“In the brewing industry there are a lot of companies that are involved in donations and that’s great,” begins Fulton Brewing co-founder Ryan Petz, seated in their North Loop taproom behind a pint of Tanager Brett IPA. “But we wanted to add our own element that ties into our own story.”
Enter the brewery’s Ful10 program, which earmarks 10% of the company’s profits for giving back to the community, the Fulton way.
Ful10 has two primary functions: charitable giving and microloans, through which Fulton helps small businesses get started. For Petz, who started Fulton alongside Jim Diley, Brian Hoffman, and Peter Grande, the cause is personal—a reminder of how they got where they are today.
“I got a small loan from a family member to put in my share to start Fulton,” Petz recalls. At the time he was enrolled in the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, so finding start-up funds atop his student expenses was daunting. The family member’s loan gave him the chance to join the venture, which has continued to grow each year since—a fact that Petz has not forgotten. “It’s surprising how far a little help can go in those early start-up stages,” he says.
In just over six years, Fulton has given out two Ful10 microloans: one to a local farmer, who used the money to buy a new dump box used to haul spent grains from Fulton and other breweries, and the second to custom woodworkers Woodchuck USA. At the time of the loan, Woodchuck owned the laser engraver needed to decorate products, but they needed help funding their workshop. This is exactly what Ful10 microloans are meant for—not to get a business fully up and running, but rather to help with a key piece along the way. “Maybe it’s not the thing that helps them explode into the stratosphere,” Petz explains, “but if it helps them get to the next step and go somewhere from there, I think that’s fulfilling the mission.”
In addition to helping small businesses, the mission keeps the Fulton team inspired, too. “It brings you back a little to where we had been in our lifecycle,” Petz observes. “If you’re starting a restaurant and you need $500,000, we’re not the solution. But there are other small businesses looking for $2,500–$10,000. That’s something we could help out with.” It’s a nudge in the right direction, a method to ease some of a start-up’s burden and to help keep the business looking at the big picture instead of paying off interest.
So far, the brewery has issued only two microloans because Fulton itself is a newer company; they’re still working on turning profits themselves. But even in the years Fulton hasn’t been able to donate a full 10 percent, they’ve still found ways to donate to various causes—which is part of the charitable piece of the Ful10 program.
Each year, Fulton supports its community through three major events: Operation Warm, in conjunction with the Minneapolis Firefighters to supply winter coats for youth; Fulton Gran Fondo, a 100-mile bike ride and block party that raises funds for an organization (this year, it’s the Minnesota Cycling Center); and beer donations to the two-day Randy Shaver Golf Classic. Northern Lights.mn (organizers of Northern Spark and other art projects) and Minneapolis Downtown Council (via Holidazzle) have also been the beneficiaries of significant donations from Fulton.
Beyond these practices, Fulton also donates “gift packs” that include items like T-shirts, growlers, and coupons to local silent auctions and various campaigns around the state, averaging 19 per month in 2015—238 total for the year. In all, Fulton donated over $45,000 in merchandise, pints, and other services in 2015.
“Ful10 is the umbrella that covers all of that activity for us,” Petz says. “To grow and get our beer to more people is absolutely a part of [the focus].” But, he stresses, the motivation for Ful10 runs deeper than that: the program isn’t just philanthropy, it’s about being part of being a community and connecting with people.
“As a citizen, I think it’s my responsibility to vote, to be a good neighbor, to give back in one way or another,” Petz says. “I think our business should be that, too. I think it makes better communities and I think it makes us better as a business.”
Recalling how Fulton launched during the 2009 recession, Petz says that the overall economic picture of that time forced the founders to take a hard look at themselves and what their business means to them. “Small businesses are a great way to contribute to a local economy in a very meaningful way, and to create jobs and to help people live a happier, more fulfilling life,” Petz says. “It’s what we’re looking for in ourselves. If we can help contribute in that way that’s fulfilling the bigger picture of a better world, that’s our goal.”
As for this year and beyond, Petz says there are a few things in the works via Ful10. “We’ve got a couple prospects right now,” he says. Just as they’ve done from day one, and for the last six years with Ful10, Fulton will continue looking forward to the next benefactor, the next small business they can help in order to further improve their community.