A&F Challenge: Having Fun While Doing Good

Peter Tonguette
Aubree Jones (in gray shirt) serves as counselor at a SeriousFun camp.

New Albany has a reputation as a quiet residential village, but every year on the first Friday after Labor Day, the area seriously rocks out.

The city is home to retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, which, for the past 17 years, has held the A&F Challenge on its corporate campus. Something of a cross between a fall festival and a rock concert, the event raises money for a corporate partner. The Challenge, open to the public as well as employees, offers music from local bands, a 5K run, putt-putt golf, hot-air balloons and ax-throwing.

In recent years, the beneficiary has been the SeriousFun Children’s Network, a worldwide organization of camps that cater to young people with serious medical ailments. The SeriousFun Children’s Network was chosen as the Challenge’s partner on the recommendation of A&F employees.

“A couple of our associates went to volunteer at the camp,” says Aubree Jones, senior director of human resources and community engagement at Abercrombie & Fitch. “When those associates came back with the excitement that they saw, it just kind of organically grew from there.”

For its first 15 years, the event was an in-house party. “It started as a way for the company and the associates just to have a little fun and give back to the community,” says Jones. “But we realized that we could scale this in a bigger way by opening it to the broader community.”

The A&F Challenge raises money for SeriousFun through a variety of means, including corporate sponsorships and an in-store campaign during which Abercrombie & Fitch customers are asked to round up their purchases. The largest revenue stream, however, is ticket sales. This year, tickets were $75 for adults and $25 for children. The event sold out, with about 5,000 attending.

“It’s really like all-expense-paid—all of your food, all of your drink, all of the entertainment,” Jones says. Guests contribute by purchasing tickets, and then enjoy the day without being solicited for further donations.

While the marketing benefits for a youth-oriented brand of a big community party featuring rock music are evident, the event is not an advertisement, says Jones. “When you come here, you don’t see pop-up shops where they’re saying, ‘Hey, come buy our merchandise,’ ” she says. “Obviously, we do yield some business benefit from this, but that’s not the primary objective. … We do good because it’s the right thing to do.”

In the weeks leading up to the Challenge, anticipation mounts among those who work on the campus in New Albany. For a week prior to the event, technicians and builders are visible on campus, setting up stages and sound equipment, says senior sourcing specialist Dougie Taylor. “By the day before the Challenge, the excitement is very much in the air and you can really see the stage coming together.”

On the festival day, employees are forgiven if they find themselves more than a little distracted. “The bands start their sound check at about 8 a.m. down in the courtyard,” Jones says. “As someone whose office sits right behind it, I’ll tell you, there’s not a whole lot of focus. … The doors open at 5, and that’s when the world kind of starts to descend on us.”

Abercrombie & Fitch’s investment in SeriousFun Children’s Network continues after the Challenge ends. The company sends more than 100 employees to work as counselors at camps around the world each summer, giving each a full paid week off to volunteer, without cutting into their vacation time. The company even pays travel and other expenses.

“We sent over 50,000 T-shirts to the camps worldwide,” adds Taylor. “That’s one less thing they have to pay for that they have to give out to every camper and every volunteer.”

Although it might seem indulgent for a company to sacrifice a work day to host a party, Abercrombie & Fitch sees long-term advantages in having employees dedicated to service. “It certainly benefits us from their productivity, their engagement and, frankly, just their belief in what we do and what our brand stands for,” Jones says.

Number of employees involved: About 1,600 of 5,000 attendees

Dollars raised: More than $3.7 million

Agency served: SeriousFun Children’s Network

By the Numbers