Shoppers add charitable giving to their lists
Purchases that give a portion of the sale to a charity make shoppers feel good but may diminish overall giving to that charity, a consultant says.
At the peak of the shopping and giving season, consumers are increasingly combining both activities.Skip to next paragraph
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They are buying products that have charitable tie-ins, shopping through web portals that send savings to nonprofits, and donating at the registers when they check out at physical stores. They're buying product lines like Newman's Own, which channels profits to a foundation, and TOMS Shoes, which gives a pair of shoes to a needy child for every pair the company sells.
These charity-linked purchases might give consumers a good feeling, but are they good for charities? And for shoppers?
Laura Brooks is a stay-at-home mom and lives in St. Louis with her husband, Steve. After one of her three children asked for a pair of TOMS shoes last year, it occurred to her that she could incorporate giving into her regular shopping. She now also buys most of her children's books through the Kohl's Cares programs, which donates 100 percent of proceeds to children's causes.
"I bought all these things before – shoes or salad dressing – but now it feels like I am doing good, too," Brooks said.
Maybe so, but only if those shopping decisions aren't taking the place of her other charitable giving, say some experts.
Charitable shopping "undermines the philanthropy of a nonprofit through diminished charitable donations," said Sondra Dellaripa, principal consultant for the nonprofit consultancy Harvest Development Group.
In fundraising development for charities, she said, it is important to build a relationship with a donor – something that doesn't happen in these transactions.
So, how can you make your shopping turn into giving while keeping in mind how much you're really giving to charity?
Direct donations at merchants are one of the biggest cash generators. For instance, St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital's holiday season has a "Thanks and Giving" campaign that collects dollars at cash registers – and is now its single largest fundraiser.
More than 60 companies, mostly retailers, participate in the two-month drive that raised nearly $65 million for St. Jude's last year – up from $8.4 million in 2004, when the program started.
Rick Shadyac, CEO of ALSAC/St. Jude, the fundraising organization of the hospital, said connecting with consumers when they're shopping has been extremely successful, both in terms of dollars raised and awareness. The ease of making a contribution while a transaction is already under way is likely why it has worked, he said.
"It is a very easy thing to do when you're going through that process anyway," Mr. Shadyac said. Generous consumers should remember that they can take a charitable deduction for their at-register contributions if they remember to get a receipt that details the gift.
One step removed from this are consumer products that give a portion of profits to specific charities. This is soaring – from pink ribbons during Breast Cancer Awareness Month to campaigns that donate loyalty rewards from companies like Amazon.com Inc and airlines.