Beer and philanthropy

by Noelle Garnier
Posted 2/04/13, 04:00 pm

In a historic Portland residential district, a large green sign pinned to a red-brick store front announces the Oregon Public House: “Have a Pint: Change the World.”

Beer and philanthropy don’t usually go together, but the Oregon Public House, due to open in February, is the latest in a new kind of charitable enterprise some are calling “philanthropubs.”

Founder Ryan Saari calls the Oregon Public House “the nation’s first non-profit pub.” All of its profits will go to local charities such as The Mentoring Project, Compassion First, and Habitat for Humanity.

“Our guiding value is community, which is a kingdom principle, but it’s also about simply being together, getting to know our neighbors, and serving together,” said Saari, who also pastors a local Foursquare-affiliated church.

Saari began the project more than two years ago when looking for a way to help the local community. He and some friends realized Portland already had lots of non-profits, many of them suffering in the lagging economy. They also discovered in their research that, "when an economy goes down or there's a recession, the first thing that people cut away from their budgets is their giving. At the same time, alcohol sales go up."

A pub seemed like a natural fit. They found a commercial building that dated to 1909 and have been renovating, typically with volunteer labor and donated materials. The main floor will house the pub and a “parent-child community space.” The entire second floor is a “Village Ballroom.”

A seven-member volunteer board chooses the charities Oregon Public House will support. 

“We choose charities doing local work, charities that are doing great things with their money, and charities to whom our contribution means something,” Saari said.

The pub will open completely debt-free, supported by donations and by a “Founders” program that offers free beers each day or week to significant contributors.

After making purchases at Oregon Public House, customers select which charity they want to support from a short list posted behind the bar. Each $5 locally-brewed beer generates a donation of about $1.

Representatives from each charity will volunteer at the pub, waiting tables and talking with customers. “Our goal and hope is that customers will go serve on their own time and help fulfill the missions of these charities,” Saari said.

Similarly, the Okra Charity Saloon in Houston, Texas, gives customers one vote per drink on which local charity they want to support. In Washington, D.C., Nick Vilelle is founder of Cause: The Philanthropub. 

“We want people to learn more about causes they may have never come across before,” Vilelle said. “One of our founding principles was to make it easier for people to get involved in charity, even those with crazy work schedules. Cause makes it easy—most everyone makes time to go out for a drink or dinner.” 

In addition to direct fundraising, the charity pub model helps charities by highlighting the work of private organizations that otherwise receive little publicity.

“Most of these are smaller organizations that don’t have marketing budgets or big communications teams,” Vilelle said. “It doesn’t change the fact that they’re doing great work. We can be their megaphone.”

Noelle Garnier

Noelle is a journalism student at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va.

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