“Joy Budget.” How This Company Expanded its Giving to Build Employee Power



Bert “Tito” Beveridge, the affable founder and owner of Tito’s Handmade Vodka, is one of the richest people in the world: With a net worth of $4 billion, he ranks 179 on the Forbes 400.   

But when he started distilling his corn-based vodka in the early 1990s in Austin, Texas, he had no money for advertising or marketing. Instead, to publicize his homebrew, he gave it away to local nonprofits holding fundraising events. Now, “Love, Tito’s,” the company’s philanthropic program, has expanded, reflecting corporate giving trends shaping the American workforce.

At a time of economic prosperity, low unemployment and baby boomers retiring in droves, philanthropy has become the core of the company’s identity: Tito’s, the top-selling vodka brand in America, now identifies itself as a charity company that “just happens to sell vodka on the side.” 

As the company grew, it encouraged new hires to join Love, Tito’s by giving vodka to charities of their choice. The company has supported thousands of nonprofits this way, including 6,000 in 2017 alone. Then, Tito’s decided to expand its charitable activities. Working with behavioral scientists, starting four years ago, the company sought ways to improve employee satisfaction, productivity, and of course, the bottom line.

Now, in addition to free vodka as part of Tito’s “joy budget,” employees also receive an annual “pot of gold,” money they can send to one or more charities of their choice.

While Tito’s, a private company, declined to state how much money it adds to each employee’s pot of gold, this aspect of its philanthropy “fits squarely in the ‘employee power’ trend” identified last year by the Center to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy, says Carmen Perez, CECP’s senior director of data insights.

“Low unemployment rates and the ongoing war for talent have created a new focus on the needs of the employee to bolster recruitment, training and retention efforts,” the report states. 

The younger generation of American workers, the millennials, have a strong preference for purpose in their work, as revealed in research. In an American Express study of 1,363 millennials, 68 percent said they want to make a positive difference in the world, and more than 80 percent said a successful business needs to have a genuine purpose. 

And as the CECP found, employees’ use of social media can go far beyond paid advertising in generating interest in a company’s brand and expanding its profits. In fact, “an employee’s social media posts can generate eight times more engagement than when a brand shares similar content,” the report noted.

Encouraging social media posts is one reason that Love, Tito’s has just released three videos highlighting charities supported by employees: Soldiers’ Angels, volunteers who assist members of the armed forces; Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, which provides access to affordable health care for the city’s low-income musicians; and One Good Turn, which works with established organizations to provide healthcare and education in poor communities.

“No one knows the needs of a community better than those living there,” says ‘chief joyologist’ Amy Lukken, who was hired four years ago to direct Tito’s expanded philanthropy. “The joy budget allows our employees to see and meet a need in their own community.”

 “Our mission is simple: Turn spirits into love and goodness,” she adds. “We use vodka as our medium to make the world a better place.”