Impact Giving | Branch Support Pilot Gets a Running Start

While unrestricted donations help grow our mission impact across all program areas, some members seek ways to leverage donations to strengthen the community within their local branch. The Branch Support Pilot Program provides a framework for branches to respond to opportunities in their community through branch-specific donations. Take a look back on the first year of the pilot and learn how you can support your branch through charitable giving.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
November 01, 2022
Impact Giving | Branch Support Pilot Gets a Running Start
Silver Lake Hike. Photo by Nate Derrick.

As a values and mission-driven nonprofit, everything we do at The Mountaineers is in service of our vision to get more people outside and create advocates for our natural world. Earned revenue, like book sales and course fees, help us to provide world-class outdoor training, books, and experiences. These provide a strong foundation for us to grow our impact through philanthropy. Donations help to fund youth partner programs, conservation & advocacy work, shared services across all locations and activities, scholarships, and more.


Philanthropy elevates our mission across two divisions, six teaching and gathering spaces, seven branches, and hundreds of committees. Expenses related to property operations, staff who support volunteer recognition and committee development, website and IT, membership services, and more are shared across the organization so we can go farther together. 

When you make an unrestricted donation to The Mountaineers, you are supporting the health and future of our outdoor recreation community. Our organization could not continue to thrive without this valuable support. 

Investing in the Branch Communities

Some members want to leverage their donations with a specific branch as a way to give back to their local community. While unrestricted donations to The Mountaineers support all branches, outdoor centers, and program areas, we also work to find ways to provide branches with flexibility to respond to their direct needs and opportunities. As a result, we started a Branch Support Pilot Program in FY2022. 

While donors have had the opportunity to designate giving at the branch level previously, the Branch Support Pilot provides more clarity in how it works and places more spending decisions in the hands of branch leadership. According to the pilot, when a donation arrives for a branch, the branch council can earmark up to 60% of the funds for special purposes above and beyond their approved budget for the year. For example, they can purchase gear or equipment in support of specific courses and activities or fund leadership training or recognition to volunteers. And 40% of the funds support shared services, an integral part of branch budgets that help make volunteer-led programs possible. We hope through this pilot that donors, branch leaders, volunteers, and participants in courses feel energized, and equipped, and empowered. 

Branch Support Pilot: Year One

In FY22, almost $30,000 was contributed by volunteers to support branches. Over 90% of these funds were employer contributions matching volunteer hours! About $18,000 was designated to be spent at the discretion of branch councils to invest in volunteers, activities, and courses. Unsurprisingly, their approaches varied drastically, depending on donation amounts, needs, and culture at each branch.

Everett: Navigating the Branch’s Biggest Needs

When several volunteers’ matched hours came through at once, the leaders wanted to think of something that would benefit as many people as possible in the Everett Branch. Nick Mayo, 19-year member and incoming Branch Chair, shares “I was in close collaboration with the outgoing branch chair, Elaina Jorgensen. We brainstormed on what we could use the funds for that would simultaneously benefit the entire branch, our top volunteers/trip leaders, and our participants and students.” 

They decided that access to satellite messenger devices was one thing that made all of the branch activities safer. They had already experimented with subsidizing monthly subscriptions for top volunteers, but this was only helpful to those who could afford the device to begin with. “We ultimately decided to purchase 14 Garmin inReach devices with the branch designated funds as it met many goals at once,” Nick shares. “By distributing the devices to our committees based on the number of trips led, and then to the leaders themselves using the same metric, we could not only award those leaders who are most deserving, but we would also make more of our trips and activities a safer experience for all.”

Nick is excited about the Branch Support Pilot and hopes that volunteers and donors will feel empowered to identify more new and creative ways to invest in the branch as a whole.

Foothills: Enhancing in the Volunteer Experience

“Volunteers are a scarce and precious resource,” says Travis Prescott, 5-year member and Super Volunteer. He sees firsthand how Mountaineers programs rely on the commitment of highly-skilled volunteer leaders. “There's a saying from my days as a Navy officer,” Travis tells us. “‘If you take care of your people, they will take care of you.’ Volunteer recognition should not be an afterthought. If it is, you can expect to struggle with retention.”

Travis’s employer matches his volunteer hours, contributing thousands of dollars to The Mountaineers every year. When we launched the Branch Support Pilot Program, he wanted to see how the matching funds might support volunteer retention in the Foothills Branch. He pitched a proposal to the branch council to use this funding to combat volunteer burnout in the Scrambling and Climbing Committees. He gave an example: when volunteers set aside a whole weekend to stand around in the snow and teach new students, getting an AirBnb for instructors instead of asking them to sleep at a trailhead can take some of “the suck” out of the experience.

Travis’s proposal was accepted by the Foothills Branch Council and the funding was used throughout FY2022 to help volunteers feel more connected and appreciated. New jackets and beanies recognized some of the most committed climbing volunteers and helped to forge identity around a fledgling committee. They sent several leaders to AMGA Single Pitch Instructor School to hone their teaching skills and get accredited. And committee leaders picked up some extra scrambling swag to help welcome and integrate new volunteers throughout the year.

“Just having a big pot of money available doesn't solve problems. You first need to have identified which problems are most impactful, and then which of those could be addressed with supplemental funds.” In the coming year, Travis hopes that others will be inspired to volunteer, to contribute, and to come up with new creative ways to invest in a robust volunteer community. 

