McNellie's Pub Raises $28K For Tornado Relief, Motivated By Community Involvement

Nov 18, 2013

Six months after a series of devastating tornadoes touched down in Central Oklahoma, we’re taking a look back this week at the recovery effort.  In the aftermath of the storms, private charities raised close to $70 million, and tens of millions more in in-kind donations poured into the region.  But some of that aid was more helpful than others.   

James E. McNellie's Public House - Oklahoma City
Credit Kate Carlton

In part one of our series today, we look at local businesses who donated their proceeds and the balance between good public relations and an altruistic desire to help.

McNellie’s Pub has four locations across Oklahoma… one in Norman, one in Oklahoma City and two in Tulsa. On an average weeknight, they’re all packed with people meeting up with friends and unwinding from the day.  After the May tornadoes, owner Elliot Nelson says many of his customers were looking for a way to give back, so he came up with a plan.

“It was a way to get people engaged that they could come enjoy a beer but also know that all the money was going to go down to help people,” Nelson said.

Nelson and his team chose to donate all proceeds from Oklahoma beer sales to the American Red Cross of Central and Western Oklahoma. The relief drive spanned 9 days, from May 22 - 31.  In the end, they raised over $28,000.

“A few days in I think we realized, ‘Oh, this is going to be a bigger number than we thought,’” Nelson said. “But we just kind of rolled with it.”

That’s a substantial amount for any local business, especially since breweries didn’t donate the beer for the pub’s relief drive.  But University of Central Oklahoma marketing professor Stacia Wert-Gray says it probably didn’t make a huge dent in McNellie’s bottom line.

“Beer is a huge markup in restaurants and any types of fountain drinks,” Wert-Gray said. “The cost of the beer they poured was not that high. What they did lose was the opportunity cost of the revenue that they would’ve generated by selling the beer. So if you sell a beer for $4, you may have paid a dollar for that, but you lose out on the $3 revenue stream that would’ve covered that.”

Nelson says McNellie’s had to order more Oklahoma beer than it had planned because the success of the drive. This could be, in part, due to a concept called moral credentialing.

“You might feel like you shouldn’t drink at all or you should drink only a little bit,” said Ryan Brown, an associate professor of psychology at The University of Oklahoma.

“And so am I going to get that third or fourth beer? I can hear my mother say, ‘No, don’t do it, don’t do it.’ But I want that beer," Wert-Gray said.

"So if I feel like, ‘Oh! I’m giving to charity. They’re going to give some of the proceeds to help tornado victims, well I’m actually doing a social good,’ and that gets me over the hump.”

The idea of doing social good clearly resonated with McNellie’s customers. And while some people questioned the motives of businesses donating their proceeds to the tornado relief, UCO Professor Wert-Gray says local businesses tend to be genuinely altruistic when it comes to helping out in their communities.

“They really want to be part of the community because if the community is struggling, then nobody is going to go patronize their store,” Wert-Gray said.

In the overall scheme of things, the $28,000 McNellie’s raised may sound like a drop in the bucket, but unlike the $6 million from a series of relief concerts held shortly after the tornadoes, it was available almost immediately to survivors.


Ahead of the Storm: The Oklahoma Tornado Project stories are produced by KGOU News, with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Reports may be used in any media with appropriate credit given to KGOU and CPB. For details, refer to our Terms of Use.