The unlikely romance between a vodka company and a veterinary nonprofit can be distilled to one word: dogs.
After the eponymous owner of Tito’s Handmade Vodka brought stray dogs that turned up on his land outside of Austin, Texas, to Emancipet, the organizations formed a partnership. It’s raised nearly $13,000 and united both sets of employees around the mission of helping animals.
"You can tell we love each other a lot," said Amy Mills, chief executive of Emancipet.
Stray Dogs and a New Partnership
Founded in 1999 as a mobile veterinary clinic in Austin, Emancipet now has five Texas clinics. A sixth is planned for Philadelphia. It performs thousands of pet surgeries a year — 40 percent of them at no cost to owners — and trains other clinics to improve services and strengthen employees’ skills.
The nonprofit spayed and neutered the stray dogs Tito Beveridge — yes, his actual surname — took in. In return, his company donated drinks for Emancipet to use for its fundraisers.
"When a nonprofit asks for vodka to raise money, we usually say yes if we can do it," said Beth Bellanti, relationship-marketing manager at Tito’s.
As the vodka company grew, it opened an office "practically around the corner" from the clinic, Ms. Bellanti said. The distillery’s dog-friendly ethos — employees bring their dogs to work, and Mr. Beveridge is shown in advertising with a canine pal — meshed well with Emancipet’s mission. The nonprofit continued to serve Tito’s strays; the company has kept or adopted about 45 over the years.
The partnership, which Ms. Mills says evolved organically, was somewhat formalized two years ago with the creation of vodkafordogpeople.com, a website that sells dog and human products, such as leashes, T-shirts, and toys, bearing Tito’s logo. The proceeds of the product sales — which make up most of the $13,000 in cash the company has donated — go to Emancipet.
"We anticipate that this will continue to grow because the donations keep increasing in size due to increases in sales," Ms. Mills said in an email.
Thirteen thousand dollars is a small portion of Emancipet’s budget, but Tito’s other contributions surpass its monetary and in-kind donations. The company works with bars around the country that serve its products to hold "yappy hour" fundraisers for Emancipet. And a Tito’s representative in Philadelphia, where the nonprofit’s new clinic will open, offered to help the nonprofit develop ideas to appeal to potential donors there.
"It’s buying us brand awareness we could never afford to buy on our own," Ms. Mills said.
While dogs brought them together, the organizations are bound by more than a devotion to canines. Ms. Mills says she quickly sensed that Tito’s shared many of Emancipet’s core values, including compassionate service. Tito’s doesn’t promote its products in ways Ms. Mills considers negative, she said, just as Emancipet doesn’t use "sad pictures of animals dying" in its marketing, and both organizations employ many "strong women."
Having fundamental values in common is what matters most for nonprofits looking for corporate partners, Ms. Mills said. "I don’t think it’s something that should just be done with anybody."
Ms. Bellanti agreed and recommended companies do thorough research to find nonprofits whose missions and methods they can support.
"The way Emancipet is going about their business is really revolutionary and different," she said.
The partnership has been "transformational" for both organizations, Ms. Mills said.
"Knowing that we have a corporate partner that is just as invested in this mission as we are is exciting, and it gives us a little more freedom to dream."