Olympia: Paying it Forward 

Ben Witten, 4-year member, appreciates the youth programs in Olympia because of the ways they help him connect with his daughter. As a climber, he would be happy spending all his days off at the crag. “And if I can take my daughter with me, then my wife is ok with it,” he jokes. 

So when Ben found out that his employer would match his volunteer service with a semi-annual grant, it felt important to support the Olympia Branch. Ben didn’t have a strong opinion on how the funds should be spent – he admits he would rather leave that decision up to those who know the programs the best – but he hoped that his contribution would support other families climbing together. Becky Nielsen, Olympia Youth Program Manager, connected with the Branch Council and proposed that the biggest need was for new harnesses, ropes, quick draws, and helmets. The Mountaineers Development Team was even able to step in and leverage brand partnerships to get the new gear at a discounted price. The gear has since been used both for internal youth programs, such as Explorers and Junior MAC, as well as external programs like Mountain Workshops. 

As a Senior Financial Advisor, Ben loves when his clients have clear philanthropic goals.  “There is a lot of money out there that needs to be aligned with people’s values,” he shares. “If The Mountaineers is able to bridge that, which we are uniquely able to do, it will put a smile on peoples’ faces by allowing them to support the activities they most believe in.”

FAQs and How to Participate in FY2023

Editor's Note: this program has changed since our pilot launched. For more information about the details of this program, please read Branch Support Donation Program Continues in FY2024.

After the successes of year one, the Branch Support Pilot is heading into a second year. We hope that it will continue to support innovation, strengthen our culture of philanthropy, and grow our impact across all program areas.

How can I support my branch this year?

Make a donation or contribute using an employer match and then don’t forget to let us know! The best way is to include a note with your contribution that you intend to support a particular branch. This can be done in a comment field with most employer programs, a memo on a check, or in the notes field on the online donation form. If you give through an employer or DAF, make sure you use our Tax ID (27-3009280) as other organizations with similar names may be listed.

If you contribute through an employer matching program, it can take a month or more for that contribution to process. Giving a heads up to The Mountaineers Development Team ( and your Branch Chair can help get the conversation started. It is also better when you can submit volunteer hours early and often; for example, logging all of your hours at the end of the summer might not leave sufficient time to come up with a strategic spending plan before September 30. Discretionary spending must happen in the same fiscal year as the gift was received.

Can I support a specific activity or committee instead?

From an accounting perspective, funds can only be directed to a branch at the highest level (the branch) and unable to be immediately directed to a specific committee. Branches can earmark up to 60% of funds to recognize or train volunteers or buy gear and equipment for courses and activities. Philanthropic support can be used within particular committees or courses or across all committees, at the discretion of the branch council.

Do I get to decide how my contribution is spent?

Under the Branch Support Pilot, it is up to the branch council to decide how best to invest the earmarked portion of donated funds. Leaders are encouraged to consider the donor or volunteer’s interests and ideas, and may consider other voices and ideas as well. The best way to give input is by writing down your ideas and sharing them with the Branch Chair and any other relevant volunteer leaders. Discretionary funds should be spent on volunteer recognition, volunteer training, or gear and equipment to support courses and activities.

Why is there a 60/40 split? Does that mean the branch only gets 60% of my contribution?

Philanthropy subsidizes volunteer leadership development and recognition, gear needs, and infrastructure support for all branches. In recent years, when a donor indicated they wanted to give to their branch, 100% of their donation supported branch initiatives that were also supported by the branch contribution margin. This budgeted spending includes some shared services and initiatives across all branches and helps to reduce the chance your Branch goes into “the red” with critical expenses if it is a slow revenue year.

The Branch Support Pilot aims to support branches as they respond to emerging needs and new opportunities without compromising their strategic plans. Now 40% of branch-restricted funds support those shared services and planned initiatives. And as of last year, up to 60% of those designated funds can be earmarked for discretionary spending in the same fiscal year. In other words, 100% of your contribution supports your branch, but only 60% can be earmarked for unplanned ideas and opportunities. 

What if I have ideas for how donations can benefit my branch, but don’t have the capacity to give?

Any member can suggest ways to strengthen their local branch community by reaching out to their Branch Chair. Branches are expected to spend discretionary funds in the same fiscal year, so it is good for them to have some ideas on hand if they receive any last minute donations in August or September. “But,” Travis reminds us, “the simplest way to invest in the activities you love is to volunteer for them, cliche as that sounds!” Volunteering your time is always a meaningful way to directly support your branch and share your experience and knowledge with someone who is learning new outdoor skills.

Unrestricted Donations Are the Best Way to Support Your Community

Unrestricted gifts made to The Mountaineers Annual Fund are the most powerful type of gift. They provide the flexibility and agility required in challenging times. In good times this flexibility allows us to fund high-priority, mission and value-driven initiatives that meet the needs of our extended community. Philanthropy furthers our mission in ways that we cannot achieve through earned revenue alone. 

The Mountaineers leverages unrestricted donations to invest in volunteers and infrastructure, improve outdoor education experiences, improve teaching and gathering places, provide scholarships and equipment to individuals facing financial barriers, fuel our nonprofit publishing efforts, and enable our community to serve as a Washington State leader in conservation and advocacy. 

Make an unrestricted donation 

The Mountaineers® is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization located at 7700 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115. Our staff located in Seattle work to support our seven branches (Bellingham, Everett, Foothills, Kitsap, Olympia, Seattle, and Tacoma), three lodges (Baker, Meany, and Stevens), and our Kitsap Forest Theater. Tax ID: 27-3009280.