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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

How to Responsibly Handle an Open Bar at Nonprofit Events

Adult beverages are often part of the routine checklist when hosting nonprofit events. Open bars seem the ideal solution because it brings in money and it eliminates the need for guests to serve themselves. However, there are several points to consider before setting up an open bar in order for it to become a successful component of your event. 

Insurance and Liability

If your organization is a large entity and you regularly host events that serve alcohol, it is likely that liquor liability is included with your nonprofit's insurance.  However, never presume; always double check, and confirm with your insurance provider. If you're new to the NPO world, consult your state and local laws about social host liability. This coverage typically protects you from hazardous actions and behavior conducted by intoxicated guests, including self-harm. Coverage may also be the responsibility of the hosting venue, whether it's a community center, civic hall, or someone's home.

Requirements vary between states, which is why it's important to research all of the intricacies. Even if you don't foresee regularly hosting fundraisers that serve alcohol, it's usually possible to obtain a temporary permit for the occasion in question. It's also a good idea to hire professional bartenders, who are insured for their services.

Provide Varied Menus and Activities

There is nothing wrong with providing adult beverages for guests, and a cash/open bar may prove profitable. Yet make sure to also provide a range of non-alcoholic drinks, to accommodate those who cannot or do not drink liquor, and to offset alcohol consumption for those who do. Offer more than bottled water – include flavored seltzers and iced teas, as well as a coffee and tea station. Discuss “mocktails” with your bartenders, and promote those drinks at the bar.

Always keep snacks available, even if it's simply crudité platters, mini desserts, and other small and light finger foods. Remember that high-sodium foods such as chips and pretzels tend to make people thirstier, which some may quench with more alcohol. 

Additionally, give guests things to do other than drink, and plan “last call” about one hour before the dancing, live music, games, and fun photo ops end. These activities, along with a continued round of food; also allow the effects of alcohol to wane. 

Safety Monitoring

Another advantage to hiring certified bartenders is that they're trained to recognize intoxication. Use the following suggestions to develop a plan with the hosting staff to monitor alcohol intake and address inebriation:

  • Check IDs and issue bracelets to adults so that the bar knows they're old enough to drink. 
  • For large events, designate volunteers or paid security to circulate the venue and watch for excessive drinking
  • Do not have wait-staff work the area with trays of drinks. Unless it is one glass of champagne per person for a celebratory toast, it's difficult to enforce drinking limits when there's a constant rotation of beverages 
  • Have someone posted at the entrances/exits to determine if someone is not able to drive
  • Discuss “sober rides,” with cabs, shuttle buses, or driving services (Uber, Lyft), and cover the costs, so that guests do not have to worry about money to get home. Check for “safe or sober ride programs” available near you, and how to arrange for those services

Addressing Intoxication 

If someone has had too much to drink, handle the situation as discreetly as possible. Many times an intoxicated person will deny impairment, so you don't want to endlessly debate it. Instead of declaring “You're drunk!”, reword it as “Why don't you let someone else drive tonight?” Do what is necessary if they are belligerent, otherwise use a firm yet friendly tone to get them to comply. Since you may be unsure if this is indicative of a problem and how their drinking affects others, or if this was merely a case of poor judgment, refrain from prolonged discussions. The only priority in that moment is to preserve their safety and the safety of those around them.

Fundraisers and thank-you parties are great opportunities to educate people about the issue, celebrate victories, garner additional support, and show existing supporters how their contributions matter. It can sometimes be overwhelming to discuss mission statements and financial needs, especially if your role is more behind the scenes than in the public eye. Alcohol can seem a great equalizer, creating a mood of relaxation and confidence. You can still include it in your event, as long as the proper measures are taken, and the right atmosphere is maintained. 

Kylah Strohte is Editor-In-Chief of, an online resource dedicated to stopping alcoholism in a refreshingly entertaining style.   She has extensive experience in publishing, journalism, and marketing, with a focus in the Addiction Treatment and Substance Abuse industries, among others.  Kylah earned her BA in Linguistics from the University of Maryland in 2012.  She now lives in Los Angeles and works in digital marketing, writes articles for various websites and blogs related to addiction treatment, as well as helps manage a 24/7 addiction treatment helpline.


ASU Lodestar Center Blog