Charitable Consumption

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. You’ll see a lot of products for sale that are pink or incorporate a pink ribbon, touting something like “$5 of the price of each of these gizmos purchased will be donated to Some Breast Cancer Cause.”

Last Sunday in the Mercury News, a columnist wrote about this issue: about how sometimes these companies were rather disingenuous in tugging at consumers’ sympathies to market their product, more for profit, with only token amounts donated to breast cancer charity. Oftentimes, the company will cap the total donation at a certain amount, and it’s only mentioned in the fine print. 10% OF THE PURCHASE PRICE WILL BE DONATED TO THE KORMEN FOUNDATION . . . up to $1,000. So if they sell 200 of these items at $100 each: 10% would be $2,000, but they’re only donating $1,000. The second 100 people who bought the item thinking they were contributing something to a good cause are merely contributing to the company’s bottom line.

As a rule, I don’t buy these things that tout “part of the price goes to a good cause,” unless it’s something I’d want to buy even if it weren’t contributing to a good cause, like a T-shirt of a stupendous design. If I wanted to contribute to a good cause, I’d rather write a check directly to the good cause, so that that institution gets all the use of my money. Otherwise if I bought something, some of what I pay goes to the middleman and manufacturer, and less goes to the charity.

I’ve become more aware of this as I’m approached by kids (well, their parents) who are fundraising for various activities, i.e. school, music band, etc. The fundraising has become so sophisticated compared to what I knew of when I was growing up. There are companies that will provide the glossy catalogues and manufacture the goods like you’d see at Target or chain stores to these schools and kids’ activities groups that the parents circulate around at work. (How many of you have to contend with multiple parents at work all asking you to buy their daughter’s Girl Scout cookies. And how do you decide, or how do you avoid hurting someone’s feelings?)
No more Mom baking cookies from scratch for a bake-sale, and fewer kids walking around the neighbourhood knocking on neighbours’ doors asking to collect newspaper and cans. Now I can buy cans of nuts, gift-wrapping paper, tubs of cookie dough, where a portion of my payment goes to Junior’s soccer team.

In such cases, I decline to buy anything, but offer to write a check directly to the ‘cause.’ I’m also starting to request the parents have their kids write me a thank you note. After all it seems like these kids don’t have to do any of the work to raise funds (Their parents do it all for them.) As a preachy auntie, I’d like the kids to realize and appreciate that it takes work and effort to raise money, so they should do something for the effort. The least they could do is send a thank you note. (Which is good training for other things later in life)


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