Shopping can boost donations to charity

NEW YORK - Consumers who buy scented pink candles at Pier 1 Imports are supporting breast cancer research. People who buy bottled Ethos water at Starbucks are funding clean water projects around the globe. The buyers of certain RED products at The Gap are investing in the fight against AIDS in Africa.

Shopping for charity - also known as cause-related marketing - has become an increasingly important way for some philanthropies to raise funds. In most cases, some or all of the money a consumer pays for designated products or services is donated to a charitable organization.

The practice has also become a way for big retailers to suggest they're good corporate citizens, committed to social causes.

But some experts worry that the trend is sending the wrong message about charitable giving.

"There's no question but that it's an alternative revenue source for some nonprofits," said Dwight Burlingame, the associate executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. And if the campaign has an educational component, it also "can increase the public's understanding of the nonprofit's mission," he said.

"The danger for the nonprofit is that potential donors feel they've 'given' and don't have to sit down and make a real gift," he said.

Still, because corporations find that sponsoring social causes can help their image, they have been eager to participate, Mr. Burlingame said.

He estimated that about $7 billion a year - or half of the money contributed by corporations to philanthropic causes in the United States - comes via cause-related marketing.

Charities that get the proceeds say the funding can become a significant portion of their budgets.



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