The New York State Attorney General’s office has taken a leading role in pressing for transparency in charitable giving. Through that office, the Charities Bureau” is responsible for supervising charitable organizations to protect donors and beneficiaries of those charities from unscrupulous practices in the solicitation and management of charitable assets. The Charities Bureau also supervises the activity of foundations and other charities to ensure that their funds and other property devoted to charitable purposes are properly used, and protects the public interest in charitable gifts and bequests contained in wills and trust agreements. The Bureau also maintains a registry of charities and fundraising professionals.”

The New York State Attorney General’s Office has taken an unprecedented first step in establishing a set of best practices for transparent cause marketing. The five best practices are outlined below. Download PDF»

1. Companies should provide a “donation information” label on products or websites used in the promotion that specifies the charity, donation amount, limitations on the donation, dates of the promotion, and where to find more information.

Name of Charity ABC Cancer
Donation Amount 10 cents Per Purchase
Limitations on Donation $500,000 Maximum Donation
Dates of Promotion 10/1/12 through 12/31/12
More Information

 2. Make it easy for consumers to determine the donation amount. Vague terms like “profits” or “proceeds” are meaningless.

3. Disclose what may not be apparent, such as flat donations, caps on the amount donated, the nature and amount of in-kind donations, or no donation. Just because a product is pink doesn’t mean it gives money to anything related to breast cancer.

4. Ensure transparency in social media. In addition to produces, social media campaigns should include all of the best practices.

5. Tell the public how much was raised. Companies should have a system in place to track donations in real-time for the duration of the campaign, to make transparent to users the progress of the campaign. When the campaign ends, it should either be discontinued entirely, or it should be clear that any subsequent actions will not result in a donation to a charity.

Consumers are the ones who can hold companies accountable for following these best practices. Here’s how:

  • Make sure the charity is named. Products should clearly state the name of the charity or charities that will benefit. Otherwise, you have no way of knowing which, if any, charities will benefit, and whether they are ones that you would support.
  • Look for specific donation amounts. Watch out for products that use vague terms like “profits” or “proceeds” to describe the charitable benefit. Good cause marketing will disclose a specificdollaramount or a percentageof the retail price that will be donated to charity.
  • See if any action is required. Some companies require you to take additional action after purchase, such as registering information on-line or mailing in a product label. Make sure you are aware of the steps needed to trigger the donation, and decide whether you are willing to take them.
  • Check if the campaign has ended. Cause marketing campaigns usually have a time limit. Check to see if one is mentioned and whether or not it has expired. This is especially important when buying clearance or discounted products.
  • Know that some companies donate a fixed amount. Understand that if a company has promised a fixed donation amount to a charity, your purchase typically will not result in a larger contribution. Although transparent cause marketing should make that clear, be on the lookout for language that the company “has contributed $X” or “will contribute $Y” to a charity. This language often indicates a fixed donation.

In addition to these tips, consider two other important questions from Breast Cancer Action.

  • What organization will get the money? What will they do with the funds, and how do these programs turn the tide of the breast cancer epidemic?
  • Does this purchase put you or someone you love at risk for exposure to toxins linked to breast cancer? What is the company doing to ensure that its products are not contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?

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