make an impact for the better, for change in the positive.
Mallory: How has this shifted the way you work or think about setting up partnerships? If you think about it historically, you haven’t been centering people in that shift in there, what does that look like on the tangible level?
Whitney: It looks like a lot of conversation right now and head-scratching. It looks like the reality is that there’s not enough therapy in the world right now. I think it is shifting mindsets, right? It is shifting how do you convince people to move forward with regenerative practices and create regenerative relationship when you are also working with a two-week deadline before a marketing push for a ridiculous deadline, that quite often exists in corporate culture, regardless of whether you’re Patagonia or not. And so I think this is what I’m sitting in right now. We have been good at not intentionally extracting information from people, but I think very unconsciously we’ve been in a lot of extractive relationships.
And part of that is what we were talking about before you hit record. But this balance of, Patagonia, we are a funder for so many groups and non-profits right. And quite often the stories that we’re sharing, the films we’re creating, are centered around communities or places where we also have these non-profit organizations.
And so I think we’re in this midst of how do we approach relationships with much more consciousness to needing to have kind of a before, during, maybe a marketing PR push, and then after. What does that continuum of our relationship then get us into this place of a regenerative partnership? Not an extractive one, but that’s the mind shift that is we’re needing to figure out.
Okay. I’m one person. There are a few of us that I think are thinking very similarly, but we’re a large company. Like outdoor industry is a massive industry. I think there are a lot of people that want to do the right thing, but it takes time. Some of my deepest relationships it’s because I’ve been there for 5, 6, 7, years. So how do you build this out and how do you shift from extractive to regenerative? And there are so many more components that come from doing that, but I think that’s a big piece of the pie, right?
Mallory: Yeah. I think something that you’re highlighting here that’s super important is that shifting takes time and is not just a mindset shift, like a mindset shift for the grantor or the funding arm of the organization. But that there’s this really complicated organization with not just mindset, but standard operating procedures for a business. My husband does change management work at a huge company, and it is wild to me when I see all the different pieces that he has to manage in order to shift one process, be more sustainable, for example. And all the quality checks that go in and all the different voices to include.
And so I think what you’re talking about is something that’s really complicated. But I think what’s super important is that you aren’t shying away from it. You’re like, here we are, we’re in this muck. We recognize that this has not been the exact type of relationship we’ve wanted to have or the impact we’ve wanted to make. And now we’re trying to figure out, and maybe I would not call myself an expert on this at all. The way I think about it is that it’s a process of learning together, for the companies and the nonprofits, in partnership, finding that alignment around. Do you view partnership the same way? Do you view working together the same way? Do you want the same things? Are you value aligned? Can you build this consistent piece in relationship and give each other real feedback along the way.
Because I will have non-profits tell me all the time, Oh yeah, we have really strong relationships with these funders. And then they’ll say something like, we don’t feel like their reporting practices are very equitable and they’re causing this and that problem in our organization. I’m like, okay, why not in your next meeting with them, let’s talk to them about that and figure out how we can improve that. And they are like oh no, no, we can’t talk about that with them. And so I’m like, okay so what does it mean then because a few days ago you told me that you have a really strong relationship with them. So what does a really strong relationship mean to you?
Because when I think about like my personal really strong relationships, if something in that relationship was not working, I would be able to talk to the other person about it. But that’s not what really strong relationship means to you here? It sounds and so even I think that practice of defining, like what does strong partnership look like in the funding moment perhaps, but in the ongoing conversation in the way that feedback can be delivered on both sides, the safety that’s created around learning together. I’m curious, that’s just how I think about these pieces. I’m curious how that resonates with you.
Whitney: Yeah, no, I think, I appreciate you bringing that up because we are in those same questions. And I think you were actually talking to Duke about this on a previous episode where, I’ll go out and I’ll find someone on Twitter and be like, Hey, I want to talk to you and that’s how I’ve made a lot of my connections. And I don’t have a concern that they’re not going to give me money, or they’re not, I’m not in that position because I am in the company, I’m on the corporate side. And I think when I’m entering into a conversation with a group that we’ve funded, I hope that they are okay to challenge when I’m asking too much. When they just don’t have time to take on what I’m asking for, or if they just feel like it’s too much right now. I hope that they would say that but I also wonder if, because we’re Patagonia, we are a funder, are they going to bend over backwards for us, which is not equitable in any way.
