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7 Ways to Shop for a Cause This Holiday Season

‘Tis the season for cooking, baking, laughing, singing, and of course, shopping. After all, what is the holiday season for if not the joy of giving?

Whether you’re picking up a present for your mom or for your significant other, much of November and December is dedicated to finding, purchasing, and giving the perfect present. In fact, the annual Consumer Reports Holiday Poll found that the average person spends $437 over the holidays.

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While you’re feeling generous, you might also want to set aside some funds for charitable giving. However, after buying gifts, purchasing food, entertaining, decorating, and everything else that goes along with holiday spending, your coffers might be empty by the time you’re through, leaving little left over for your favorite charitable causes. You’re stuck with the decision: Do you spend less on family and friends in order to give more generously, or do you skip charitable giving this year altogether?

Fortunately, you may not have to make that choice, as it is possible to consciously shop for a cause: Choose to shop with retailers, websites, and products that donate an amount of proceeds to nonprofit and charitable organizations.

Shopping for a Cause

The term “shopping for a cause” means choosing to put your retail dollars to work for charitable organizations. Whether a store donates proceeds or you choose a retailer that offers charity-specific products, you can still shop for your loved ones while making sure your shopping dollars make a difference. You have a number of different choices, so pick the method (or methods) that work best for you.

1. “Shop for a Cause” Websites

Certain websites automatically find retailers that donate a percentage of proceeds to a charity of your choice. Generally, to use these websites, you must create an account and then use the site as a portal to your favorite online retailers. When you make a purchase, the site is recorded as the referrer through a specific URL , and part of your purchase price goes to a charity of your choice. Some “shop for a cause” websites also offer a selection of products to choose from, so you can purchase and donate through one website, rather than going to a retailer’s site.

Here are several of my favorite sites:

  • GoodSearch: Search and purchase products through the GoodSearch portal. Choose your cause, and then see how much of a donation each retailer will make. Then, purchase accordingly.
  • ShopAnthropy: You can either choose to purchase products from participating retailers or shop from the ShopAnthropy mall. ShopAnthropy displays retailers and websites that offer charitable giving for a wide variety of products and brands, or you can see what the ShopAnthropy mall has to offer with a number of gift products where a portion of the proceeds are donated. See the percentage of proceeds that will go to the charity of your choice, and find coupons and discounts all from the same site.
  • Giftback.com: A dedicated online charity shopping mall. Select gifts from the site, and 10% of that purchase price goes to the charity of your choice.
  • iGive.com: Install the iGive button as an app on your browser and then shop as usual, without signing in or shopping through a starting site. The iGive button records your purchases and donates a portion of the price to your favorite charity. iGive.com has 1,500 participating stores, but the amount donated varies from retailer to retailer.
  • Amazon Smile: Activate Amazon Smile by shopping from smile.amazon.com, and 0.5% of any purchase will go to a charity of your choice. This is great if you’re a heavy Amazon user.

While it might be hard to remember, getting into a groove of starting your shopping searches from one of these websites can make a big difference to a charity’s bottom line. For example, if you’re spending $450 on gifts and 5% of that gets kicked back to your favorite charity, you’ve raised $22.50 simply by shopping and purchasing gifts for your family.

2. Designated Shopping Days

One of my favorite days to shop at Macy’s is during their “Shop for a Cause” event. Here’s how it works: Purchase a $5 savings pass from a kiosk near the front door, which gives you 25% off any purchases that day, while the $5 purchase price goes to the charity being spotlighted. March of Dimes, the SPCA, and National Veteran’s Homeless Support have all been benefactors for this amazing event, which has raised more than $44 million dollars. You can check the Macy’s website to see if a Macy’s in your state sponsors a charity you love, and then call that store to ask about their next “Shop for a Cause” event (they vary from state to state).

Macy’s isn’t the only retailer that offers discounts to charitable shoppers – many local and small retailers offer shopping days in which a portion of proceeds go to a worthy cause. Just take the time to research when those shopping days are and where the proceeds are going.

Designated Shopping Days

3. Couponing for Good

Couponing is a hot topic. Some swear by it, while others dismiss it entirely. But if you’re a hardcore couponer and routinely find items for cheap (or for free), you know what a life-changer coupons can be. Why not put your coupons to good use during the holiday season by donating those items you get for cheap or free to worthy causes?

Last year, my daughter needed a new coat, but my son didn’t. The store at which we were shopping was having a buy one, get one free sale with a coupon, but I didn’t really need a second winter coat. So I called my local shelter and asked what size they were most in need of for winter coats. It turns out that they really needed one for my daughter’s size. It was free and no big deal to drop it off on the way home, and it was an excellent chance to teach my kids about giving.

When you find a coupon for free or cheap items, use your knowledge and time as a way to give back. Here are just a few options where you can grab extra items and make a big difference for someone else:

  • Deliver free and cheap nonperishable goods to your local food bank.
  • Package and send toiletries (common as a for-free item with couponing) to troops overseas. Here is a list of organizations that pack, organize, and ship military care packages. Follow the directions for products and you can drop off your donation for it to be shipped.
  • Shop buy one, get one free toy sales when shopping for your kids, and donate the extra toy to a family shelter.

4. Buy One, Donate One Organizations

A movement of retailers and designers looking to make a difference makes easy work of giving while gifting. These retailers promise to give something back – product, monetary donations, or even food – each time you make a purchase.

