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Where Is William Safire When We Need Him?

December 14, 2007

Rwandan_baskets(Michael Seltzer is a philanthropic advisor and green design consultant who advises organizations on creating civic-minded workplaces. In a career that spans forty years, he has worked for a large variety of national and international foundations and organizations and continues to serve as an advisor to a number of foundations. He is also a trustee of EMPower-The Emerging Markets Foundation. In his first post for PhilanTopic he wrote about 2008's most important causes.)

Giving has had many modifiers over the years -- organized, strategic, informed, targeted, and the list goes on. In a front-page article in yesterday's New York Times ("Charity’s Share From Shopping Raises Concerns," 12/13/07)), Stephanie Strom recycled the latest and perhaps least-fitting modifier -- "embedded."

The word embedded most recently has been associated in the public’s mind with the Iraq War, in which journalists are "embedded" with the troops. Associating "giving" with "embedding" in the holiday season is at best unfortunate.

Giving expresses some of the most cherished values in our society -- compassion, religious belief, love, and generosity among them. Linking it even indirectly to the least popular war in the nation's history is far from desirable.

While the Times article did a service by spotlighting the convergence of charity and the marketplace, it created the false impression that most cause-oriented corporate practices are lacking. For every Barney's, whose current ill-conceived but perhaps well-intentioned holiday catalogue drew its share of criticism in the article, there are enough examples to indicate that Barney's is the exception rather than the rule.

My holiday patron saint is Paul Newman. His spaghetti, lemonade, pretzels, cookies, and salad dressings (to name just a few) have generated more than $200 million for numerous causes and organizations around the globe since Newman's Own was founded in 1982.

Other examples of the successful melding of a nonprofit cause or organization and the marketplace abound. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure's numerous product partnerships come to mind, while here in Manhattan you can purchase colorful handmade bowls and baskets made by four Rwandan widows' organizations at Macy's flagship department store on Herald Square. Income from the sale of each item supports an entire family for a month.

The popularity of such products is not surprising. A recent study by the branding and marketing firm BBMG found that Americans are more likely to buy from companies that manufacture energy-efficient products (90 percent), promote health and safety benefits (88 percent), support fair labor and trade practices (87 percent), and are committed to environmentally friendly practices (87 percent).

Let's hope that more companies and causes find ways to join forces in the consumer marketplace. Shoppers get a "two-fer" — buying a desired product and supporting a cause. Companies enhance their brand awareness. And together they make the world a better place.

-- Michael Seltzer

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Posted by Mitch Nauffts  |   December 15, 2007 at 05:19 PM

Mary Ann Newman accidentally posted a comment on this post under the Quote of the Day (Dec. 15, 2007) post directly above. I have taken the liberty of re-posting here:

Mary Ann wrote: "It's great to see an article that recognizes and lauds the trend toward incorporating giving into spending. It is to be hoped that just such a combination of judicious criticism and generous praise will nudge more and more businesses into this practice, and continue to encourage consumers in this direction. Right now, the glass is half-full -- it can only be good that businesses see this as a bandwagon to be jumped on! With luck, it will become a common and automatic practice."

Posted by Mary Ann Newman  |   December 15, 2007 at 08:05 PM

Thanks, Mitch. Don't know how I did that.

Posted by Marni Goltsman  |   December 27, 2007 at 10:50 AM

I am disturbed by the negative tone of Stephanie Strom's recent article: "Charity’s Share From Shopping Raises Concern" (December 13, 2007).

Granted, there may be potential for unscrupulous practices when retailers donate (or merely claim to donate) a part of their sales, but surely the 50+ million dollars donated each year outweigh the negative actions of the unscrupulous minority!

Ms. Strom's issue of donors using philanthropic shopping to support charities instead of writing big checks is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Do we really believe that someone who can afford to buy a BMW and therefore generate a $25 donation to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, will then shirk off any other charitable acts?

As a co-founder of a website that allows consumers to trigger donations while they shop, I am exploring an exciting new model of fundraising, as are many of my big and small entrepreneurial peers. Comments from non-profits like “most embedded giving programs are hardly worth it” illuminate a gross underestimation of the old adage, “every penny counts,” especially when you consider the Internet and its huge number of potential pennies.

This new kind of giving may be unregulated, and I don't doubt that some businesses are taking advantage, but there are many, many charities and corporate partners that don’t ask consumers to blindly trust them--only to help them make a difference.

Marni Goltsman
Co-founder, ShopForCharityNow.com

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