On March 25, 2019, a devastating fire tore through Common Roots Brewing Company in South Glens Falls, New York. The blaze was not considered suspicious, but the damage was real. Not only did the father and son team of Bert and Christian Weber lose a business that they had long sought to build (and was just beginning to see gain traction), but their 20 employees in the brewery and taproom were out of work.
Within a day, a page appeared on GoFundMe, the popular crowd-funding site, seeking donations to help the brewery, which had quickly become a community favorite, keep employees paid and insured while the business rebuilt.
“We didn’t have a minute to feel bad about the fire. We were dumbfounded by the huge support that happened so quickly,” says Christian. “It was so humbling. The page was started by current and former staff. So many people were looking for an avenue to help. It became the infrastructure for people to do what they wanted. I wish there were a term bigger than ‘thank you.’”
The original ask of $10,000 was quickly surpassed. So, the goal amount was raised to $50,000. As of publication, with still several days left in the campaign, the brewery is on target to be funded.
Make It Personal
Breweries’ intimate connection with customers makes crowd funding a natural fit. It’s expensive to open a brewery (or expand an existing operation), so when brewery owners reach out with an appeal to people who would likely already spend money on their business and then offer good things to come, many people want to pitch in to help.
Perhaps one of the better-known campaigns was the crowd-funding campaign Stone Brewing announced a few years ago on Indigogo to help fund the build-out of its Berlin location (since sold to BrewDog) in exchange for rare collaboration beers. The brewery sought $1 million and wound up netting more than $2.5 million from almost 14,000 backers. Even the most cynical beer fans were impressed.
But browse the archives of the popular crowd-funding sites, and you’ll also come across heartbreak and campaigns that never happened. There are some breweries that were obviously shooting for higher goals than were reasonable. Asking for a bit less might have been more fruitful. Still other campaigns feel like a half-baked idea that came in the minutes after imbibing someone else’s product. Other campaigns have thin information, less than stellar rewards, and a lot of typos.
It’s not enough to just ask for money. As with the process of putting together a proper brewery business plan, you need to put real thought into it, demonstrate a need, and provide a roadmap to success.
The popular and successful campaigns show passion and have the ability to get people (aside from the poster’s friends and family) excited to donate money. Most of the funders are going to be strangers, so it’s important to get them to feel like family as quickly as possible.
“It was very important to us that the crowd funding be mutually beneficial to both us and the people donating. We tried to have some desirable incentives that would make a donation worthwhile for the donors. For example, we had a pint club membership for $150. For that amount, you got your name recognized on our wall and a lifetime membership in our pint club, which gets you one free beer every month for life,” says Laura Huisinga, co-owner and taproom manager of Cuyuna Brewing Company in Crosby, Minnesota.
Through their GoFundMe campaign, Cuyuna Brewing raised a little more than $24,000 in a month, about $10,000 higher than their initial ask. That amount helped them get the funding they needed from the bank to get over the last bit of the project.
“Without crowd funding, we likely would not have done it,” says Huisinga.
Not Just for the Pros
The homebrewing bug bit Marc Burgat of Davis, California, several years ago, and he quickly graduated to a 15-gallon system. As a result, he found himself with more beer than he could drink alone. So he soon started opening up his garage to the neighborhood, inviting folks to come by and sample the latest batch. Eventually, he put out a tip jar that would go toward funding ingredients for the next brew day.
Then folks started asking for beer to go or to use at charity events or other places. Wanting to keep up with industry trends, Burgat decided to get a canner. Rather than go the expense alone, he started a crowd-funding campaign for a canner and commercial refrigerator. Within a month, he had nearly double the financial contributions from neighbors, friends, and even strangers.
He used the extra cash to get a top-of-the-line Oktober seamer and a commercial refrigerator. He then put some money into label design and promotional items emblazoned with his brand, Pacific Nomad Brewing Company. “It’s given us a good sense of community,” Burgat says. “People know that if the garage door is open, they can come by and have a beer, and we have people bring friends from out of town. It’s a great way to meet neighbors and new people.”
Know the Local Laws
Do your research and consult legal professionals before you set up a crowd-funding campaign. While most states don’t see crowd funding as a problem, there are some, such as New Jersey, where anyone holding a liquor license (which includes brewery permits) is prohibited from start-up funding via donations.
More than Monetary Benefits
Threshold Brewing & Blending in Portland, Oregon, actually did two crowd-funding campaigns. The first was an Indigogo campaign, which had tiers of contribution levels with increasing incentives.
“We got a great deal of support from that, reaching about 70 percent of our $15,000 goal,” says Sara Szymanski the communications and events manager at the brewery. “Unfortunately, with Indigogo, the parameters required us to meet 100 percent in a set amount of time (1 month), so everything was forfeited. That was disappointing.”
She says that the second time around, they tried a GoFundMe campaign, which did not have the time and amount constraints that Indigogo did.
“We did get some support and involvement from that, but nothing compared to the first effort. Understandably. We’d lost that initial crowd momentum. If our Indigogo campaign had gone all the way through, we would have had more of that, not to mention those supporters receiving incentives such as T-shirts, hats, and swag that would be worn around town, effectively advertising for us.”
With the successful GoFundMe campaign, there have been nothing but upsides. “Our GoFundMe supporters are now some of our regular customers that we’ve gotten to know more than we would have otherwise,” she says. “They feel connected to the brewery and, of course, that’s invaluable.”