Great Lakes Proud Community Project
The Great Lakes Proud Community Q&A
In the spring of 2011, a 20-something Austin Holsinger was traveling between California and Montana, figuring out what to do with his life. The idea of returning to his home state of Michigan was in the back of his mind, but life out west was fun and home would always be there to visit family and friends.
Life on the road has a funny way of changing things. Holsinger kept seeing stickers on cars of a crescent moon above a palm tree — the flag of South Carolina.
“I saw it all over the country,” he said. “When I finally looked it up to see what it was, I thought that it was clever and unique enough that it got me thinking about doing something similar for Michigan.”
The shape of the Mitten State is visually appealing and instantly recognizable, but Holsinger took it a step further and, with the help of a friend, designed the sticker to show the outline of Michigan just using the Great Lakes. And Great Lakes Proud was born.
Austin wanted it to be more than another sticker on the back of your car, he wanted it to give back to the very lakes it symbolized. With every sticker sold (and still today), a portion is given back to organizations that are working to protect the lakes. And it has been a huge success with more than 1 million stickers printed and nearly $200,000 donated! Great Lakes Proud has created a vehicle of good, change, and influence from a sticker and in doing, changed the landscape of their market.
After seven years in the sticker game, Holsinger is ready to take Great Lakes Proud to the next level. This next step is more than just a sticker-- it’s about building and recognizing a community that celebrates the Great Lakes day in and day out. And it’s an opportunity to make an even bigger impact on our fresh water and the issues that threatens it.
“I thought at the very best that Great Lakes Proud would just be a fun side project. I had no idea it would turn into what we have today,” Holsinger said. “Now, we have this opportunity to expand on our core mission of celebrating and protecting the Great Lakes. Everyone from every background can and should celebrate our Great Lakes so we just want to give them the opportunity and place to do it.”
Let’s cut to the chase: What exactly is this second iteration of Great Lakes Proud?
Austin Holsinger: We are looking to build a dedicated community that simply loves and celebrates freshwater and namely, our Great Lakes. To do that, we are launching a subscription service called the Great Lakes Proud Community Project. Our community members are going to receive member-only benefits like a custom designed sticker, exclusive monthly rotating discounts from local and national retailers like Moosejaw and Patagonia, a continuous discount at Great Lakes Proud, articles and content on fun ways to celebrate our lakes and issues they are facing, downloadable photography, and even access to our monthly giveaways! We have a few other surprises up our sleeve too. Plus incredible opportunities to help out with the projects that are critical to protecting our freshwater. All that and it only costs $1 per month! We want to make this the best $1 you can spend each month.
What kind of projects are you talking about?
We want to get in front of issues that are currently plaguing our region’s greatest natural resources. So, things like the Flint water crisis, the discovery of PFAS in local water sources, and the ongoing issues with Line 5 to name a few. When something arises and we see there’s a need, we have the ability to react quickly. And the more people we have in the community, the bigger impact we can have. But we are and have always been about collaboration so there is an element of that too. The community members will have the opportunity to shape where that money goes and we will count on them to keep us informed of issues important to them that need support.
Our goal is to be giving 100% of monthly revenue by the end of 2019 and the community will know exactly how much money was given each month and where. Those $1’s will go directly towards people and initiatives protecting and celebrating our Great Lakes and freshwater.
How big of a community are we talking about?
I would love to see us somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 members relatively quickly. I think the community exists and is even bigger than we anticipate. I think people everywhere are eager to celebrate the lakes, but they just don’t have an outlet for it right now. This can be their outlet.
Once our members see what they can get and what kind of great projects they are contributing to, I think we have the opportunity to be culturally important and ultimately grow to a community of more than 1 million members. Picture this - a community of everyday people who love and celebrate our Great Lakes giving $12,000,000 a year! All for just $1 a month. That’s a legacy worth leaving.
And those people just have to contribute $1 per month?
That’s right. We’ll have an option to sign up for 1, 2, 3, and 5 years at a time, paying only $1/month. When they first join, each new community member receives an awesome welcome package from us, including an exclusive members-only Great Lakes Proud sticker that they can display on their car, laptop, bike helmet — wherever they want to put it and a welcome bumper sticker since we love stickers. And then each month, they’ll receive their member email newsletter that’s going to be filled with Great Lakes-focused content and coupons to their favorite retailers.
What else can members expect to get?
We’ve developed a lot of great relationships with businesses over the years and we want members to take advantage of that. So, each month we’re going to be doing a giveaway for things like Yeti coolers, Great Lakes Proud apparel, maybe even something big — like a paddle board! Like I said, we have a few surprises up our sleeve too.
And we’ve also developed relationships with a lot of great artists around the Great Lakes, so we’re excited to offer exclusive downloads of their work to members who can use it as phone or desktop backgrounds or to print off.
And you think people will buy into this community?
Absolutely. I think we can make this the best $1 they spend each month. There are millions of people who have a dollar to spend on something that can do some awesome things to protect and celebrate the Great Lakes.
And honestly, if you don’t have a Great Lakes Proud sticker, but always wanted one, or if you want a new one, this is an easy opportunity to get a brand new and exclusive design plus some great extra goodies along the way. And then it’s our job to show you that your $1 per month investment is worth it and we can’t wait to do that.
What’s your dream for this project?
To build a community that’s not only significant in number but has a huge and lasting impact, I want to create a community that’s very engaged in what’s going on around the Great Lakes and a community that recognizes people and how they celebrate our Great Lakes and freshwater no matter their background. I’d love to have enough people to establish a college scholarship for students looking to pursue environmental-related degrees, projects, or businesses too. Really, the sky the limit with this project and we can’t wait to get started.