The role of wine in charity fundraising is a huge topic that I had the chance to explore in a paper delivered to the recent National Council for Voluntary Organisations/Voluntary Sector Studies Network conference on the voluntary sector and volunteering research.
The paper explored the literature, discussed insights from a focus group with fundraisers and proposed an experiment that took place later at the conference.
Wine can be a means to increase charity income in many ways - from the day-to-day sale of wine in charity-run bars and restaurants to its role in fundraising events. Events are much less researched than many other kinds of fundraising, with virtually no research on the choice of food and wine and the amounts raised. Yet fundraisers often suggest that classy food and drink is a key factor in events aimed at affluent supporters. Conversely, food and wine are fundraising expenses, and we know that donors disapprove of charities that spend excessive amounts on fundraising.
Many fundraising dinners ask for donations or pledges during the evening, and my key interest was to explore whether the choice of wine affected donation levels. So I invited those at the NCVO/VSSN conference dinner to imagine it was a fundraising dinner for a charity they really cared about, and asked them how much they would pledge. All were served red Bordeaux, but some tables received a supermarket claret (worth £5 a bottle), while others had a 2005 St emilion Grand Cru Classe (retailing at about £35). The differences were much larger than expected: those who had the commercial wine pledged an average of £46; those on the special occasion wine offered more than double, with pledges averaging £121.
Of course, factors other than the wine might have been at work, and this was only an initial test of the research method with just 33 participants - much larger studies will be needed. But if these tentative findings are confirmed, the extra costs of serving a special wine at fundraising events may well be justified!
Gareth Morgan is professor of charity studies and a member of the Wine Studies Unit at Sheffield Business School, Sheffield Hallam University