And so I guess a strong relationship to me is that absolutely trust-based relationship that needs to start before there are asks. So what does that look like? And what does that runway? I’m trying to think about when we come out with films and we come out with even a blog or a social piece, what do we need to be, when should we be ideally entering into conversations in relationships before we make an ask. And then what’s the follow-up to that. So the film goes live or whatever it is, goes live. What happens afterwards? And I feel like in my role right now, I’m on the before and after side of it, to maintain.
And it’s because I’m now not in this marketing hot seat where I’m asking for things. I have the chance to give, which means I’m able to build more of these trust-based relationships where I do feel like there is more honest conversation that’s coming, but it doesn’t always necessarily come depending on who’s asking, right. If the grantor’s asking for time that they’re going to give them, me as a community person, they don’t have to say yes to me as much, but I do feel like there’s still this obligation because were are Patagonia, that we’re going to say yes. But I think we’re exploring all of these different scenarios and figuring out how best to show up when to be better about asking for time and for needs, that sort of thing, moving forward. And being very conscious of the fact that we are a funder, how do we do trust-based and equitable work and be fine when they say no.
So I think that we’re in that kind of transition with our relationships in general, whether it’s the granting team or the marketing team or whatever it may be, but we have a ways to go to figure that one out. But to me, ideally, there is this, the strength comes from, it’s a two-way conversation, regardless of who we are. That’s my hope.
Mallory: What you’re talking about is so complicated, is like the inherent power dynamics. A lot of the work I do, of course, is supporting non-profit leaders to recognize their value at the table with funders. Because what happens when they aren’t aware of their value is this power dynamic where money is the only thing of value and we know from the science that people in perceived positions of power have influence that they don’t even recognize they have. That the person in a less powerful role is much less likely to push back on something. And that’s the science of influence. And so how do we change that? I don’t know, like that’s for somebody else to figure out.
For me, it’s okay, so then how do we have fundraisers and organizations feel more powerful at the table. Feel like they’re holding something really valuable because once they know that in their core, then they’re able to say, You know what, that’s such a good idea, Whitney, but on that timeline, we can’t make it happen, could we do blank. But that’s such a hard thing to do if the only value you see, the highest value, and the biggest value in a relationship is the movement of the money and that’s only going in one direction.
Whitney: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely and I secretly want them to say we can’t make those deadlines because that’s the only way we’re going to shift our narrative. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to change the way we’ve been doing things, is if there are more people that are like, That’s a lovely offer, but no way in hell are we going to make it in two weeks? I think we need that. And absolutely the whole reason we began granting was because we saw value in what these small groups could do that we weren’t able to do. And it’s why we’ve continued to grant small kind of grassroots efforts more than you know, just focusing on four of the top big greens type of thing. There is this belief that it is from the ground up and it is from community local movements that will grow into a kind of bigger, broader, more impactful efforts.
I think that, yeah, inherently for the groups to feel their value and live and speak their value, will help us remember that when we have obscene deadlines that we’re putting on people.
Mallory: Okay. And I think even there are small things I’ve seen with funders that can make a huge difference. Even funders just saying things to their partners, We’re so grateful to be in partnership with you, or we really appreciate you letting us come in and support this project. Like tiny little language nuances, start to shift the mindset inside the organization to be like, Okay, yeah. Those are uncommon things to hear inside the non-profit sector.
Like gratitude often goes one direction, right? It’s like the money moves one way, gratitude moves the other way. And so as we start to shift some of those other dynamics, I think it’s really powerful. And I’m curious, the piece you said before about how do we build a trust-based relationship before there’s an ask or before the money is on the table.
