Aligning business with charity

The decision to donate money to charitable causes is a personal one.  But the decision to donate a portion of the proceeds of your shop can run the range of emotions from feeling honor and pride at helping a deserving cause to shame at promoting it as some consider it distasteful to mention these things.

“My mentor in the crafting business always donated $100 to the United Way every time we made more than $1000 in a day during Yule.  It was a personal thing for him, and no one knew about it but me.  He’d just shove it into one of the Santa boxes.  It was a karma payback and spiritual action that was absolutely vital to him,” says Treasach of MisticalAcScents.

Let’s face it; everyone feels a bit different about this topic.  Some feel that the decision to donate should be kept private and promoting it is nothing more than a shameless plug while others feel that the more you promote, the more you make for said cause.

Joon of JoonBeam says that, ” Personally, when I see a shop that says a % is donated to a charity or cause I get the feeling it is a selling strategy – I am not saying it is in every case, but I do believe it is in many.  And I actually find that off putting.”

“I just prefer to be pretty quiet about it in general. I have it in my announcement because I think customers should know they’re also donating to a good cause,” says Linda of FashionGreenTBags.

Says Mary of HerbanLifestyle, “In some cases, it has given me exposure. And customers who have an affinity for the various charities I support (Feeding America, Miriam’s Kitchen, Sierra Club, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, etc) have expressed that this is an added benefit.”

What it boils down to is what feels right in your heart.  If quietly partaking makes sense for you, then by all means, continue to do the great work.  However, if you are interested in promoting your charitable work in a sensitive, non-spammy way, while following the Terms of Use (TOU) of Etsy, then read on.

From MisticalAcScents

The Basics

First, a quick disclaimer from the Etsy TOU’s:

Charitable listings and shops
DOs and DON’Ts > Shops and listings > Charitable listings and shops
Etsy understands that members may wish to participate in fundraising for charitable organizations and causes. Charitable fundraising is subject to many laws, and unfortunately, there exist unsavory people who may attempt to take advantage of your good will. Therefore, for the protection of our community, Etsy has established some policies regarding charitable listings and shops that use charitable fundraising as a promotional tool. Members participate in charitable fundraising at their own risk.

Members represent that any charitable fundraising complies with all applicable laws.
A seller who promotes that their Etsy shop engages in charitable fundraising on behalf of a recognized tax-deductible charitable organization (for example: 501(c)(3) status or equivalent with the IRS, similar legally-recognized non-U.S. charitable organization) must receive appropriate consent from the charitable organization.

The seller must include clear information about the organization and donation details in the listing and/or Public Profile.

From JoonBeam

I bolded the piece about consent because in searching through the forums, I found many large non-profits do not want to be associated with small charity drives.  Why, you ask?  The large non-profits, like a business, are a brand and they want to make sure their brand comes across a certain way.  They often don’t have the time to manage small partnerships, even if it means money coming their way.  Furthermore, these types of organizations may not feel comfortable working with a for-profit business unless it’s a behemoth like a car company where they partner on promotion and have the potential to make a sizable amount in donations.   Additionally, some charities are weary of people abusing the charitable donation gimmick by giving the appearance that they are associated with the organization (only to then not give them any money). Simply put, organizations have the right to control the usage of their intellectual property and you need to keep this in mind.

Go Small

So, with that said, it is best to utilize a small organization or one that is local to you.  They will likely be happy to gain additional promotion and donations, can more readily manage a relationship with you and your program, and may even promote you in order to promote donations, a true win-win proposition.

From FashionGreenTBags

Be transparent

Because of the plethora of charitable scams out there, it’s vitally important that you list the details associated with your donation.  Just saying, “a portion of all purchases will be donated to a children’s organization” just doesn’t cut it and will likely give pause to your audience.  Be clear about who you are donating to (remember to get that permission first), include their website and if they are promoting you, include that info too as it will help give validity to your mission.  And be clear about exactly how much is being donated.  A “portion” can be as little as a penny, so state exactly what you are donating – is it a dollar amount, a percentage, is it an entire amount of a particular item?  Is it of the net profits or the entire purchase?  Is it for your whole shop or one item/line of items?  Some recommend that you then update your profile, announcement or blog as to the amount raised after a certain amount of time.  Some customers may want to see receipts to determine the validity of your claims, so be sure to get a receipt from your organization.

