Wine needed for arts event. Free is best.
January 14, 2010 8:48 PM   Subscribe

I've been tasked with securing in-kind beverage donations / beverage sponsorship for an event at a music & dance education non-profit, and I'm failing pretty badly. I lack useful contacts in the beer/wine/liquor industry, and I lack knowledge of what companies generally support small arts nonprofits in this fashion. As an added bonus, our organization is fairly new. Please give me advice on how to not suck at this...

I volunteer in development for a small, incredibly new arts non-profit. It's basically volunteer powered.

I've been tasked with finding in-kind donations of beer, wine, and spirits for a free event in a month and a half. I was given this same task for the org's first event and failed miserably, due in part to lack of lead time and the fact that the organization was brand new. I have a bit of experience in other aspects of development, but none in corporate sponsorship at all. And I clearly am lacking this natural skillset, evidenced by my abject failure.

We have another event approaching, and I'm not doing so well this second time around either. I've emailed as many of the local beer and spirits companies as I can think of, to either no response (mostly) or "thanks but no." In the pitch I sent, we're offering branding opportunities in our print and digital material, and our audience is a fairly desirable demographic/location. There's also all sorts of altruistic reasons why to support us, which I've included in the pitch as well. This time I've expanded the type of beverage companies in order to target some up-and-coming types of liquor that also happen to be somewhat ethnically relevant to the event itself. No takers so far.

I've asked colleagues in the field for advice. My day job (similar industry, very established company) has never been able to secure this type of donation, and the only orgs I've seen do this successfully are the symphony/opera/very large organizations.

I floated the idea of asking our board and/or other volunteers for donations, either cash or in kind, to cover the beverage need for the first event (based on a model of another org I know), but our executive director thought it was hugely inappropriate, since we're all already giving our time.

The beverages are going to be given away at the event, hence the "donation" goal rather than merely buying the cheapest thing we can find at Trader Joe's and selling it for 3x the cost.

Any words of wisdom on how to get better at this skill, and how to actually find any donors for our event?

Any recommendations of companies that are receptive to this sort of in-kind donation request?

Is this even a realistic goal, securing beverage sponsorship/large beverage donation for a new and mostly unproven organization?

Any other creative ideas for how to meet this beverage need in a low to no cost fashion? (Besides Two Buck Chuck.)

What can I do to not suck at this and get someone - anyone - to donate beverages to our cause?

(I'm in San Francisco, if it matters.)
posted by soleiluna to Work & Money (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You need to make this approach in person or on the phone. E-mail doesn't work because it is not personalized. Where is the event? You can probably have a bar host this with a bartender, but sending an e-mail out to get what you want is not the way to do it.

Your other option is to forget about drinks at the event and instead call a bar and telling them you will bring X number of people to the bar if they make a drink special (one special martini, spirits, two beers, and soda) available to your people, who will be identified. I think most bars would be willing to do that. Again, you need to ask in person.
posted by parmanparman at 8:57 PM on January 14, 2010

All the arts related events in my city are sponsored by microbreweries.
posted by furtive at 9:04 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have done this in the past. We have found that high-end independent liquor stores have been willing to help. You might also ask restaurants if they would be willing to help. You should go in person to ask. Many are willing for the "free" publicity.
posted by fifilaru at 9:10 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, parmanparman. I plan to follow up in person where possible.
posted by soleiluna at 9:12 PM on January 14, 2010

I work at a liquor store which is solicited for donations quite frequently. The way that seems to get results is to request in person, politely, and have a specific amount in mind. Any requests via e-mail or snail mail gets thrown away by my GM. Working for a corporation, we don't have any direct say with donations/advertising opportunities. The donations we give are usually out of pocket from my manager, or the donation of time (serving at an event). I know there are several large chains in that area, who would probably help out, you just need to find the right person (and usually the manager of the store is not the right person). Like others have said, I would seek out independent stores, microbreweries, or even local wineries. Good luck!
posted by lizjohn at 9:58 PM on January 14, 2010

Best answer: I have no idea how this would work in San Francisco, so I may be waaaaay off track. But here in Melbourne, Australia, this is the what I have seen done.

Go to your local stores (grocery store or whereever you can buy these beverages) and talk to the store managers (yes, in person and local - anything big and corporate moves slowly and is also more concerned about their image).

Since you are not an obviously identifiable organisation (like the local school, or sports club), take along a flyer that has a succinct explanation of what the organisation does/will do. Be prepared to talk about the specifics of what you are raising the funds for ('so we can buy supplies for a new program that will do x'). Do offer to provide them with promotional coverage of some sort. I see certificates up all the time in local stores here, thanking them for their in-kind donation to a raffle or whatever. At my workplace, we had a raffle of donated or highly reduced items to raise money for a charity. Someone put it together just by going up and down the street and asking.
posted by AnnaRat at 10:07 PM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

Yes, you must request in person. That is the first and most important step. My org is in the same process at the moment - and we have mostly volunteers who do the securing of booze/auction items/everything else. Some of them literally walk down busy strips and go into each place to inquire about a donation.

I've found that local places - i.e. not chain type companies - are more willing to help you out. They care about the local economy and they don't have a huge paper-work gauntlet to go through before receiving a donation. Of course, lots of big companies do this as well. It's generally not about finding an especially philanthropic company (because most have a certain amount they want to give purposes and such) but to ask the right person the right way - part of that is having the right person do the asking.

Unfortunately, networks are key to this. Where does the board have connections? Have them contact those places. Where do your constituents have connections? Your patrons? Who in your community has a similar mission or passion?