And this is something I grapple with a lot because there’s this conversation in the non-profit sector around, don’t be transactional, don’t be the transformational relationships. And I agree don’t be transactional, but I think we’ve made transactional mean talk about money and what I think that leads to is this avoidance of a conversation around money that needs to be there from the beginning, for the non-profit’s safety, look if you go in and what you really want is a longer-term strategic partnership that helps you build X program. Sure. Maybe you’re not going to make that ask right away, but being clear that that’s where you’re hoping to go instead of pretending what you want to do is create a whole volunteer day program. And then you’re planning in 18 months to have them like that volunteer day program enough that then you can talk about this other thing.
And so I really grapple with this balance and coaching folks around this balance of it is important to not bury the lead. Because then what you’re going to do is you’re going to spend 18 months in a kind of half superficial relationship because you’re not talking about the thing you’re really hoping for ultimately. For a number of different reasons, mostly because you see alignment there, not because money is the only thing of value. And then you find yourself kind of not building real trust because it hasn’t been on the table from the beginning.
So I’m just curious how you think about that. What’s the balance between being clear that yeah, our ultimate goal would be that you would help us build this project or program, but what are ways for us to navigate relationship earlier in this process to make sure there’s that alignment and this is a good fit.
Whitney: Yeah, honestly, the thing that pops into my head is going to feel very tangental. So bear with me, my dad was an English professor, and both my brother and I decided to take his class in college at one point. And my brother’s five years older, he got to give me the goods on how to show up for class. But I remember being in his class and working my ass off and I was like a D Student, school was not where I learned. I learned outside touching rocks and just being on indigenous lands and waters. But I worked my ass off in his class and I remember presenting one of my first drafts of a paper.
And I was poetic as I could be. I was bringing in the metaphors, that I was bringing in all of the lovely, like waxing poetic type things you do. And he said, Whitney, what are you trying to tell me? Just tell me what you want me to know. It’s not about the flowery stuff. It’s not about the metaphors. Those will come if there’s a right time and place for them. But what do you want me to know? And I feel that is the metaphor, right, for back to what you were just asking me. Where I feel like people don’t have time to read through scenarios and what-ifs, like what do you want us to know, be upfront about that and be real on where you are in that journey.
And I think we are used to reading lots of different proposals from small organizations that maybe don’t have it figured out yet, but I would put money on the fact that the more real and the more focused and the more clear you can be on what you want from us, the better we’ll be at reacting in a way that might be like, let us help you with that writing of that proposal or come do a tools talk where we can get you some expert help, or it might not feel the dollars right away, but it’s going to yield that trust-based relationship and longer term relationship. But I think ultimately people are wanting both from our side of it, as well as the non-profit side of it. So I feel like that’s it, it’s what do you want me to know? How do you want me to show up and support you? And being very clear on that upfront is going to be better for everyone.
Mallory: I think that is such good advice. It saves everyone time and it also allows people to say from the beginning, you know what, there isn’t that kind of alignment here. The most we could see working together might be in this capacity if you’re interested in that, thank you for being upfront about the overall goal that actually isn’t in alignment with our goals over here. And I think relationships and trust and all those things are obviously a really critical part. But I think when we don’t talk about the alignment early, then it leaves way too much to just being like, do you like me? Do you like me enough? And then actually fall back into a lot of the like inequities is in grantmaking practices.
Whitney: I’ve seen, I haven’t necessarily been the one delivering the news, but I have been the person who’s contacted when the group didn’t get a grant to be like, Hey what happened here. And I’ve seen where our team is happy to have those conversations. And to also be real back to the groups to say, Hey, this is why we did or did not grant you, let us help you so that you can get a grant next time. So I think that there is this investment from our side. And I can’t speak to funders outside of Patagonia, but there is this investment of, I feel like the more real you can be, the more you’re going to want or you’re going to have people that want to help.
So I think that there is that hope as we think about becoming more equitable in our, and not only in our granting, but in our relationships in general, that will come with that kind of trust-based growing because there’s a starting point that is absolutely grounded in, here’s who I am right now, might not be perfect, but here’s what I need.
