If you haven’t heard of Houston Street Charities, we won’t take it personally. You probably know us better for our events, like the San Antonio Cocktail Conference (SACC).

Surprised to hear that four days of cocktails, classes and parties is a charity event? You shouldn’t be. The face of fundraising is changing.

Like bars and cocktails themselves, fundraising is undergoing a renaissance. Thanks to new technologies and the interconnectivity of our world today, we’re all enlisting our friends to help us do good – from “crowd-funding” to dousing ourselves with ice – and we’re having fun doing it. While traditional fundraising methods still have their role, we’ve embraced a more contemporary model to make an impact.

Traditional galas and fundraising dinners provide an opportunity to raise awareness and money for a good cause, but today’s generation doesn’t always connect with that. There is now tremendous opportunity to put together events that entertain while also introducing crowds to important charitable causes. And that was our goal from the inception of the San Antonio Cocktail Conference four years ago – to create something that not only educated and entertained but that had a significant impact on our community.

Bartender Jordan Corney prepares a cocktail at Bohanan’s, 222 E. Houston St. Photo by Steven Starnes.

If I had told you last year that you could post an awkward video of yourself on the internet, shivering wet and, as a result, join your friends and people you’ve never met before to be part of raising millions of dollars for a good cause, would you have believed me? We’ve seized an opportunity to entertain by gathering local friends and people from around the country we’ve only just met, to engage, educate, and entertain in a new way.

Did you know you can be a philanthropist by learning about “White Whiskey” or how to create a “signature cocktail” of your own? Did you know that you can be a philanthropist by dancing and drinking with more than 20 spirit brands, 20 chefs, and a great musical performance while you’re on stage at the Majestic Theatre? It’s a sure bet that you didn’t realize that strolling on Houston Street between parties at Bohanan’s and Lüke, with an 18-piece orchestra, cocktails, and entertainment in between is also philanthropy. That’s the new style of philanthropy, SA Cocktail Conference style.

Jonathan Pogash, The Cocktail Guru, demonstrates proper cocktail shaking technique to students at his seminar, “Mixology 101,” during the 2014 San Antonio Cocktail Conference. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Through this kind of engagement at the conference, and really, the cocktail and cuisine culture that continues to blossom, we’re starting a conversation. And we’re spreading an important message. As philanthropy and fundraising have evolved, so too has our vision of community. Traditionally, Americans have mostly given to their local communities, but thanks to social media, what we view as our community is changing. It’s no longer just about where you live, it’s about who you’re connected to. Today, people view their social networks as their communities.

Pick any social network: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. The “social” part of social network is just that: It’s connecting, it’s sharing, it’s community. And since we all carry cameras and video cameras in our pockets these days – thanks, smart phones – everything we do is visual. If we’re having a great meal, if we’re enjoying a terrific cocktail, we post it on our social network and share it with our own community.

The Cocktail Conference has grown each year with the help of our community of participants, sharing the hip, “now” factor of the culinary and cocktail scene and the social aspect of food and drink with their own social “community” via smart phone. So by enjoying an evening out and sharing the experience with others, we’re helping to raise awareness and ultimately support the effort.

Named one of the best cocktail festivals in America by Fodor’s Travel, the San Antonio Cocktail Conference is about learning the art of and the appreciation for the cocktail. Last year’s conference drew almost 6,000 guests. And then, with their event attendance, and seminar tickets, and merchandise purchases, those 6,000 guests became philanthropists.

All three floors of the Majestic Theater’s lobby and lounge space filled to standing room only during the 2014 San Antonio Cocktail Conference. The 2015 conference will take up only two floors, but will be more spread out. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

They made good things happen for children who needed help.

Savvy fundraising professionals must realize that the charitable angle may not be what draws you in, but hopefully while you’re enjoying the events, you’ve learned about the charity beneficiary. No, the San Antonio Cocktail Conference is not just an opportunity to drink. No matter how many great classes, terrific parties, fabulous dinners, or fun events we produce, giving back is at the core of what we do, driving our desire to connect with new audiences through new avenues to raise awareness, and funds, for the causes we support. In fact, the charitable component of the San Antonio event helps set it apart from similar cocktail-centric festivals around the country.

The San Antonio Cocktail Conference operates as a program of Houston Street Charities, a 501(c)(3) organization created by Bohanan’s Prime Steaks and Seafood, the founder of the cocktail conference. Thanks to the success of the conference, Houston Street Charities has donated more than $240,000 to children’s charities over the past three years. Charities are selected through an application process prior to each annual conference. Past recipients have included HeartGift San Antonio and Transplants for ChildrenThe Children’s Shelter and ChildSafe will also be recipients in 2015.

Benji Pocta of Chino Chinatown in Dallas mixes four Cutty Side Scuttles at the opening party for the 2014 San Antonio Cocktail Conference. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

100% of conference proceeds will go toward these four charities.

Recognizing not everyone can participate in the cocktail conference but that there’s always a hunger for great food and drinks, we’ve expanded our efforts to include smaller events year-round. Want to check out what’s going on? Tickets are now on sale for a special series of paired dinners scheduled across San Antonio the week before the 2015 conference, Jan. 5-10. 

These intimate, small-scale events pair cocktails with terrific meals created by some of San Antonio’s best known chefs and hottest restaurants. Bonanan’s Prime Steaks and Seafood will pair with Michter’s Bourbon and Michter’s Rye for a beautiful five-course meal, while Ruth’s Chris pairs with Roca Patron at its four-course dinner. For a full listing of these paired dinners, see the schedule on the SACC website.

And if you’re ready to jump in for this year’s cocktail conference, tickets for the full lineup of Cocktail Conference events, seminars and paired dinners are already available for purchase at www.sacocktailconference.com. More event details and seminars will be added to the schedule soon as they are confirmed. You can register on the website to receive updates or follow us on Facebook or Twitter, @sacocktailconf/#SACC2015.

*Featured/top image: A bartender serves guests craft cocktails during the 2014 SA Cocktail Conference. Photo courtesy of Jason Risner. Photography / San Antonio Cocktail Conference.

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Cathy Siegel is the Executive Director of Houston Street Charities. She has more than two decades of experience working with nonprofits, serving on boards and as a professional and a volunteer.

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