by Kimberly Mosley, president, American Specialty Toy Retailing Association

Members of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) have always made a difference in their communities. Beyond their roles as manufacturers and sellers of quality toys, there is a long tradition of giving back — from donating a percentage of sales and products to teacher discounts and more. Many ASTRA members also individually contribute as reliable experts and advocates.

But that’s not all that members do. Through ASTRA’s new member-driven foundation, retailers are making their mark beyond a local area. It’s all related to the ASTRA Foundation’s mission: to increase awareness of the impact of play across the lifespan from early childhood through adulthood through research, education, and philanthropy.

Purpose Beyond Profit

Fat Brain Toy Co.’ Erik Quam, former chair of the ASTRA board of directors, helped make the ASTRA Foundation a reality. “Sharing has always been a hallmark of the ASTRA culture, whether it’s helping a new retailer learn the ropes, spending time to help new parents understand the importance of play, or donating to local organizations,“ Quam says. “We created the foundation because we realized there are even more ways ASTRA members could make a difference if we joined forces — particularly around communicating the value of play for everyone and building some larger-scale volunteer and toy donation programs.”

It turns out it’s good business to have a purpose beyond profit, according to a 2017 study by Cone Communications on corporate social responsibility. The study found that 87% of consumers reported that they consider a company’s ethical practices and support of good causes when making purchase decisions.

ASTRA Foundation Activities

Here’s a sampling of member activities that were accomplished through the ASTRA Foundation.

• Activities at Marketplace & Academy: When we met in Pittsburgh last year, 31 volunteers spent 124 hours in a local park. They removed invasive vegetation, planted site-appropriate plants, and cleaned up trash. In 2018, more than 40 ASTRA volunteers moved furniture and staged classrooms at a school in New Orleans’ Tremé neighborhood. In addition, 125-200 volunteers stuffed 1,000 backpacks with more than 10,000 donated items, which were then contributed to local schools for students from low-income families. Watch for your invitation to our next volunteer event in Orlando, Florida, at the 2020 Marketplace & Academy taking place from June 7-10.

• Toy donations: ASTRA members have generously donated thousands of toys for kids in need through the Toys for Joy program, conducted in partnership with Good360, a global leader in responsible product philanthropy.

• Other forms of sharing: Members are helping the foundation grow through participation in programs that share proceeds. For example, a portion of each ticket purchased for ASTRA’s popular Night in New York event in February benefited the foundation, as do sales of ASTRA merchandise in our online store. Members who become clients of the Merchant Giving Project — itself a way to support a charity of choice — are supporting the ASTRA Foundation because the Project makes a donation on behalf of each member.

Promoting Play Across Lifespans

In addition to arranging volunteer activities and opportunities for giving, the ASTRA Foundation is the platform in which the independent toy industry promotes the premise, promise, and practice of play across the lifespan. ASTRA collaborates with organizations such as the U.S. Play Coalition, which leads play advocacy initiatives and provides access to play research. The science of play is woven into ASTRA’s formal education and in more informal outreach. As the foundation grows, our collective capacity to lead the industry in promoting play across the lifespan will grow with it.

“As ASTRA members, there is so much we can do to make a difference now that we have the foundation to help us make an impact,” Quam says. “It’s a great addition to the purpose-beyond-profit activities we do in our individual businesses. We are just getting started. Come join us and get involved!

This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of the Toy Book. Click here to read more!