Behind the Brand: How Nonprofit Still Kickin Creates Community Around Stories, Experiences, & Retail
When awesome people are going through really awful things, Still Kickin steps up to help.
Every month, this Minneapolis nonprofit chooses a person, family, or organization—a Still Kickin Hero—and then shares their story of struggle and strength. They give this hero financial support for emergencies and expenses through the proceeds that they raise from retail sales, donation-based workouts, and other events and experiences.
However, none of this would be possible without the man whose story lives on in their community and brand today.
The Man Behind the Brand
Still Kickin was founded on the story of Aaron Purmort—a story that they continue to share to inspire a genuine, connected community.
Aaron was a Minneapolis man, who was wearing a simple green t-shirt that read ‘Still Kickin’ on the day he had a seizure. His seizure turned out to be a severe form of brain cancer, but the message on that tee became a motto for him and his family during the next three years of cancer treatment.
“For the three years he went through his treatment, all he wanted to do was be able to pay it forward and give back in some way,” says Lindsay Wenner, the Executive Director and COO of Still Kickin.
So after Aaron’s death in 2014, his wife, Nora McInerny, took on this challenge and teamed up with Lindsay to print a few dozen copies of the t-shirt, sell them, and donate the proceeds to another family in need.
Building Community Around Experiences
There’s no doubt that Still Kickin’s online community is strong—whether it’s the fact they have over 12,000 followers on Instagram or that they’ve partnered with Amazon Smile, Amazon’s online shopping program that gives back to organizations you care about.
However, they know the importance of bringing it back to in-person experiences and being able to connect with their community through physical events, pop-ups, and and other experiences.
Beyond hosting a monthly run club, they team up with gyms in the Minneapolis area to host workouts from cycling to circuit training to yoga and more. They also host Still Kickin Sessions, where they gather panelists together to talk about tough stuff, such as recovering from trauma. And the proceeds from all of these go to help their chosen hero.
By hosting events, the brand has been able to tap into their community and attendees to recruit volunteers. Lindsay says, “I’m still the only full-time employee. Everyone else is a volunteer and seeing how much that has expanded, seeing how people are helping us day-to-day and the community we’re building around us, that’s the most rewarding.”
Their experiences and events also help them attract new customers and supporters. When they first opened up a Studio Shop with Fourpost in the Mall of America during the holidays last year, they hosted an event with live screen-printing for exclusive shirts and ink colors, so that people could make themselves custom tees.
Lindsay noted that it brought new people over to their shop who were excited to participate and learn more about them. “One of our main focuses as an organization is finding opportunities to bring our community together in different ways,” she says. “People in general are into paying for experiences, especially if they get something tangible from it, whether it’s DIY or an educational piece.”
With these experiences, their community can not only actively participate in the brand, but they can also feel good about it because they know they’re helping others.
Building a Home Base at Fourpost
Still Kickin has seen the possibilities of their community and experience-oriented brand strategy, which is why they’re expanding into physical retail and opening up at Fourpost.
“We have known for a while that having a physical space and retail aspect would be important for us in terms of visibility and for that community piece—bringing people together and having space for people to go from our community where they could experience Still Kickin through the merchandise,” says Lindsay.
As a nonprofit and startup brand, Still Kickin found that Fourpost was the best place for them to open a shop without a huge cost committment or risk. “Fourpost provides us with an opportunity to test out a store, to do it with other people, and learn from other people as well,” she says. With other brands around for support and to help them navigate managing a physical storefront, the challenges that come with having a shop didn’t seem as big.
“There’s so many smart humans making cool things that you get that community of people around you to help elevate what you’re doing and learn from each other. If you’re doing that on your own, that’s not what you’re going to get, ” she continues.
Being surrounded by other brands also allows them to open up to a new audience and grow their base of supporters and volunteers. In their Fourpost Studio Shop during the holidays last year, their in-person sales doubled what they had estimated for online and in the physical store, which they credited to exposure to new people. In many cases, people had come to check out another brand, but ended up stopping at their shop and having a conversation.
This exposure led them to not only grow sales, but also their community as they had a place where people could experience their brand and connect on a personal level. Like with their events and pop-ups, Lindsay mentioned that being in a retail setting gave them more opportunities to have authentic conversations.
“When you can share your story and what you’re doing, then have someone say ‘I have goosebumps’ and they share their story, it’s a genuine conversation: empathetic and mutual respect for each other. You can talk about a hard thing and know that you’re both still kicking, and that story and conversation will resonate with you,” Lindsay says.