Mallory: Yeah. Wow. Okay. I think that’s just really helpful framing and it’s making me think back to something you said a few moments ago about the relationship between or how you select smaller organizations, grassroots organizations. And my guess is that those vary in the length of time, they’ve perhaps been around whether or not there’s been a length of time, the non-profit itself has been around, not the wisdom, not the community, but perhaps the non-profit itself has been around and a huge range in their demonstrated community impact to date. And I feel like there’s this real sort of what comes first, the chicken or the egg situation sometimes in community impact. Where one, we don’t know, we don’t have a good sense of like the length of time it will take for us to see an impact. And then it also can be hard to know sometimes, okay this seems like the right group to really lead the charge here. They don’t perhaps have the metric demonstration that our marketing team might want or the reach in that way. But is that because they haven’t been funded appropriately to be able to build out those elements of their organization?
And so when you’re thinking about the role that sort of Patagonia plays in community impact and partners play in community impact, how do you think about that intersection?
Whitney: Yeah, I’m trying to think back through, we’re changing our granting structure a little bit and because I’m not in the granting team, I might butcher it a little bit, but we have basically teams that are strategic grantors and really working with, we have four core company pillars.
And one is climate change. One is focused on healthy lands and waters. One is focused on kind of agricultural transformation. Then one that is new to the company and we’re still in the early phases of defining what this actually means is thriving communities. And so we have a strategic grant program that works to support those kind of four pillars. And that’s where our teams will go actively search and invite people to apply versus kind of a general application. And so I feel that there have been situations where looking at our climate program, for example, there’s a lot of emphasis on dismantling the fossil fuel industry and right working at that intersection of social racial climate justice around the kind of needing to shift away from fossil fuels. And so there are groups that have been there forever, right? And I think we are doing some work with those groups that have been around and proven themselves and have that history.
But there are groups that are also newer and newer coalitions that are starting. There’s a group that is just down the street from our headquarters in Ventura, California on unseeded Chumash territory, where they’re taking on the desire for more oil and bigger companies to come in and develop the area. And it’s one of those where the coalition that has formed is newer in consideration to some of the groups we’ve granted, but we’ve built out that connection and actually have a team member from our environment team that’s a part of the coalition. And so while they’re newer, we’ve built relationships with them, granting is much easier for us. I think groups that are maybe brand new and looking for grants, it really comes back to what we were just talking about, I think if there’s a clear goal and there’s a clear kind of path on what’s needed, it’s going to be easier for us to get behind that.
I think it’s harder when groups just aren’t really sure what they’re trying to accomplish and maybe have a little bit of all the right buzzwords, but it’s not really understood on their goals and timelines and what they need from us. So I don’t know if it’s that we don’t necessarily grant only groups that have been around forever, I think there’s flexibility there, especially if they’re tied to our pillars.
And then another program that we’re working on is because we have so many retail stores across the whole country and in Canada. We’re looking at building out how do we do more community-based granting. And again, that’s going to look different for every retail team and group because obviously, that community is going to be different. So what happens in Atlanta is going to be different, right from what’s going to happen in Seattle or Boulder or wherever it may be. And so I think those programs are going to be a little bit more exploratory and probably there will be room for groups that are still trying to figure it out because they might be value aligned with the stores and what we’re trying to do in each of those different areas.
And we’re trying to really learn from the groups that are there, the indigenous groups that are there, we’re trying to build out relationships with indigenous communities. And we can’t go in assuming that everyone just wants money. Right, maybe they don’t, maybe they want something totally different. So I think our community groups and grants will be slightly different from our strategic grants that are really based on our company pillars. It’s a little bit of an all over the place answer.
Mallory: No, it’s actually, it’s fantastic. And I want to double click on something that you just said that I think is so important, which is that you also don’t want to make the assumption that it’s all about money for the non-profits. And so I think that is just a really good kind of pin for me too, that as we shift thinking inside the non-profit sector, that it’s all about money. It’s also that money has just been this kind of overarching umbrella for these conversations when we think about the cross-sector partnership, but there’s so much else here.
I’m curious, not including the way you guys do granting. When you think about community impact, when you think about partnerships that you’re building, what does that look like aside from grants, perhaps?
