4 Lessons Association Chapters Can Learn From Craft Breweries

Craft breweries—of which there are more than 7,000 nationally—are becoming a major economic force in many communities, as well as a cultural one. Associations looking to build up a strong chapter system would be smart to take notes.

Craft breweries are having a moment, and it’s worth analyzing why that might be.

Beyond the beer, of course.

Recently, the Brewers Association announced the number of craft breweries nationally had topped 7,000 for the first time, an increase of more than 1,100 from the year prior. In addition, more than 2,000 other breweries are in planning stages, according to BA’s Chief Economist Bart Watson.

Most of the breweries are small, but they represent a potentially big lesson for associations.

While most of the breweries are small, they represent a potentially big lesson for associations. That’s because, in their own way, they’re part of their broader communities—something that associations should aim for as they build out their chapter presences. A few takeaways from the best in craft breweries:

Carry some of the local flavor. Part of the reason the economy seems able to handle so many craft breweries is that no two are the same, and as a result, they often reflect the local community. According to statistics from BA, more than 80 percent of U.S. adults of drinking age live within 10 miles of a brewery. As Kate Bernot explains in The Takeout, breweries with an ambition to stay local could find a lot of room to thrive. “If a brewery’s plan is to stay small, serve just its town or county, maybe operate as a brewpub (with food), and sell most of its beer onsite, I’d argue there’s room for one of those in nearly every American town,” she writes. That local flavor tends to be the appeal of successful association chapters as well.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. One of the great things about a good craft brewery—along with similar businesses, such as vineyards—is that, because they are often small, they can try interesting beverage ideas that might not necessarily play well at the macro level. (Jalapenos? Seafood? Exotic fruits? Coffee? There’s not really a limit when it comes to flavored beer.) Likewise, association chapters can be great places to forge new, experimental ideas.

Focus on the events. Local breweries need to constantly get people in the door, which means they need to host events every week that are a mix of regular affairs and special events. In 2016, for example, Nevada’s Lovelady Brewing Company teamed with the Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada on a fundraising event called Cookies & Kegs, which is exactly what it sounds like. On the regular-events front, last year BA launched a partnership with Geeks Who Drink, a pub trivia organization, to draw in new players. Association chapters also need a mix of both unique events and staple hangouts to keep members engaged on a local level.

Bring in the first-timers. Local craft breweries are built to draw in crowds—even, in many cases, families. In some ways, the experience is less like a bar and more like a coffee shop, an environment that might have regulars but has to be just as welcoming to newbies—because that ensures they keep stopping by. Association chapters should aim to be just as welcoming to new types of people, because they’re the ones who will help your own community grow. Good first experiences often mean better later experiences—whether or not a cold beer is involved.

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Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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