Author: Charles Frizzell, Broken Strings Brewery
While you were writing a business plan for opening your dream brewery, you probably didn’t take into account the amount of charities that would reach out once you open your doors asking for donations like free beer, swag, gift certificates, or just cash. As a small brewery just starting out, it can be overwhelming handling all the requests. How do you decide how much you can donate, and once you have reached the limit, how do you say no?
These can be tough decisions, especially as a steward of supporting local and being community-oriented, but there is a point where you have to look at your bottom line and realize there is only so much goodwill you can afford. The decision on which charities to support is ultimately yours, but here are some good ideas for managing requests and maximizing the impact your donations can make for charities and your brewery.
Donation Request Form
Creating a template form that you can add to your website or attach to email requests is a great way to organize and collect the numerous requests you may receive. It also gives you a chance to let the charity requesting the donation know your requirements and limitations from the beginning, while simultaneously allowing you to collect the necessary information you need to make a decision on their request. Comrade Brewing Company in Denver, Colorado has a great example of a donation request form on their website.
“Another thing I find helpful is to get all the information up front. Type of event, name of 501(c)(3), EIN, etc. You don’t want to be hunting this stuff down later in case of an audit.”
David Lin, Comrade Brewing Company
“We also have requests come through our normal contact form, which we then redirect to the donation request form,” says David Lin of Comrade Brewing Company. “Another thing I find helpful is to get all the information up front. Type of event, name of 501(c)(3), EIN, etc. You don’t want to be hunting this stuff down later in case of an audit.”
Bring the Charity to You
Instead of sending a gift certificate, merchandise, or a cash donation directly to the charity, without ever interacting with them in person, turn the opportunity into a way to bring new customers into your taproom. This is a great chance to offer to host an event for the charity that your business can benefit from as well. “Brink for a Cause” at Brink Brewing Company and “Raise a Glass & Cash” at Great North Aleworks are great examples of these types of taproom events.
“We let it be known we do [Raise a Glass & Cash], but don’t actively recruit for it. When people come to us to schedule one, we look at whether it’s a cause we support, and schedule them in. We promote it, but also rely on the individuals planning it to promote it themselves.”
Lisa North, Great North Aleworks
“We have the second Thursday of the month available as ‘Raise a Glass & Cash’ night in the tasting room,” says Lisa North of Great North Aleworks in Manchester, New Hampshire. “For someone in the community raising money for a charity, we donate $1 for every pint, flight, growler fill, 4-pack, or 6-pack sold for the night. We let it be known we do this, but don’t actively recruit for it. When people come to us to schedule one, we look at whether it’s a cause we support, and schedule them in. We promote it, but also rely on the individual(s) planning it to promote it themselves.”
Maximize Your Donations
Simply writing a check or sending money via paypal would be the easiest ways to support a charity, but at the end of the day, you should consider how that donation could potentially benefit your taproom sales as well. As a business, you have bills to pay, but if your charitable actions can also increase taproom sales and visits at the same time, well that can help make you more profitable in the long run, which means more money for charities and community involvement.
Silent auction tables are a prime example of an area that can be overlooked when choosing what to donate. Instead of donating packaged beer that the guest can just take home and enjoy, consider giving gift cards or a way to redeem your beer in the taproom. Hopefully they find their new favorite brewery when they stop by to pick up their prize. Gift certificates can be small in size and bring a small amount of attention on the silent auction tables, so consider creating a gift basket containing merchandise like tin tacker signs which clearly show your branding. Or consider creating a large-format, colored graphic gift certificate that is more visible than the common credit card size gift cards. Another option is to donate a growler with your logo on it and include a free fill of the guest’s choice.
“Our standard donation is an empty growler bottle and attached gift certificate for a free fill. Rationale is that the growler bottle sitting on the silent auction table gives us a whole lot more exposure than merely a gift certificate, seen only by the people that actively go to look at it.”
Mark Caviezel, Red Tandem Brewery
“We freely donate to just about any silent auction request,” says Mark Caviezel of Red Tandem Brewery in Oxnard, California. “Our standard donation is an empty growler bottle and attached gift certificate for a free fill. Rationale is that the growler bottle sitting on the silent auction table gives us a whole lot more exposure than merely a gift certificate, seen only by the people that actively go to look at it. And the charity must send a person to pick it up.”
In conclusion, managing donation requests may be a surprise you weren’t expecting to require so much of your time and energy. But if you consider them a way of creating new partnerships, as well as a potential new component in your marketing tool box, they can allow you to maximize the benefit the taproom and the charity can receive from working together.