KALAMAZOO — Bell’s Brewery Inc. has launched a new charitable initiative that expects to distribute $480,000 in donations in its first year and support social and environmental causes in communities where its products are distributed.
“At Bell’s, we’ve always made a sincere effort to give back to the communities that we’re operating in,” Walker Modic, Bell’s Brewery’s director of environmental programs, told MiBiz. “It became clear that sincere (efforts) also needed to be pragmatic and strategic.”
The Inspired Giving initiative will help Bell’s officials understand the company’s philanthropic capacity and strategically direct funds to maximize effects in local communities, Modic added. The Kalamazoo-based brewery has pledged to donate $1 for every barrel of beer sold to fund Inspired Giving, which is part of the company’s scalable philanthropic commitment that increases giving as the company grows sales.
“We like that those two are paired together,” Modic said. “The more effective we are at producing world class beer, the more opportunity that creates for us to move larger volumes of money into nonprofit spaces.”
Inspired Giving will fund an annual cycle of grants for grassroots organizations. This year’s cycle is focused on clean water stewardship, an issue that Modic said is a natural cause for the company to support.
“Brewing by its very nature is a very water-intensive process. World class breweries tend to operate (by consuming) three volumes of water used per volume of beer sold,” Modic said.
Bell’s has worked to reduce the quantity of water used in production and to remove contaminants from excess water before returning it to the water supply. The company hopes to expand that work beyond their own processes.
“As heavy users, it remains paramount (to Bell’s) that others have that same degree of access,” Modic said. “And that is also work that we can’t do all on our own. We can use our brand, and we can use our voice, but we need partners, and we need partners who are as practiced and as effective at what they do as we are at making beer.”
The grant distribution process is designed to help Bell’s identify those partners.
Inspired Giving’s leadership team — which brings together expertise on diversity, equity and inclusion and environmental issues — worked together to identify priorities for the grants. In particular, Bell’s executives seek places where the company’s material business interests can intersect with community and environmental interests. While some funding will be allocated to existing partners, Bell’s is also seeking new partnerships.
In addition to the grant program, Inspired Giving includes plans for in-kind donations, which focus on the brewery’s home communities in West Michigan, and incentives for employee giving and volunteering.
Founded in 1985 by Larry Bell, the company — which maintains a production facility in Comstock and owns Escanaba-based satellite brewery and pub Upper Hand Brewery — late last year sold to Australia-based Lion Little World Beverages Inc., a division of Japan’s Kirin Holdings Co. Ltd.
Since the sale, Bell also has remained active in the philanthropy space in Kalamazoo by setting up a foundation and making sizable local donations earlier this year. That includes $1 million to Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo; $5.25 million to Kalamazoo College, his alma mater; and $8 million to The Irving S. Gilmore International Piano Festival to establish the annual Larry J. Bell Jazz Artist Award for jazz pianists.
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