Whitney: Yeah, there are a couple of different ways I think I’ll answer that. And one is that we have a platform called Patagonia Action Works. And essentially it starts with money because you do have to be a Patagonia grantee to be on this platform. But the thing that goes beyond the money side of it, is that the tools that we offer groups when they are part of action works are basically a response to them telling us what they need in addition to dollars. So a lot of times because they’re smaller groups, it is access to Patagonia’s social platform. If their message can reach our audience through Twitter and Facebook and some of these other sites, social sites, of course, that amplifies it 10 times the amount of the audience that they may normally have. So we do offer paid, we’ll pay for ads and co-create ads with these groups that can be focused on an event or a petition or film that’s coming out, whatever it may be. So amplification is a big one.
Another big one is skill-based volunteering. So being able to bring in experts to our grantees, virtually for free. So being able to make sure our groups have access to you need a lawyer, let’s get you a lawyer. You need a graphic designer, let’s get you a graphic designer. Whatever they are most needing, being able to match-make in a lot of cases with professionals to these groups to help that happen. So the groups can stay focused on really their core and bread and butter what they need to stay focused on. And then of course there is the money side as well. So it’s really being able to offer these other components has been really helpful for us and the groups. I think the thing that when I think about the deeper relationships I have, it’s the fact that oftentimes I am the student when it comes to working and being with our non-profit organizations. I love interacting with our groups because they are so dialed on the issue or the indigenous-led side of it and how to do that or whatever it may be. They have been a part of the frontline fight forever. I feel like I then get to take a back seat and actually just learn from them. And wanting to make sure that that is honored and valued just as much that sharing of information, which comes back to a trust-based side of it. We have a lot to learn from our groups in a lot of ways. And so to me, being able to give them not only money but skill-based volunteering and amplification, that sort of thing in response to the fact that we get to learn from them is invaluable for both of us.
Mallory: I really appreciate you talking about that. And I think that’s been an ongoing theme of a number of episodes around community-based wisdom and how oftentimes in human-centered non-profit work, folks come in and everyone thinks they’re the expert. And you guys navigate a really nuanced balance between the fact that you have been doing direct work yourselves, both inside your business, right around some of these like primary issues.
And, but then how to honor the expertise in the field, in place, in community, and really knowing when to step forward and when to step back, it sounds like it’s something you guys are really in sort of conversation and learning about, which I think just amazing.
Whitney: Yeah. My ego wishes, we were further along in those conversations, but we are at least open to talking about them. Yes, absolutely.
Mallory: I’m curious, you have this sentence in your LinkedIn bio, your bio might be one of my favorite LinkedIn bios ever so hopefully everyone will go check it out, but you have this one sentence in there that I also really love. I think it might be right at the very beginning that says, I hold space for people to come together and listen to one another so that we can work in unity for a more just and better world.
And I’m curious, we talk a lot here too, about how to build true empathy, like really see the world through someone else’s lenses. And it sounds like that’s what you’re trying to create space for too, is an environment to really listen here to absorb the perspective of other people, to create unity. And I’m curious when you think about holding space like that across partnerships or inside Patagonia, what are some of the primary elements that you consider.
Whitney: Good question. That sentence was my attempt at Simon Sinek’s, Know your why or start with your why. And yeah, I’ll have to go back, I feel like it’s still very much resonates, but I feel like that’s something I need to keep going back to. But I think in general, there’s a few things, what has brought me to really feeling like we can’t keep trying to do it alone and we’re going to need people to come together is just the fact that I think I’ve tried to do it alone for a long time because life has just delivered. I lost my parents young. I have been the Irish background, the scrappy mentality of I’m just going to create it, cause it’s not there before. But I think I’ve also recognized the fact that we’re not meant to do life alone but we have become so siloed. And whether that’s due to perversion of religion or whether that’s the white supremacy mindset that is still very prevalent or whether that is Ukraine and Russia right now. There are so many reasons, but how do we get through that? Like how that is in my, this is going to very belittle it. And I don’t mean to belittle this, but I feel like that is such the ego mentality. And if you get down to it, I feel like the reason I got into marketing is because I recognized that I loved storytelling. And I loved the fact that I could sit down and talk to a stranger. We could start telling stories, find a common ground, and all of a sudden, like you have this bond. And that’s a small example, but I feel like that is doable, we can continue to storytell and find common grounds. And that can be a way that we start to bring people together more for the common good.
