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December 14, 2018

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Are You Serving Alcohol
at Your Fundraising Event?

by Deane Brengle

Serving alcohol at a fundraising event is not an unusual occurrence. Many nonprofits engage in this practice for a variety of reasons. Some encourage it thinking that a donor may feel more inclined to give generously if they are "feeling good". Others think that they won't get as many attendees if alcohol isn't served.

No matter what the reason, if you're serving alcohol at your fundraising events don't do it without careful forethought!

These days more and more event hosts are being held accountable for the actions of their guests after they leave the event. Both civil and criminal court cases have reached an all time high recently. You can and will be held responsible for injuries and damages that occur as the result of the alcohol you serve during your event to your guests. The smart host of a fundraising event serving alcohol covers all their bases before there is a problem.

  • Your Event

    Don't make the excessive consumption of alcohol the focal point of your fundraising event. Events like Pub Crawls and Martini Fundraisers are accidents waiting to happen (pun intended) if not planned exceptionally carefully.

    Some nonprofit organizations will want to steer clear of hosting any events where alcohol is served. While Mother's Against Drunk Drivers (M.A.D.D) comes to mind, many other groups like schools are banning alcohol from all their fundraisers.

    The focus of your event should be an auction, dancing, games, or anything else to encourage them to spend their time socializing instead of drinking.

  • Non-Alcoholic Drinks

    When serving alcohol at your fundraisers always offer non-alcoholic alternatives.

    There are many appealing drinks that can be created without alcohol. You can make these available along with the usual juices, fancy waters, and soda pops.

    Make sure that your bartenders are versed in the vast variety of non-alcoholic drinks recipes available. There are many recipes available on the internet, like these at the Drink Jockey.

  • Food

    When serving alcohol always serve food. If your guests are drinking on an empty stomach it will hit them harder and faster.

    Foods that are salty, greasy or very sweet seem to encourage more drinking.

  • Permits & Licenses

    Always verify that you or your caterer/venue have the correct permits and licenses for the type of event you are hosting.

    It would be very embarrassing to have to cancel your already advertised event because you couldn't obtain them or didn't have the time.

  • Insurance

    Make sure you are covered by insurance for your event and that the agent writing the policy knows that drinking will be part of your event. Just because you have been re-assured by your event venue or your caterer that you are covered by their policy doesn't mean that you are. You may need to have an insurance binder issued by their company naming you as an insured party. And you may still need/want your own event policy issued that protects your nonprofit.

  • Under Age

    If you are serving alcohol at your event you may have to limit your guests to those that are over 21 years of age. If so, spell this out in any advertising you do and print it on any tickets for the event.

    During your event make sure all public entrances are manned by your staff and that tickets are presented and the I.D. is checked of anyone who looks under the age of 26. Do not allow any exceptions.

  • Professional Bartenders

    Always make sure you are using professional bartenders to serve the alcohol at your events. Professionals bartenders are trained to recognize if someone is intoxicated and how to handle them. They also are trained to mix drinks and will not be tempted to make drinks that are too strong or mix multiple drinks for one guest. They will also check I.D. if need be.

    If your bartenders are provided by your caterer or the event facility be sure and check to make sure these standards are met.

  • Last Call

    Anticipate the end of your event and stop serving alcohol at least an hour before hand. Serve more food and non-alcoholic drinks towards the end of your event.

  • Intoxicated Guests

    No matter how well you plan, if a guest wants to get drunk they will find a way. They may even show up drunk or well on their way to it.

    Your first line of defense is your bartender. Let them be the heavy and cut them off.

    After this, if they become unruly, you have a definite problem on your hands. You can try and quietly ask them to quiet down or even leave. You may appeal to a friend of theirs to talk to them or even take them home. But if they are out of control you are going to have to take the situation into your own hands. Designate a person to be the "bouncer" for the evening. If they aren't use to doing this they may require the back-up of several helpers.

    If you have rented a full service event venue this may already be covered for you. But once again - check and make sure before you have a problem.

  • Ride Home Program

    Many large fundraising events CYA (cover their ass) by providing a free "Sober Ride" home for any intoxicated guests.

    This often goes on behind the scenes and undercover for a couple of different reasons:

    1. They don't want the public (or their guests) to know that the event attendees are sometimes drinking to excess.

    2. They don't want the program abused by guests that are just looking for a free ride home (usually in large metropolitan areas where the guests may arrive by taxi or mass transit).

    Some nonprofits provide the "Sober Ride" using their staff or volunteers from the nonprofit.

    While admirable, there are some significant negatives with this approach:

    1. Liability- There is always the chance of vehicle crashes, alcohol poisoning, and lawsuits (never let a lone guy drive a drunk woman home alone).

    2. Puke- Sorry, there really wasn't a nice way to say it. Drunk people have a nasty habit of throwing-up all over everything.

    3. Expenses- Every volunteer will have to have a cell phone, a car, gas, parking, and training for a proper "Sober Ride" program.

    Many nonprofits find the smartest way to provide a "Sober Ride" program is via one of their local cab companies.

    Call ahead of time and inquire as to the availability of such programs in your area and the cost. Pre-arrange to have a cab company cover your event. Keep their number on hand at the event so you won't have to go searching for it when the need arises.


If you follow these tips you will significantly reduce the risk of a tragedy that may happen at any fundraising event where people drink. And this should reduce your liability and your chances of being sued or charged too.

But, more than that - it's the responsible thing to do! Do you really want to have a serious injury or death on your conscience? Do the right thing - don't let your fundraising event guests drive home drunk.


About the Author:

Deane Brengle is the editor of several free online publications that cover fundraising for small nonprofit groups. You can visit these publications and read more about fundraising in articles by him and other experts in the field at The Fund$Raiser Cyberzine, The Fundraising for Small Groups Newsletter, and Fundraising Booklets.

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