Here are some gift ideas that involve buy one, donate one sales models for worthy causes:

  • For Your Fashion-Forward Teen: TOMS shoes has always had a “one for one” motto: Each time you purchase a pair of shoes, TOMS donates a pair to a child in need. TOMS is also using the same model on their new line of glasses, so you can add specs to the list too. If TOMS seem a bit pricey, try the new Target + TOMS line, which retain the signature look, but are lower cost and still offer the same donation model.
  • For Your Pet-Obsessed Friend: If there is someone on your list who loves her dog like family, gift her with something that feeds her pup while giving back to other pooches. BOGO Bowl donates a bag of food to a local shelter each time you purchase one of its high-quality bags.
  • For Your Bookworm Kid: I love to gift my kids the books I read when I was a child, so I always use BetterWorldBooks. It carries both new and used books, and donates a book for every one you buy to libraries and readers around the world. You can even pay a little extra money to cut down on delivery emissions to decrease your impact when purchasing your gifts.
  • For Your Neighbors: My neighborhood has a tradition where each family drops off a plate of treats or a small gift to the other houses on the block. This year, I’m simplifying and buying some bottles of Good Spread, a mixture of peanut butter and honey. I’ll deliver each with a loaf of fresh bread. Not only is Good Spread delicious, it also makes a difference worldwide by matching your purchase price with ready-to-use therapeutic food packets, sent to underdeveloped countries to combat malnutrition.
  • For Your Toddler: Everything Happy sells a range of soft and cuddly goods, such as blankets and soft toys. Once you’ve purchased your baby’s next lovey, you can register your item and then donate the same item to a cause of your choice – the site allows you to give a soft pal to a children’s hospital or to Ronald McDonald House Charities.

5. Socially Conscious Retailers

A push toward goods made with sustainable resources and by workers paid fair wages means there’s more availability for socially conscious goods and retailers. If you’re not into big box stores and don’t feel great about purchasing mass-market goods, you can find stores selling stuff made by local artisans or even small business owners in other countries. Buying from socially conscious retailers doesn’t only make you feel good about what you’re buying, but you can often see a direct impact in the artisans, builders, and designers who offer their wares.

Buying from a socially conscious retailer might be something as simple as purchasing a handmade paper journal from an Etsy seller, or visiting a local craft show to see the offerings from local businesses. You can also shop with stores that specialize in fair market, socially conscious goods.

Check out some of these stores and retailers offering fair market goods that make amazing gifts:

Always check out the “About Us” section of a retailer site, and look for phrases such as “ethically sourced,” “socially conscious,” and “fair market.” This means that the items were purchases from manufacturers who adhere to strict working condition regulations, or are ethically purchased from smaller retailers at a fair price. Do a little research and  find out where the goods are coming from, and you can feel better about buying in a more socially conscious way.

6. Charity-Specific Products

Charity-specific products are those that are developed by a designer or retailer with 100% of the proceeds going to a specific charity. They’re usually special edition or specially manufactured items – and you may need to do some digging to find them. Search online using a retailer’s or product’s name, followed by the phrase “100 percent donated.” Or, check the news page for your favorite charity, since the charities themselves often announce such partnerships.

An example of great charity-specific products are produced by (RED), which have been sold at GAP and worn by celebs for several years. But the (RED) movement is more than a fashion statement – it’s a brand comprised of goods that are sold to benefit AIDS research and prevention. When you purchase (RED) goods, an amazing 100% of the proceeds goes to the Global Fund, so it’s a great choice when you want to make the biggest impact. Products include clothes, notebooks, reading lamps, headphones, and more.

(RED) isn’t the only company promising 100% purchase price donations on specific goods. Estee Lauder donates 100% of the $49.50 price of Modern Muse solid perfume to the Breast Research Cancer Foundation, as does Stitchs Willie Nile Jeans, which go to benefit Parkinson’s charity, Light of Day.

Charity Specific Products

7. Checkout Charity

This one might be the simplest of all. Last year, I made a goal to say “yes” any time a cashier asked me if I’d like to make a donation to a charity at the checkout. After I’d vetted the various charities (most are children’s charities, such as St. Jude Medical), I felt good about adding an extra dollar on top of my purchases. It’s something small – $1 is less than the cost of a cup of coffee – but I like to think it made a difference, even if it didn’t really impact my budget or bottom line.

Even if your $1 doesn’t seem like a big deal, it definitely adds up: Checkout charity campaigns raised $358 million in 2012, according to the Cause Marketing Forum. If you’re not sure which charities you’d like to donate to, visit Nonprofit Quarterly for a list of retailers and the charities they benefit. By vetting the charities for the stores you most often shop with, you can feel good about giving a dollar or two each time you’re doing your shopping.

If you have the means, challenge yourself to donate to a worthy cause whenever possible. Whether it’s stuffing a few dollar bills into a Salvation Army cup or saying “yes” when asked if you’d like to donate $1, you’ll notice a major shift in your mood and the way you give during the holiday season.

Final Word

In all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s easy to forget those less fortunate – especially when your budget already feels tight. But giving doesn’t always have to be a standalone event – by shopping and giving with your mind on charity, making a difference over the holidays could be a byproduct of your regular traditions. Commit to a few charitable giving measures and you’ll be surprised at how quickly it all adds up.

How do you give back during the holiday season?

Jacqueline Curtis
Jacqueline Curtis is an experienced style expert, and she focuses on getting high fashion on a tight budget. She writes for several online publications and specializes in fashion, finance, health and fitness, and parenting. Jae grew up in Toronto, Canada, but now resides in Utah with her husband, two kids, and prized shoe collection.

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