-advertisement -

6 pain-free ways to give to a cause

Most of us are willing to part with some significant cash -- $1,620 a year, on average -- to support our favorite causes, selflessly expecting nothing in return but a tax write-off and a good feeling inside.

- advertisement -

Of course, it's better to give than to receive, but the two aren't mutually exclusive. As more and more charities partner with corporations in "cause marketing" campaigns, which link the stuff you need to needy nonprofits, you can pick up anything from a box of cereal to the latest CD and make a donation while you're at it.

Born 20 years ago when American Express donated money to a Statue of Liberty refurbishment fund every time cardholders put a purchase on the plastic, cause marketing has boomed in popularity in recent years. Why? Call it the halo effect. In a post-Enron world, "Consumers want to see that corporations are doing good works," says Mollye Rhea, president of For Momentum, an Atlanta marketing strategies firm. "Consumers realize their power and they will punish companies they think are socially irresponsible."

We also reward the do-gooders with purchases. According to a 2001 study by Cone, a Boston-based marketing firm that helps companies create cause programs, 81 percent of shoppers say that price and quality being equal, they'd switch brands if the other were associated with a good cause.

Read the fine print
Not all cause-marketing programs are created equal. Some promise a donation in exchange for a purchase; others promise a product in exchange for a donation. In its perennial "Save Lids to Save Lives" campaign,Yoplait pledges a flat $900,000 to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, but will donate an additional 10 cents for each pink foil lid from one of their yogurt cartons mailed in -- up to $1.2 million (though that's a lot of yogurt). In another recent promotion, anyone making a $25 donation to the American Heart Association through Reebok's Web site earned a free pair of Reebok DMX walking shoes in return.

Before you hop on the shop-for-a-cause bandwagon, read the fine print. Cause-marketing promotions are governed by guidelines from the Better Business Bureau and, in some states, the attorney general's office, so you should be able to find details at the point of sale. "It should be absolutely clear to the consumer what is happening in the program," says David Hessekiel, president of Cause Marketing Forum, a Rye, N.Y.-based group that hands out annual Halo Awards for effective cause campaigns. Similarly, Rhea advises shoppers to look for language that specifies the amount -- either a percentage or a flat dollar figure -- that's going to charity.

A benevolent bottom line
Coming across like a corporation with a conscience makes good business sense. But that doesn't mean the corporation doesn't try to profit from the arrangements. "Many companies have altruistic motives in doing this," says Mark Feldman, executive vice president of Cone's cause branding practice. "They'll tell you it's the right thing to do."

More importantly, the partnerships actually do help charities, says Kathleen Akins, vice president of marketing for the ASPCA, whose corporate partners include Clorox and Iams. "We really don't have marketing dollars to spend, so I look for things to piggyback onto to get more exposure." For instance, when Old Navy launched its new line of pet products, the clothing company gave $1 from each online purchase to the ASPCA. "It's a very good way of supporting us because some of these things are things you're spending money on anyway," says Akins. "You're not spending more, but your money is going further."

Start spreading the wealth
Because there isn't a single clearinghouse for cause-related promotions, tracking them down can be largely hit or miss. But consumers can find worthy charities at idealist.org or guidestar.org, both of which have searchable databases of nonprofits. Many larger nonprofits have an online store, where purchases of books, mugs and other paraphernalia help fund programming. Or, you can get on a mailing list that will keep you up-to-date on creative ways to give. Although you won't be able to channel all your spending money back to charity, taking opportunities to shop for a cause is usually worth your time.

-- Posted: Nov. 30, 2004




Looking for more stories like this? We'll send them directly to you!
Bankrate.com's corrections policy

30 yr fixed mtg 3.73%
48 month new car loan 3.18%
1 yr CD 0.55%

Mortgage calculator
See your FICO Score Range -- Free
How much money can you save in your 401(k) plan?
Which is better -- a rebate or special dealer financing?

Begin with personal finance fundamentals:
Auto Loans
Credit Cards
Debt Consolidation
Home Equity
Student Loans

Ask the experts  
Frugal $ense contest  
Form Letters

- advertisement -
- advertisement -