Q&A: Giving Back & Working With Your Local Nonprofits

When Sun King Brewing opened in 2009, co-founders Dave Colt and Clay Robinson had a goal to be more than just a brewery that made beer. It would be a fabric of their community. That has grown into a full-time position at the Indianapolis-based brewery with a Community Partners program that helped more than 500 nonprofits in 2017 that range from community improvment, youth development programs, the arts and affordable housing outlets. In all, Sun King raised more than $900,000 in-kind and monetary donations with donated gift bags, pints, cans, giveback nights and donation jars.
“We wanted to have a positive impact on our community and be an organization that people could be proud of,” Robinson said. “Having worked at various breweries we had experience with ones that gave back and ones that didn’t and we were always terribly disheartened by the ones that didn’t, so we made sure it was a core value for Sun King.”

BREWER: How did you get this going and how has it grown?
ROBINSON: We started by simply offering gift baskets for silent auctions. We would get hit up for free beer, but as a start up every dollar counts and beer was our only means of paying the bills, so we didn’t have the ability to simply donate beer. Fortunately for us, Indiana law allows for breweries to discount beer for nonprofit organizations, so we began offering a 1/3rd in kind donation on kegs for our Community Parnters and we began working with them in order to show them how to sell that beer and make money to fund their missions. We also began offering our Tasting/Tap room as a place to host events, and we would give $1 from every pint sold to the organization. Over time our Community Partner program has grown to include three full-time employees who work with nearly 400 organizations and help execute nearly 800 events every year!

BREWER: When did you get to a point where you knew you had to have someone on staff just for this?
ROBINSON: Everything at Sun King has grown organically, and when we started to get more requests for donation items and beer, one of our staff recognized the need and stepped up to help out. Over time the program became more developed and we got an intern, who became our second full time employee, and so on… We genuinely try to take a holistic look at our business and figure out what type of needs we have, be they people or equipment, and make an effort to address them.

BREWER: How do you “advertise” to your area, or do they come to you?
ROBINSON: People always just came to us and over time the word spread. Our staff works with our partners to help identify their needs and figure out what we can do to help or who we can connect them with that might be beneficial. We always start small and as we get to know our partners and figure out which of them execute well, are great to work with, and have missions that we align with, then the partnerships grow.

BREWER: What are some of the events you do to spotlight nonprofits?
ROBINSON: We have regular programming in our Tasting Room that some of our partners help put together. We host events and fundraiser. We offer draft logistics, discounted beer, and often time staffing, for off-site events that our partners put on. We donate all of the tips from our tasting room to different nonprofit partners throughout the year and we make sure that there is information about them available in our taprooms.
We host the CANvitational, and annual canned craft beer festival that draws over 3,000 people and all of the proceeds go to local non profit and community organizations. In 2017 we earned $16,000 dollars from the event that was split between eight different organizations!

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