Cheers! Nonprofit wine company gives profits to customers’ charities

publication date: Nov 2, 2012
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author/source: Janet Gadeski
When most people want to engage their friends in supporting charities, they run, ride bikes or throw a party. Brett Preston chose a different route. He sells wine. Lots of wine - ten thousand bottles and counting since July, with the entire profit ($1 per bottle) going to charities of the purchasers' choice.Janet Gadeski photo

"I run a small company and we do a lot of pro bono work for charities," he explains. "As opposed to working with each charity individually, we tried to come up with something they all could benefit from." 

With lifelong friend and Winefox.ca general manager Justyn Szymczyk, Preston recruited a network of 150 enthusiasts to source the wine from a vintner in Argentina, manage the logistics and regulations, design bottle labels, court the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and promote the product through every free channel they could find. 

Great potential in smaller communities 

Twenty-four charities have signed up with The Little Grape that Could, with more applications on Preston's desk. Unlike many fundraising opportunities, it's equally effective for charities in smaller communities. Just ask Brenda Dushko, fund development and communications manager for the Oakville & Milton Humane Society

"It's incumbent on us to make it work," she says. She has already turned a "to-do" list into a "done" list that includes - 
  • Persuading every LCBO outlet in Oakville and Milton to stock the product with signage emphasizing the support of a community charity;  
  • Encouraging those stores to include the wines in their staff tasting program, which gives the wines a chance to be featured as "staff picks";  
  • Convincing the LCBO outlet down the street from the OMHS shelter to display the wines and related signage near the checkouts;  
  • Issuing media releases and including stories in their e-newsletter and print newsletter, all emphasizing how easy it is to credit wine purchases to the OMHS;  
  • Campaigning to have local restaurants offer The Little Grape that Could as their house wine next May to celebrate "Be Kind to Animals Month";  
  • Successfully pitching the University of Toronto graduate business students' association to make the OMHS their charity of choice for the year, including buying the wine for all of their events; and
  • Promoting the wine through OMHS' wedding favour program, in which couples make a donation in lieu of wedding favours, and receive table cards with their pet photos plus small pet goodie gift bags for their guests. 
Convenient, easy for purchasers 

"It's an ideal program for us," Dushko enthuses. "We know that our donors fall into the wine-drinking demographics. And they've made it so easy to use. The ‘choose a charity' link is right there on the home page, so it's convenient for purchasers to enter the codes on the bottles and select our charity for the profits. And if you buy in quantity, you can just scan your receipt and email it to have the purchase credited. We really stress that with restaurant managers and people buying for their own events." 

Dushko and her charity are model participants for the program, helping Preston grow his distribution network while they both reap the benefits. The LCBO only places a new product in 100 stores, Preston explains. It's up to the manufacturer or importer to solicit other outlets individually. That's pretty tough to do with a volunteer workforce and no marketing budget, so he's grateful for the efforts of participants like OMHS. 

Wines draw great reviews 

Wine critics, including Tony Aspler and Konrad Ejbich, have given high marks to both Little Grape wines (Torrontes and Cabernet Sauvignon). And Preston's website highlights a couple of studies suggesting that knowing you're helping a charity enhances your taste experience: 

Functional magnetic resonance imaging shows that the act of giving money to charity stimulates the areas of the brain responsible for pleasure and reward.  In a study published in  Science Magazine  participants were asked to split $100 between themselves and a food bank.  Donation of the money to the food bank led to activation of the pleasure and reward centers of the brain.   According to some researchers, the act of giving can cause the release of serotonin and other neurotransmitters that stimulate these parts of the brain.    

... In another study researchers from Bristol University performed a study in which certain participants were given a drug that boosted serotonin.  The participants were then given things to taste.  Those individuals who had been given the serotonin booster actually tested to be more sensitive to sweet and bitter tastes. 

These studies indicate that when your serotonin levels increase, as they can when you give to charity, you can experience different tastes much more vividly.  

As for me, I'm off to do my own in-depth research this weekend. It's good to be a writer!

Learn more and register at The Little Grape that Could


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