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Nonprofit Pub Challenges How We Think About Business

Topics: Career Profiles
A groundbreaking pub in Portland, Oregon is going about their business in a unique way. The Oregon Public House is a nonprofit pub. Along with frosty microbrews, the pub serves up a chance to donate to worthy causes. Could this be the start of something entirely new and exciting for the industry?
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No one is really surprised it started in Portland.

The city of Portland, Oregon is known to be something of a hipster heartland. The popularity of this notion is thanks, in large part, to the IFC show Portlandia. But, there may be quite a bit of truth to the portrayal. The city is described by Fred Armisen’s character as a city where “…young people go to retire.” In other words, it’s super laid-back. It’s also a city that’s home to more than 60 breweries and almost 7,000 nonprofits. In fact, Portland is practically defined by its breweries and nonprofit organizations. So, it stands to reason that “the country’s first nonprofit pub,” as founder Ryan Saari has dubbed it, began in Portland.

“In 2009, my family and I moved back to Portland,” Saari said in his TEDx talk, Have a Pint – Change the World. “And, a few things happen when you move to Portland. One, you get a tattoo. It’s like a passport stamp, you know. ‘Oh, I see you’ve been to Portland.’ Second, your taste in coffee and beer get very expensive, or ironic, you have a choice. And three, you start a nonprofit.”

Saari was definitely on to something when he thought of combining a pub and nonprofit work. Since the pub opened in 2013, they’ve raised more than $128,500 for charity, according to the website. And, the site boasts that the business model has paid off in other ways, too:

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“Running our pub in this way has allowed us to create over a dozen new jobs that pay industry-standard wages, provide advertising and promote awareness for nearly 100 different NPOs, donate thousands of dollars each month, and create a venue and place of community for new friends and neighbors to chip in and be a part of something truly world changing.”

Here’s how it works:

When you place an order at the Oregon Public House, you select from a menu that includes more than just food and drink. Patrons are asked to select one of the charities “on tap” that month alongside their standard order. At the end of the month, the books are settled, and the profits are donated to the charities patrons selected. In the end, the pub raises both money and awareness for local nonprofits, every day, with each and every customer.

Nonprofit workers often wait tables at the pub when their organizations are featured. They pick a night of the week and head to the pub for a few hours to assist customers and spread the word about their nonprofit. They probably have a little fun while they’re at it, too.

“Starting a college from scratch is not a thing people do,” Michelle Jones told CBS News. She was spending a few hours serving at the pub in order to drum up donations for a new school, Wayfinding Academy.

She went on to discuss the significance of the potential contribution. “In the end, the contribution we’ll get from the Oregon Public House will be essentially equivalent of one of our major donors for the year.”

A group of “founders” helped to make the pub happen by providing the funding needed upfront. In return, they receive free beers at the pub on a scaled basis determined by their level of contribution. The highest tier receives a free beer a day for life. According to Saari, they’re also “celebrated like Norm” every time they enter the establishment.

Now, there’s a second Portland nonprofit related to beer. Ex Novo Brewing Company opened just a year after the Oregon Public House.

The only people connected with these ventures who don’t seem to be earning as much as they would if these businesses had a more traditional model are the founders. But, Joel Gregory, who started Ex Novo, doesn’t see it that way. In his mind, things are working just the way he’d hoped.

“I guess, I mean, I’ve just always been wired, like, I just need enough,” Gregory told CBS News. “I don’t really care that much about being overly-wealthy. So, that’s kind of why this thing is a nonprofit.”

The Oregon Public house broke new ground and created an establishment that functions really differently than anything we’ve seen in the past. Hopefully, other entrepreneurs will take this idea and run with it in their own towns and cities. Industry workers, nonprofit organizations, and pub patrons, would likely be pleased if the concept were to spread beyond the Pacific Northwest.

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What do you think of the idea of a nonprofit pub? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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