The most important thing, honestly, is to simply spread the net wide. No, really. Work your connections, but ask absolutely everyone. Sheer statistically you'll probably come out ahead. Cast the net wide and make each one count.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:13 PM on January 14, 2010

and on preview, AnnaRat's advice is exacto - and much more succinct than mine!
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:14 PM on January 14, 2010

Best answer: Along the lines with AnnaRat's advice, you will probably have better luck with local liquor stores/retailers than actual companies that produce alcoholic beverages. There is a more immediate pay-off for them, so they'd be more likely to be generous. A personal, more members-of-the-same-community approach will also be more likely to yield results. Also, targeting small brands like micro-brews or up-and-coming-wineries, will get you farther than the Anheuser-Busch's of the world. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 10:26 PM on January 14, 2010

I have no idea if this would work, but I'm in the restaurant industry, and we use four liquor distribution companies who are always willing to do promotions for our bar, bring in the girls, the hats, shirts, etc. They also always run up a large tab buying drinks (of their product) for customers... They love to promote, any time we ask - I'm not sure if there are any restrictions on where they can do it, but it couldn't hurt to ask. I'd find out who the major distributors are in the area, and try to get in touch with some reps. Asking around at restaurants could probably net a rep who'd be thrilled to throw a party and write off some company money.
In other words, like the above advice, but in between the retailer and the producer, assuming it works that way in San Fran.
posted by hypersloth at 10:47 PM on January 14, 2010

In case I wasn't clear, we get Pepsi from Pepsi, but we don't get our AB products from AB or our Miller from Miller; we get all of our alcohol from distribution companies. Not sure what it's like elsewhere.
posted by hypersloth at 11:06 PM on January 14, 2010

Oh, and this may be scandalous as hell, but AB does the whole "Born-On-Dating" and the local rep constantly rotates our stock, removing anything past the "expired" date (even though IMO if it's in a brown bottle and kept refrigerated, WTF it's just fine AMIRITE, but I digress).

Anyway, no idea where any of that goes, but maybe you could keep it out of a dumpster if you talked to the right person.

methinks conspiratorially that they just re-label it as an off-brand. Either that or they really do throw it away, in which case, it's a travesty; there are sober children in the world to think of... Well I'm off to post my next AskMe question about the fate of three-month-old beer.
posted by hypersloth at 11:18 PM on January 14, 2010

Ask them them in person or by phone. When I worked in development for a small arts non-profit, I used to get 3-4 boxes of free coffee from Starbucks by calling around locally and asking nicely. Not sure if they do that anymore, but it's worth a shot!
posted by aquafortis at 12:04 AM on January 15, 2010

Great advice here - especially about asking in person and bringing a professional-looking press kit - but I wanted to second the advice about asking microbreweries (though probably ones that bottle). I have secured donations for 2 nonprofit events from two different regional brewers - they seem much more eager to promote and do outreach.
posted by Miko at 7:10 AM on January 15, 2010

I want to second hypersloth's idea of going to a liquor distributor. they generally have higher profit margins than stores and a bigger selection so might be more willing to donate in kind, especially if you select a beverage or two that are local exclusives to that distrubutor (so if no other distributor carries some micro brew and people at your event like the microbrew, they will go to other bars and suggest they carry it, bars will need to get it from the exclusive distributor)
posted by WeekendJen at 7:14 AM on January 15, 2010

Best answer: Is this even a realistic goal, securing beverage sponsorship/large beverage donation for a new and mostly unproven organization?


I want to third hypersloth's idea of going to a liquor distributor, rather than a retailer. I am pretty active in the Dallas charity event circuit, and non-profit fundraisers here almost always work with the distributors. I don't know that I've ever seen a retailer provide all the booze for free.

Here is an example with which I have direct experience: I host a very small, very local lifestyle blog (i.e. very small audience). Before launching the site, we asked a marketing rep for a regional liquor distributor if she would like to partner with us. In exchange for promotion on our website and at our parties, she now gives us all the vodka we want (in bottles for private parties, and then she also pays for tabs for events if we agree to host them at venues she recommends). She also brings loads of the promotional material (which they call "point of sale") for us to place around at events, and sometimes gives us premium bottles of stuff to give away in contests.

She reps one brand of vodka, but she has counterparts at her distributor that rep brands of tequila and rum, and she has invited us to work with them also.

I don't know about beer but I know that wine is fairly easy to get. Barefoot Wine and Bubbly supports lots of arts events here in Dallas.

All these brands are going to have regional marketing representatives, whose job it is to go out to the bars and restaurants in the area and try to get their brand signed up for sale, and try to get their brand noticed and promoted. You might use Google or LinkedIn to try and identify who the right person would be for your area/event, and then reach out in person with your pitch material.

I agree that if you are sending emails to "" you are going to fall into the abyss.
posted by pineapple at 7:45 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your best bet will be micro-brews or "premium" beers and specialty liquor. Bud doesn't care about something that small and your arts org doesn't meet their beer swilling target.

As mentioned many times above, you need to approach people in person. I have experience representing a beer brand and most of this type of thing would go through the local sales person in the area. I would talk to a bar manager near your office and explain your situation to him and ask if he can help you get in contact with his sales reps (or maybe even have him plead your case). The local rep will have a small budget for this sort of thing and has the power to get things approved.

The beer company will want exposure in return. Have a clear description of the event, the people attending and what you can offer the beer company (their logo on event flyers, signage at the event, a thank you shout-out at the event, anything like that).

Afterwards, make sure to send a nice thank you letter to the sales rep. That way he will be more willing to help out at the next event.

IANAL, but in certain areas there are laws against companies giving away free beer for promotional purposes. There's usually a way around this though.
posted by dripdripdrop at 8:47 AM on January 15, 2010

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