Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

December 17, 2007

Charity shoppers, beware

It was bound to happen: Tripping over each other in a rush fill their cash registers by portraying themselves as good corporate citizens, companies have built charity into the way they market their products.

But as Lucy Bernholz of nonprofit consulting firm Blueprint Resarch and Design told The New York Times, the growing practice of “embedded giving,” or building a donation into the purchase of items like jewelry or feminine products is “virtuousness as a marketing gimmick run amok.”

Merchandizing masquerading as charity is not regulated and typically is unaccountable, and it is not clear who, if anyone, claims a tax deduction for the practice, nonprofit experts told the Times.

“The potential for it to be a scam is huge,” Bernholz told the Times.

By using charity to peddle their wares, companies make it easy for Americans hooked on consumption to justify feeding their habit.

Americans are generous and compassionate, wanting to help those in need, particularly during the end-of-year holidays and in the immediate after-shock of disasters.

But Americans also need to be smarter about their giving, making sure they ask questions and read the small print instead of simply buying a product because the merchandiser says part of the purchase price will benefit charity.


  • At 7:37 PM, Blogger John said…

    Actually, it isn't too bad of an idea, and care should be taken to not give blanket disapproval to something that does benefit some worthy causes.

    It is self-serving? Somewhat, but in a good way in many cases. Charities need business sponsorship and promotion, and businesses are overwhelmed with charitable requests. By combining non-profit support with profits, ethical businesses are giving selected charities a platform they need as well ss some income. At the same time, their customers get to make their purchases from a merchant friendly to their cause, rather than one that is not.

    It's not all bad, and it does need some oversight to discourage abusers, but not to the extent that it eliminates businesses like Target and Walmart who give millions away to charities from satisfied customers who get a double benefit from their purchases.


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