Promote respectfully

Promoting charitable involvement can be a double-edged sword – not doing enough may mean flying under the radar with zero awareness and less money for your organization; doing too much and you look like a sleazy salesperson solely in search of self promotion.  Think of it this way, nearly every big company out there promotes their involvement with a charitable organization and they’re not quiet about it.  They realize that the more they promote, the more money they make for the organization and for themselves and customers generally like knowing their purchase helped promote a charitable cause.  Said one seller in the forums: “It’s no different than any other advertising. I just choose to put my advertising dollars through charity instead of an advertising house.”

From HerbanLifestyle

As small shop owners, we have to be careful about walking the fine line between appropriate and self-serving promotion, so here are some tips.

  • If you blog, post to your Facebook page or tweet, do it sparingly, maybe just a mention or two; blasting it all the time may turn off your friends/fans and potential customers – don’t be spammy
  • Tell a story – tell people why you chose this organization and why this decision is personal to you; being honest about this piece really helps to make it more personal and people may be less inclined to think it a marketing tool for your shop only
  • You can and should include info in your title, item description and tags, but once again, make sure that you give all the necessary details in your listing and/or profile; otherwise you appear as someone  fishing for people who have done a search for that cause

Says Desiree of ArtZebo:

I built it into my business on April 30 of this year to donate 5% of the cost of all my supply orders at the time of purchase to the Life Center for Autism Foundation.  Shortly after, the warehouse that I purchase from began matching all donations 100%.  So now, every time I order supplies I donate 5% of that total.  The donation is up to 110.00 and with the match that is 220.00 so far.  I am very proud of this aspect and promote autism awareness on my business cards as well.  Every time I order supplies I update the total donation on my Etsy shop and my FB fan page for ArtZebo Creations.”

Amy of Ojamiya says:

“I give 25% of the profit I pull from my shops.  I’m just another donor to these charities and I “advertise” for these two charities on my blog.  To me giving is important and just a part of who I am and my beliefs.  I don’t mention it in my shops though, I may end up putting a little blurb in my profile or shop policies.  Not sure how I feel about it yet.”

If money is not your thing, you can also consider donating products to an organization.  Sell body care?  Why not consider donating some product to a women’s shelter?  Make pet products?  Consider a non-profit animal organization.

From ArtZebo

“Sometimes I donate material goods and sometimes I donate money and occasionally a mixture of both,” says Linda of FashionGreenTBags.

You can also donate time, like Joon of JoonBeam who has this posted in her shop announcement:

“Beginning March 17, 2010 you can help me clean up our world, one little step at a time.  For every purchase in any & all of my etsy shops, I will pick up a baker’s dozen worth of litter or spend 13 minutes throwing an eye, whichever comes first. I will keep a tally, post it in my shop announcements, and write about my venture on my blog.”

Says Joon, “I am not sure what my customers think about it.  I don’t think anyone has mentioned it even though, sometimes,  I do include a line about their contribution in my thank you convos.  But it doesn’t matter to me, honestly.  I do it for myself and I know the difference I am making and that’s what’s important me.”

Mary of HerbanLifestyle states that, “In the case of one of my charitable organizations (Miriam’s Kitchen, a local soup kitchen) they have promoted me and I have promoted them. But this is a special relationship as I put in service time with them as well as donating money and goods.”

And as a final word, don’t feel guilty about claiming these donations come tax time.  There is no need to pay any additional taxes when your heart is in the right place.   This not only helps your business but in turn allows you more financial opportunities to continue (or expand) your charitable work.

From Ojamiya

If you still feel a little uncomfortable, think of how we already do this by promoting our eco-wares and items; we’re hoping to appeal to people who want to benefit the earth.  We know that the more we sell, the less “new” items will be purchased to the detriment of our planet.   And we tweet, blog and Facebook like crazy about our EcoEtsy silent auctions (for the benefit of environmental organizations).  Partnering with a non-profit need not feel smarmy.  No harm in promoting and generating cash for your chosen organization and getting some exposure.   The nature of business is to make money, so why not benefit a worthy cause at the same time?   As one Etsy seller mentioned in the forums, “Is having a socially responsible company and letting customers know that such a bad thing?”

