Consumer items branded “charitable” not always so giving

, Beacon Correspondent/strong

It makes sense to purchase a wristband knowing some of the proceeds will go towards cancer research. It makes little sense to buy a can opener for the same reason. The two appear unrelated, yet I once went into Bed, Bath amp; Beyond and purchased a pink can opener with a label that assured me that I was not only able to open my pumpkin pie filling, but I also helped fund breast cancer research.

It’s been a few years since that shopping trip, and today I avoid purchasing charity- affiliated products. After much research, I can now say that I will not spend money on these products and, instead, advocate donating directly to the charities I support.

It was Stephen Colbert who opened my eyes to the pitfalls of purchasing such products. While flipping through some of his clips online, I happened upon one that shocked me. Colbert was tipping his hat (and if you’ve ever seen emThe Colbert Report,/em you’ll know that his praise is usually satirical) towards the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation for their recent lawsuits.

This foundation, a multibillion dollar powerhouse and the number one breast cancer research nonprofit in the world, is suing every foundation they can find that uses the phrase “for the cure.” The Susan G. Komen legal team has gone after small town and local charities, hounding them with the threat of legal action if they don’t remove the three words from their event or organization names.

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In a statement to The Huffington Post, the foundation said that these lawsuits are an attempt to clarify the boundaries for their donors. However, what’s truly unnerving about the legal proceedings is where exactly the money for these lawsuits came from. Donor funds are being allotted to help the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s legal crusade to eradicate the possibility of confusing one research charity with another.

In addition to being a behemoth in the territory of funding breast cancer research, The Susan G. Komen Foundation also has more contracts with more companies such as KitchenAid to market and sell products “for a cure” than any other nonprofit.

Aside from realizing that my money was funding large-scale legal battles between mammoth charities and mom-and-pop fundraisers, I don’t buy charity-affiliated products because there are just too many of them. There are, of course, the products you would expect to carry a nonprofit’s name, such as wristbands, T-shirts, and car decals. However, upon further research on sites such as productsforthecure.com I’ve come to find charities affiliating themselves with products ranging from toasters to fanny packs.

Many would argue that buying these superfluous products raises awareness for the causes they support. This reasoning is logical when applied to T-shirts or bumper stickers, but can it really be applied to toasters? Unless you have a barrage of people streaming through your kitchen admiring your appliances, chances are it doesn’t.

There is also the issue of exactly how much of the proceeds of these products realistically goes to their respective foundations. When someone chooses to support a cause by purchasing a product, they are not only donating, but also paying for the production of the product, its shipping costs, and the advertising fees. In many cases, a very small cut of the total costs goes to charity.

In many cases, products affiliated with charities are marked up to cover whatever costs would be lost to the donation. Therefore, in essence, you are buying a product and making a donation, not buying a product that serves as a donation.

This leads me to believe that it makes more sense to donate directly to a charity than to go through this consumeristic circle. Donating directly has benefits, such as tax write-offs, and gives you the ability to research a foundation instead of simply buying their products blindly.

For those of us without the extra cash to donate, as is often the way in college, there are many good opportunities to still contribute.

For example, Emerson’s Barnes amp; Noble is currently partnered with The Young Survival Coalition in a campaign called Picture a Cure. In this campaign, all student have to do is make their Facebook profile photos the designated pink ribbon, comment on the fundraiser’s page, and Barnes amp; Noble will donate $1 per participant up to $10,000. Campaigns like this are cost effective and financially inclusive, making them good alternatives to pink can openers and monogrammed fanny packs.

Contributing to a cause you truly believe in is a wonderful thing. At the same time, being a mindful consumer is also a goal to strive for. In an increasingly consumer-driven world, it’s important to understand the power your money truly has and to make sure that it goes somewhere you trust.

emJennifer Sullivan is a junior writing, literature, and publishing major. Sullivan can be reached at jennifer_sullivan@emerson.edu/em

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