"Be Mine, Valentine – I Gave to Charity"
Valentine's Day has long been a boon for confectioners and greeting-card makers. (Consumers are expected to spend a whopping $448 million on candy alone during the week of Valentine's Day, according to The Nielsen Company.) Now another group is trying to horn in on the Valentine's Day spending frenzy: Charities – and the retailers that say they give to them.
The pitch: Even if the recession has you cutting back dramatically on spending, you can get a little extra by buying your Valentine's Day gift from us because we'll donate to a charitable cause. All of a sudden, forking over $40 for a box of fancy chocolates or a teddy bear doesn't seem so frivolous if some of the purchase price goes toward building a well in an African village or saving the rainforest. Right?
"Adding a charitable component to shopping is permeating the marketplace. Especially in this economy, it's a good way for charities to generate a new revenue stream," says Sandra Miniutti, spokeswoman for CharityNavigator, a nonprofit organization that evaluates charities.
Buy a bouquet of sustainably-grown flowers through OrganicBouquet.com, for example, and 5% of the purchase price will go to a nonprofit like the Nature Conservancy or World Neighbors. Just don't bank on writing that purchase off as a charitable tax deduction – the merchant gets that honor.
Before you start shopping, a few words of caution. Avoid vague claims, like merchants saying they'll donate "a portion" of the purchase price to a certain charity. Instead, they should be specific so you know that your money will get to the intended destination, says Miniutti.
Also, ask questions. "Smart shoppers should ask the merchant: How do I know my money goes to charity? Can I follow up with you or the charity to see how much was donated?" advises Lucy Bernholz, president of Blueprint Research & Design, a consulting firm specializing in philanthropic foundations.
And don't forget to consider whether your sweetheart is as fond of supporting, say, a family workshop in Peru as you are. "Make sure you're donating to a charity that's in line with the recipient's values," says Miniutti. Otherwise, your good intentions may go unappreciated. (For more help with maximizing your charitable contributions in challenging economic times, read our story).