And I have this vision, I spent some time in Afghanistan working with the women’s cycling team. And since being there, I’ve had this moment and I think I’ve told Duke this before. I have this vision of someday, sitting at a dinner table, having a meal, which already, having a meal and sharing drinks helps to break down some of these opposing forces. Being able to sit and commune together and having an Afghan women’s cyclist and a Taliban soldier, right. Having these seemingly opposing forces is like a dream, to be able to walk away where we’ve actually found those common grounds.
And then it’s like, you can’t go back. You can’t go back to the bullshit after you do that. I think I’ve come to recognize that, that is what I can start to do more at Patagonia. It’s what I feel like I already have been doing because quite often I am a conduit from BIPOC, LGBTQ plus communities into the brand and out from the brand. And so I think if I can continue to bring people together equitable, and with this regenerative mindset in mind. That is my hope that I can help make the world a little bit better and a little more just, and so I think that that is the skill set I feel like I can offer that is somewhat uniquely mine.
Not to say there are plenty of people that are good at bringing people together, but that is something I recognized and have been tapped on the shoulder to do over and over again. So that’s that reason for that quote at the beginning because I do honestly believe that we got to get out of our own way and we got to figure out how to be in partnership with one another if we are going to ever survive this world and climate.
Mallory: Yes. I couldn’t agree more and I got a huge wave of like chills when you said that piece around, you can’t go back. And so I just want to say that again, because I think what you’re saying there is so important. Like once a relationship is built, once a story is told you can’t unknow what you now know. And the power of that is just tremendous and you can’t unfeel what you felt. And that is transformative.
And so I’m really grateful. I’m really grateful for your time. I’m really grateful for this conversation. Where can folks find you and or if you want to connect with them or not, and if you have any sort of final suggestions around if folks are out there and they’re like, not just necessarily Patagonia, but you’ve handled so many sorts of marketing brand partnerships before. Folks are like, where do I even begin, if you have some parting wisdom. And then I also invite folks to highlight a non-profit, although many funders do not want to pick just one, but if you do have an organization you’d like to highlight that invitation is on the table as well.
Whitney: I love that. Folks can find me at the typical social outlets. You mentioned LinkedIn. I’m not great at checking LinkedIn, but I am there. Instagram and Twitter are all places I would recommend. If anyone is interested and has a skill to lend to a non-profit, check out Patagonia Action Works because that is just a phenomenal way to start kind of individually fulfilling your own desire to give more. It like, to be honest, it feels good to give and donate time. And quite often, what could take a professional 30 minutes could take a non-profit three months to do, so I think checking that out, Patagonia Action Works makes a lot of sense.
It’s hard to highlight a single non-profit. I will say I have had the pleasure of getting to know some of the indigenous folks at The Wilderness Society lately. And there’s a new initiative, The Mago Initiative, that I have had the privilege to learn a little bit more about, which is essentially a way of doing conservation that centers indigenous voices at the center and is a way of really rethinking. At least for many groups in the outdoor space that are typically white-led and focused on wild places versus people.What The Mago Initiative that Wilderness Society is bringing to life is transformational, in my mind. So I’ll call that out because I think it’s such good work that anyone who is in conservation should consider how to do indigenous-led and what that means for white organizations.
So that’s one, there are so many others, Indian Collective is another one that I go back to all the time because of their knowledge, their indigenous knowledge. But it’s hard to stop just there. We are highlighting a number because it’s Black Climate Week right now. So working with intersectional environmentalist, Leah Thomas, of course, whom many people know, and the solutions project is hosting Black Climate Week and we’ve loved doing work with them. But there are thousands and I’m of course going to leave many groups out that I shouldn’t. So I’m going to stop there and acknowledge there are so many good people in groups doing good work.
Mallory: Thank you. I know that is always the problem, but it’s great to give those folks a shout-out, and thank you so very much for this conversation.
Whitney: Absolutely. Thank you for your time. It’s nice to see you.
Mallory: You too.