Hills starts TheVineyardClub.com to help nonprofits
July 21, 2011
By: JC Lexow 

news-nagel-gift.jpgMike Hills is using his expertise as a sommelier and businessman to help nonprofits raise money. Here, Hills pulls a bottle wine off a shelf in his liquor store as Justin Whatley, standing, looks on. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

“I remember asking my dad for money, and he said, ‘If you want it, go make it.’”

Mike Hills’ quintessential adolescent appeal and his father’s classic reply were a springboard for the budding small-business owner.

He started out as “the kid who went around and knocked on doors” to drum up business in his neighborhood. He became an employee for the first time at 15, when he got a job with a car detailing enterprise in Sacramento, Calif. By 17, he bought the company.

After backing up his early experience by earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration from DU in 2001, Hills spent a few years in the corporate world. He now owns several business and real estate concerns including a warehouse liquor store in Englewood, Colo.

He also travels across the United States and Canada speaking to students of all ages on behalf of Rachel’s Challenge, a nonprofit that advocates for kindness and compassion. The group was founded by the father of Rachel Scott, the first student killed in the Columbine High School shooting.

Hills calls the message he shares “powerful” and believes in the positive impact it has on adolescents who get caught up in social turmoil.

“Helping kids who need hope, that’s the beauty of Rachel’s Challenge,” he says.

The exposure to the nonprofit world moved Hills to embark on his newest venture, establishing a business to support nonprofits.

Earlier this year Hills launched TheVineyardClub.com, leveraging his reach as a beverage retailer to raise funds for a growing list of charitable organizations. Individual members receive monthly shipments of specially chosen wines, and a portion of the dues they pay each month is passed on to the concern of their choice.

Hills, a Level 1 sommelier, ships small-batch, eclectic wines — both domestic and imported vintages — to club members.

“They’re not something you can find at the corner liquor store,” he says.

Recent shipments have included a Spanish red La Cartuja and a Chilean red Santa Carolina Carmenere.

“I know nonprofits have been struggling since the downturn of the economy,” Hills says. “I was inspired to start TheVineyardClub.com so I could increase the funds coming into them. I call them and say, ‘Hey, let me buy you a cup of coffee,’ explain the process to them, and by the end they’re saying, ‘Why wouldn’t I do this?’”

He makes a point of keeping the club connection uncomplicated for the beneficiary organizations, creating all marketing materials for them himself. There is no cost or contracts to the organizations.

Eight groups have signed up for Hills’ club thus far — including DU’s Office of Alumni Relations — and he says he intends to expand the list nationally.

Hills says he’s been inspired by the altruism he encounters in the nonprofit sphere and he’ll continue to broaden his involvement there.

“People who work for nonprofits are doing it because their hearts are in it. Absolutely, I love every minute of it,” he says.

Share
Ascend — The Campaign for the University of Denver