Cocktails for Humanity

Raising Money For Charity By Raising A Glass

A pop-up bar becomes a monthly fundraiser for local causes

The coworking space General Provision is right in the middle of Fort Lauderdale, Florida’s vibrant arts district, which features an art walk on the last Saturday of every month except December. In the spring of 2015, General Provision’s owner, Tim Hasse, struck on the idea of running a pop-up bar during the art walk event, the proceeds of which would be donated to charity. But Hasse didn’t really enjoy bartending on top of all the other jobs that running a coworking space entails. Fortunately for local nonprofits, there was someone willing to take up the task.

Freelance journalist Eric Barton, who rents a desk at General Provision, didn’t want to see the pop-up bar idea die, so he did what many good samaritans do: He volunteered to take on the initiative himself. With the help of his wife Jill (pictured with Eric above) and a few of the couple’s friends, Barton managed to get a case of vodka donated, mixed drinks till about 9:30 in the evening—till the free booze ran out—and ended up having brought in $1,200 for local non-profits. He’s been behind the bar (either literally or metaphorically) 11 times a year ever since.

“This is why we do this, to actually help people with things”

“When we first started this, I was making the drinks, I was stocking the bar, along with other volunteers,” Barton recalls. “I was cleaning up at the end of the night, carrying out the trash. Now we’ve figured out how to do all that. Whoever the nonprofit is, we ask them to bring volunteers for the bar. They make the drinks, they help promote the event.”

The event benefits a different local nonprofit every month. Toward the end of each year, Cocktails for Humanity, the 501(c)3 nonprofit that Barton formed to support the initiative, puts out a call for applications from local nonprofits. From these, the organization chooses 11, featuring one each month at the pop-up bar during the art walk. “We look only at local nonprofits,” Barton says. “Somebody who could benefit from $3,000 and can bring out a crowd.”

The organization gets liquor and other supplies donated where it can, patrons pay for the drinks as they would at any bar, and the nonprofits get any proceeds that are left after the event’s costs are paid. And Tim Hasse continues to provide the venue. “We couldn’t do this without the venue that we’re in,” Barton says. The nonprofits advertise the event to their members and audiences, so supporters often show up. Patrons are happy to buy drinks and tip generously, since they know all that money goes to a cause they support. “Since May of 2015 we’ve raised about $85,000,” Barton told Good Turns recently. “We’ve definitely gotten into a groove since then, which is good. It’s really fun.”

The event raises from $2,000 to $8,000, depending on the season, the weather, and the crowd. Even when things appear to go poorly, Barton says, there are reminders of the impact the organization is having. “We did a pet shelter nonprofit, it was kind of a rainy night, we didn’t have a really successful night. It might have been our lowest ever. I was feeling downtrodden after putting in all that work. But the executive director [of the pet shelter] came up to me at the end of the night and said, ‘This money is just amazing, it’s going to buy all new beds for the animals.’ That was awesome. I just thought, This is why we do this, to actually help people with things. That is really cool.”

Now that Cocktails for Humanity has hired its first employee (Patti Kneski, Director of All Things Fun, and de facto bar manager at the pop-up bar nights), Barton has his sights set on expansion. “I think this is something that could be duplicated in many cities,” he says. “Miami is most likely our next city. We could come into [a new city], teach somebody how to do this, and then hand it off to them.”

Barton would like to expand to other cities with art walks, though he’s open to suggestion. “The art walk crowd is kind of ideal,” he says. “They have a drink or two and go somewhere else.”

“Our big challenge right now is scaling up. What we need is a couple of people willing to volunteer to set things up, to be the adults in the room, do some of the paperwork of getting things filed. The question is, how do we find those local do-gooders who want to pick this up?”

Is that you? If so, get in touch with Cocktails for Humanity through their Facebook page. It’s one of the best reasons we know of to mix yourself a drink.

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