Illinois-based R.I.A. FCU partnered with a neighboring brewery to develop a co-branded beer — R.I.A. I.P.A.
The popular beer sold out in two days. Now, the brewery is making more to coincide with R.I.A.’s largest annual charitable event.
As with many good stories, this one starts with a joke.
In the summer of 2020, R.I.A. Federal Credit Union ($571.8M, Rock Island, IL) was completing construction on a new branch location when the brewery under construction on the adjacent plot caught R.I.A.’s eye.
“We said we should run a pipe under the parking lot and serve beer at the branch,” says Jim Watts, CEO of R.I.A.
Jim Watts, CEO, R.I.A. FCU
That was the running joke for a few weeks, but Watts was confident there was potential for a partnership. After cold-calling Twin Span Brewing, the two organizations devised a plan: Brew a small-batch of R.I.A.-branded beer with a piece of every sale going to charity.
R.I.A. was founded on Rock Island Arsenal, IL, in 1935. The 950-acre island on the Mississippi River has a history stretching back hundreds of years, but it is now the largest government-owned weapons manufacturing arsenal in the United States. Not surprisingly, the community credit union has maintained strong ties to area military.
Every year, R.I.A. hosts a charity golf outing to benefit Honor Flight, a non-profit that provides veterans an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, DC, to visit the city’s many memorials.
“The veterans get to see the monuments that were built in their honor,” Watts says. “And many of those veterans have never been out there to see the monuments.”
CU QUICK FACTS
HQ: Rock Island, IL
DATA AS OF 03.31.21
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 24.8%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 7.3%
In any given year, proceeds from the golf outing enable the credit union to donate $20,000 to $25,000 to Honor Flight. So, when R.I.A. FCU decided to donate a portion of its branded beer to charity, there was never a doubt which charity to choose.
Getting the partnership off the ground, however, wasn’t quite so smooth.
First, COVID-19 complicated the initial outreach with Twin Span and relegated contact largely to the digital space. Then, there was the fact the brewery was somewhat skeptical of the concept. In its experience, small-batch, special brews tended to lose money. But with the promise of an R.I.A. marketing push, Twin Span was in.
Pandemic-related restrictions slightly delayed the brewing of R.I.A.’s branded beer, but the credit union remained involved through the process. It even designed the beer’s wrapping and performed quality control tests.
To play off the credit union’s own name, R.I.A. opted for an IPA. However, there are many kinds of IPAs. So, R.I.A. tapped a few lucky credit union members to taste test specially developed brews from Twin Span and help the credit union ultimately settle on a blood orange flavored New England-style IPA.
“It was pretty good,” Watts says.
Twin Span made a single batch, and R.I.A. I.P.A. was ready to sell in mid-February.
The R.I.A. IPA sells for $8 a pint or $15 for a 32-oz. crowler, which $2 of each purchase going toward Honor Flight, a veterans-focused non-profit.
R.I.A. and Twin Span agreed to price the beer at $8 for a pint or $15 for a 32-ounce crowler. Both organizations also agreed to donate $1 from each sale to Honor Flight. Watts hoped the charitable aspect would entice consumers to accept the higher-than-market price.
It did … and then some.
“R.I.A. I.P.A. sold out in two days,” Watts says.
Because of the volume brewed, the first batch netted less than $1,000 for Honor Flight, according to Watts. But its popularity spurred another idea. Why not pair the beer with R.I.A.’s charity golf event?
In early May 2021, Twin Span released the second iteration of R.I.A. I.P.A. — this time at four times the amount of the initial brew — two weeks before the credit union’s golf outing. The timing was no coincidence. The credit union intended to drum up interest in the event and increase its charitable giving.
“We’re trying to be timelier and more seasonal,” Watts says. “By pairing the golf event and beer, we hope to be top-of-mind and increase our potential giveback.”
“We’re trying to be timelier and more seasonal. By pairing the golf event and beer, we hope to be top-of-mind and increase our potential giveback.”
R.I.A. is still calculating the return on the golf event, but Watts hopes to collect $4,000 to $5,000 from the beer alone, bumping up the credit union’s total charitable contribution to $25,000 or $30,000.
“Our partnership has gone well so far,” Watts says. “It goes to show that even small ideas can provide tangible benefits.”
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