My Story

My story is a new one and still unfolding but one that certainly spurned this topic.  I recently created a mixed media painting that I gifted to a friend who is BRCA (breast cancer gene) positive, has lots of breast/ovarian cancer in her family and has made the difficult decision at 35 to have a prophylactic mastectomy and oopherectomy.  The piece is called Brave Girl and says, “Honor the Fear, then continue with Courage.”  A couple weeks later, I opened my artwork shop, JCSpock (disclaimer, not an EcoEtsy shop) but told her that I didn’t feel comfortable making a straight profit from the items (greeting cards, prints, bookmarks, etc.) that was inspired by her deeply personal story.  I asked if we could collaborate with an organization of her choice and donate 50% of the purchase price of Brave Girl items to that organization.  She quickly jumped at the opportunity, put me in touch with an organization that helped her and now I’m listed on their site as a partner.  I really see this as a win-win situation.  I promote it, my friend promotes and the organization promotes it.  This increases the chance of sales and in turn makes more money for the organization.  I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I like getting exposure as a new artist, but I know where my intentions lie and my heart is in the right place.  I get so giddy every time a Brave Girl sells because I know that this fantastic organization is benefiting from it and I personally don’t see the harm in that.

Once again, this is a personal decision that everyone needs to make for themselves and their business.  As another seller in the forums wisely stated, “don’t let anyone sway what your heart feels it must do.” Whether you choose to promote it or not, I hope that at the very least, you’ll consider aligning with a non-profit and if not money, consider donating products or time to help further their cause.  Every little bit helps.

How do you align your business with charitable work?  Please share…or not if that’s more your style! 😉

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  1. Thank you Christi and everyone that chimed in on this topic of charitable giving. You all have good hearts!

  2. I decided to donate $1 from each music purchase (I create/produce music) to a charity supporting youth education. I even posted a message on one of my shows that if anyone in the viewing audience wants to suggest a charity for me to donate to via the $1/per purchase of music, then I would be more than happy to look into that charity as a possible place to donate.

    To me, giving is part of who I am..i make no apologies for promoting that at all through my project or business activities, because my work and passion for it is who I am. I produce arts and entertainment programs (arts and entertainment media). Understanding that there are unsavory people taking advantage of those who do want their dollars to be used for something good…I also know that there are a lot of us who just want to give to a worthy cause from the profits we receive. I love to give 10% of my earnings to my church, but believe it should not stop there…there are other causes that I support passionately. The more people who know about what I and what other businesses or entities are doing, the more they understand that we have people who run entities, businesses, and media projects who are believe in becoming socially responsible. When people see that, they see that it is not all about the money. I don’t mind at all a business advertising these causes or doing something to help out….let’s me know that that business is contributing and doing something worthwhile for the community.

    I do agree with looking for small charities and organizations. I really wanted to donate to a larger one, but there are so many great small programs that badly need donations. My favorite cause is supporting youth education and positive youth development.

  3. Very interesting and good post – thank you! Having options is always good and definitely “walkin the talk”. Not everyone is on board with the whole charitable donation idea and that should be ok. Savvy shoppers can find more information about you and your dedication easily – and personally, I’d like to know what other ways they were involved. Yes, it’s definitely a good plus in marketing, but to also let your customers know that they don’t have to donate is good (if things are arranged in manner you can do this). Sincerity is a key component and don’t underestimate how people can read this. It tooks us a long time to figure how we could accommodate both types of people in our business and though I’d like to think everyone would be on board donating, we’re realistic as well. It works for us and we just say it’s a circular thing – Company-Customer-Cause (the 3 C’s). Thanks again! Elena

  4. This is a great post! Lots of helpful ideas including the ‘Go Small’ suggestion which I really like as my local wildlife rehabilitation center is one that I have been wanting to do more for. I also did not know what Etsy policies were concerning putting charitable information public. I give to a lot of wildlife work, but have been on the fence about doing it through my shop, more for accounting reasons than any feeling about doing it public vs privately. I actually think that doing it publicly is a good choice because it often educates people, or makes them aware of something that they did not know about.
    Anyway, thanks for a GREAT post to all of the contributors of this!!!

  5. Wow, this is some great information. I just recently started donating a percentage of each sale to a charity of my choice. I have read the Etsy Dos and Dont’s before, but must have skipped over the charity part. I will read that more carefully.

    It is interesting that donating to a charity can be considered a turn off by customers. But, it is a good tidbit of info. to think about as a seller who wants to contribute money to a good cause.

    Thanks for sharing. Something I guess I need to think about a bit more.


  6. I meant to respond to this on our team forum, and just fell behind. I also donate 5% (annually) of profits to the Jane Goodall Inst. I don’t think most of my customers even notice this, or particularly care one way or the other. I don’t advertise it much, either.

    Right now, I am putting a lot of thought into where I want to go with this aspect of my business. I still plan on including it in some form, but I think I want to change it up a bit.

    Thank you so much for the info on the Etsy policies – I didn’t realize that!