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Bass Pro's giving boosts company, nonprofit visibility

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From The Salvation Army’s red kettle campaign at Christmas to Give Ozarks Day in March, Bass Pro Shops’ familiar green bass logo has been noticeably on display in support of nonprofits in the Ozarks over the last year.

That visibility hasn’t been pushed by a big jump in donation or sponsorship dollars, but by a strategic brand move. Sarah Hough, senior manager of community affairs and diversity outreach for the company, said in recent years Bass Pro has taken a more intentional approach to their sponsorship and giving.

“We’ve always been really involved in conservation efforts locally, but we’ve also started to be strategic at (the Morris family’s) direction in how we’re investing in community solutions,” Hough said. “The dollar amounts really haven’t changed, it’s just how we’ve continued to grow partnerships with our local nonprofits.”

Most recently, Bass Pro Shops was a presenting sponsor of Community Foundation of the Ozarks’ Give Ozarks Day on March 24. The fundraiser returned after a several-year pause beginning in 2017 and raised more than $718,000 for area nonprofits in 12 hours.

Jack Wlezien, director of communications for Bass Pro, said the company may not have been a presenting sponsor for an event like Give Ozarks in the past.

“Because we’re less concerned about getting the credit and more concerned about the impact,” Wlezien said. “But what we’ve heard from our nonprofit partners is having the Bass Pro Shops name and Johnny Morris’ name as a presenting sponsor – that sends a signal to the rest of the community that there’s a lot of passion and support for these causes.”

Hough said Bass Pro Shops has heard from nonprofit partners that a more visible presence from the company can be beneficial to fundraising.

Winter Kinne, vice president of development for CFO, said having a well-recognized sponsor involved brings an element of legitimacy to an event.

“It’s marketing for everybody and it sort of feels good that if the Community Foundation is behind this and Bass Pro is behind this, it must be OK. It must be something I need to pay attention to,” Kinne said.

Hough said the company has long-standing relationships with local outdoors-related organizations including the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks Inc., the James River Basin Partnership and Ozark Greenways Inc. Bass Pro is a founding sponsor of United Way’s Day of Caring and, in 2020, sponsored the local Salvation Army Christmas donation campaign and contributed a dollar-for-dollar match of $20,000.

Bass Pro Shops & Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit, also supports conservation and outdoors programs. The organization’s 2019 federal form 990, the latest available, reported it awarded nearly $3.5 million in grants that year.

Bass Pro declined to share further financials related to giving or sponsorship.

While strategic changes in giving and sponsorship were occurring before the COVID-19 pandemic, Hough said the adjustments from in-person fundraising events and the increased need among some nonprofits also gave Bass Pro opportunities to participate locally.

In April 2020, founder Johnny Morris donated one million face masks to health care workers and in November 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on, Bass Pro Shops, Morris and NASCAR driver Richard Childress donated over $70,500 to Ozarks Food Harvest Inc., the region’s food bank.

While nationally the company’s support is primarily directed to conservation efforts and the outdoors, Hough said Morris’ roots in the Ozarks leads to more local support.

“When I think about why you may have seen Bass Pro more in 2020, it’s because those are the things we’ve been supporting – those really great program pieces with some of our nonprofit partners,” Hough said.

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