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Fundraisers dispirited across Arkansas as liquor largesse ends

by Andrew Moreau | May 10, 2023 at 7:37 a.m.

Fundraisers across Arkansas are scrambling for alternatives after Southern Glazer's Wine and Spirits Inc. unexpectedly notified customers last week it would cut back on liquor donations.

The change creates financial pressure for charities and nonprofits that already are appealing for money to boost the support they provide local communities. The organizations rely on liquor donations for premier fundraising events to help reduce costs, raise money and as an incentive for participation, officials said.

"This is a big deal," said Kelley Bass, chief executive officer at the Museum of Discovery, which has relied on Glazer's each year to support the organization's Spark! Fundraiser. "It's a big deal in terms of [financial] impact and it's a big deal in terms of a breakaway from a very longstanding practice."

Arkansas Foodbank has its Empty Bowls fundraiser -- its signature event -- scheduled for Friday, and Glazer's was signed on as alcohol provider. Glazer's reversal left the organization rushing to land a replacement.

"It was challenging with the short notice, but we are unbelievably grateful because in three days we were able to visit and speak with a number of companies here in Central Arkansas ... and they stepped up and provided everything that we need for the event, and everything is taken care of," said Sarah Riffle, chief development officer at the Foodbank. "This was not something we had planned for in planning all the logistics for our fundraiser."

Likewise, Arkansas Enterprises for the Developmentally Disabled Inc. was left searching for a new alcohol donor for Curtain Call, a major fundraiser scheduled for later this month at the Argenta Community Theater.

"We are actively looking for another liquor sponsor for that," Debby Grooms, director of development for the organization, said by email. "I know this upset a lot of non-profits as they were notified last minute and are now trying to find alternate sponsors."

Glazer's sent an email to customers May 4 notifying them of the immediate change, which a company official said was a business decision that will help reduce costs in Arkansas. The privately held wholesale alcohol provider, with offices in North Little Rock, is based in Miramar, Fla., and is the largest wine and spirits distributor in the nation, covering 45 U.S. markets and Canada.

The decision only affects Arkansas operations, according to Rebecca Weaver, a company liaison for charitable contributions in the state. "Things change and times change," Weaver said Monday. "Costs are increasing and getting higher."

Costs also could increase for nonprofits and charities that depended on the alcohol donations for events.

"This changes the nature of the profitability of nonprofit events, because alcoholic beverages can be a fairly large component," Bass said. "For those of us who have been able to accept these donations, it changes the financial ramifications of your event when you have to pay for the alcohol."

The Methodist Family Health Foundation also was scrambling for a replacement alcohol donor for Southern Silks Stakes, the signature annual fundraiser that supports the foundation, which includes a children's home, a behavioral hospital and clinics across Arkansas. The 10th annual event is scheduled for September, and Glazer's had committed to donate alcohol.

Amanda Smith, executive director of the foundation, said the group was "disappointed to learn that their charitable giving program has changed, as donations impact the amount of funds we are able to provide to directly help the children and families in our care. However, we do understand that circumstances can change and that companies must make decisions in their best interest."

Glazer's customer email said "due to the current market as well as new corporate directives" it was reducing its donations to only one event per month and will provide only table wine.

"We will, however, afford you the opportunity to purchase wine, spirits, and champagne if there is a valid permit to do so," said the email, which was sent by Weaver and Kenny Thrasher, also a company liaison for charitable giving.

Moon Distributors Inc. of Little Rock will continue providing full-menu charitable donations, Chief Executive Officer Stan Hastings said.

"We are going to keep our support," Hastings said. "We have a family that's involved in lots of charities and we do things all over the state, and we don't have any intention of changing our policies."

The Methodist foundation's Southern Silks fundraiser is a faux horse racing event that includes live and silent auctions. The event is a key contributor to the organization's budget, according to Smith, who said the foundation values "Glazer's support, generosity, and partnership throughout the years for our signature event."

Given the sudden change, the nonprofit has not had time to evaluate and find alternative support for Southern Silks Stakes, which is in September. "We really haven't moved forward yet in figuring out what we're going to do or the route we're going to take," Smith said.

The availability of alcohol is a key attraction, and the Glazer's donation has been valuable to boosting funds raised at the event. "Our guests are accustomed to having that -- it is an important piece of our event," Smith said. "If we did not have that contribution it would be an expense to our bottom line."

Opus Ball, one of the premier annual fundraisers in Arkansas, also was left without an alcohol donor. The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, which sponsors the event, also has not identified an alternative.

"The symphony hasn't had a chance to fully discuss any change with Glazer's yet," spokesman Joshua Cook said in a statement Tuesday.

It's difficult to assess the financial fallout from Glazer's decision because each fundraising event has unique characteristics, according to Hastings.

"There's no doubt that there's a cost savings to those we donate to and that they donate to," he added. "But it varies by the event and where it is; there are a lot of variables that go into that."

Glazer's declined to comment on specifics regarding its decision, though Weaver acknowledged the cutbacks will create financial difficulties for charities and nonprofits.

"I'm sure it will," she said. "We make a lot of donations in the state."

The company has followed up its original announcement by reaching out to organizations such as the Museum of Discovery. Spark! will make the cut as Glazer's designated sponsor event this fall, Bass said.

To help compensate Glazer's for its donations, the museum has traditionally provided a free night for the company to host an employee event at the facility.

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