Constellation Brands Cocktails & Causes takes a speed dating approach to charity
VICTOR — It was a happy hour in every sense of the term.
Constellation Brands employees sipped their favorite adult beverage and cruised a room full of hopeful non-profit representatives.
And somewhat akin to high-stakes speed dating, charity reps pitched their organizations’ missions, goals and needs as Constellation staff moved from table to table, sizing up where their donations could best be directed.
The Thursday event at Constellation’s Victor headquarters was Cocktails & Causes, created to ramp up for the company’s fourth annual Employee Match Day.
On July 18, Constellation will match dollar-for-dollar employees’ donations of up to $2,500 to the charities of their choice. So if a staff member gives $50 to their favorite charity, Constellation will match that donation.
Bethany DiSanto of Fairport said giving back to the community is fundamental to the company’s culture, and she came up with the Cocktails & Causes idea when she saw some co-workers struggling to figure out which non-profit they wanted to support.
“What we’ve learned is the millennials coming into the company weren’t as actively involved in our Employee Match Day,” said DiSanto. “They really weren’t sure where to give, what to give, and just didn’t have the knowledge of what’s out in our community.”
Cocktails and Causes was one way to connect employees with deserving area non-profits, she said.
“We wanted to give them a chance to walk around on their own and really find the match that makes sense to them,” she said.
It was a win-win afternoon for Tina Christensen of Big Brothers Big Sisters, who said about half the people who stopped by her table sounded interested in supporting financially, and the other half in volunteering.
“It’s been a wonderful opportunity,” said Christensen. “We match kids in the community with mentors and allow them to be exposed to opportunities maybe they wouldn’t have seen in their life, see dreams that they wouldn’t believe they could reach. That mentor kind of puts a hand on their back to say they can.”
Brett Kelly of Rochester moved to the area from Florida two years ago, and had no idea what kinds of charity options existed in his new community.
He’s since connected with AutismUp and Gilda’s Club — an excellent fit because he has a brother on the Autism spectrum.
“The culture draws you in,” said Kelly of Constellation’s emphasis on compassion and giving back to the community.
“Everybody’s eyes light up — the 18th is a big occasion, a big day, because you know you’re making an impact, and you know it’s local,” he said.
Not only does the company match employee’s donations up to $2,500, but if that employee participates on Employee Match Day, they have a chance to win extra money to be given to a charity of their choice. Constellation sets another $10,000 aside to divide randomly for the express purpose of donation.
“Is it going to make me give more? The answer is yes,” said Terry Steele of Brockport. “There’s such a culture that’s built in here; we understand how fortunate we really are. And it does engage me more to give more. It certainly feels like the right thing to do. It’s part of who we are as an organization, and it’s part of who we are as employees.”
The causes that have captured Steele’s heart this year are the Al Sigl Center, Bridges for Brain Injury, and her hometown marching band.
“I use part of my match to help kids get uniforms and instruments who simply can’t afford them,” she said.
Over the past three years, Steele has donated $7,500, which Constellation matched, to various causes.
Last year, more than 500 Constellation employees worldwide donated more than $330,000, nearly doubling their goals and tripling participation from 2015. Offices in Chicago, San Francisco, San Antonio, Mexico, Italy, New Zealand and Canada are participating again this year.
The goal for 2017 is to have more than 550 employees donate more than $350,000 to the causes they are most passionate about. There is no minimum donation, as the philosophy is that no donation is too small to make an impact.
The non-profits and organizations represented were Big Brothers Big Sisters, Center for Youth/Crisis Nursery, CURE Childhood Cancer Association, Genesee Land Trust, House of Mercy, Serenity House, Just Breathe, Literacy Volunteers, Out and Equal, Villa of Hope, Rochester Regional Health. AustismUp, Blue Star Mothers, Light Hill, Cheshire Fire Department, Expeditions of Empowerment, Family Promise, Gigi’s Playhouse, Happy Tails, New York Wine & Culinary Center and St. Peter’s Community Arts Academy, among others.
Cocktails were free at Thursday’s event, but not because it could enhance giving, DiSanto said. Employees were not expected to make a commitment Thursday, but hold off until July 18.
“We enjoy our happy hours here, and learn more about our products as well,” quipped DiSanto.