It’s October, which means it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month. The fight against breast cancer is a cause near and dear to my heart. After my aunt died from the disease, I used part of my inheritance to make a sizable donation to a breast cancer charity. I continue to give what I can. I don’t, however, buy “pink” products that claim to make donations to charity. I also don’t buy red products for AIDS or any of the other stuff that supposedly supports a charity. The very idea that we can buy stuff to fight a disease or support a cause is ridiculous and makes me very stabby.

Why Businesses Go Pink
It’s another p-word, but it has nothing to do with helping women. It’s profits. They know that we consumers will buy more of a pink-ribboned product during October if we believe that we’re somehow helping support breast cancer charities. We will buy these products over non-ribboned products, even if they cost a little more. According to a recent study, “79 percent of respondents said they were likely to switch from one brand to another if was associated with a good cause.”

If they were truly concerned about breast cancer, they would make donations without requiring consumers to do anything. It would simply be a part of their corporate philanthropy. Avon, for example, sells pink-ribboned products to raise money for breast cancer, but they also operate a breast cancer foundation that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars through non-product fundraising programs. Obviously they have an ulterior motive – their market is most at risk for breast cancer – but they’re not doing this simply for market share.

The Problem with These Promotions
I have a few problems with these promotions. First, many of them give a paltry sum for your purchase. Maybe 2-3 cents per labeled item sold. Yes, these can add up, but they’re probably earning fare more in additional profits. As it stands now, anyone can slap a pink-ribbon or pink label on something and rake in the dough, often for a tiny donation compared to their profits.

Second, some manufacturers sell pink-ribbon products to raise “awareness” and don’t make any donation based on the purchase! Most don’t disclose this on the product, just slap a pink ribbon on it and let you infer their support.

Third, some of these promotions require consumers to do something before a donation will be made. One example is Yoplait’s pink lid campaign. It’s not enough for you to buy the yogurt. You have to wash your lid, bag it, and mail it to the company, which will then donate 10 cents per lid. They do have a substantial minimum commitment, but last year was the first time they met their maximum donation cap. That means a whole lot of people were buying their yogurt and then not sending in the lids. People who do send in the lids also have to spend more money, in the form of postage, to mail the things. If you’re going to that much effort, why not just make a donation?

How to Offer True Support
If breast cancer or AIDS or any other cause is important to you, don’t wait for its official month. Don’t buy a product because the manufacturer will make a small donation to your cause. Instead, make a direct donation. It’s doesn’t have to be much, even just $5-$10. If everyone who bought a pink-ribboned product did that, we would truly make a difference.

Finding Money for Your Donation
Even if you have a tight budget, you can still find the money to make a donation.

Use coupons. Whether or not your regularly coupon, do it for one month. Combine your coupons with in-store sales for maximums savings. Make a note of the amount you saved (it should be at the bottom of your receipt.) At the end of the month, total your savings and then send that to your charity of choice.

Don’t spend change. Use only whole bills for one month. Put your change in a jar every day. At the end of the month, tally up the change and send that amount to charity. You can do it directly through a CoinStar machine for free.

Eat a few meals in. If you normally go out to lunch every day, brown bag it twice a week for a month. If you go out to dinner once a week, skip two of those dinners out. Donate the money you saved by eating in to your charity of choice.

Donate the money you would have spent buying a charity product. If you were going to buy a shirt for $20, and saw a breast cancer shirt for $25, get the cheaper shirt and send that $5 to a charity. They’ll see more of that $5 if you send it direct.

For several years, an at-risk youth group would come to my door shilling newspaper subscriptions. They’d get $10 for each subscription. Since I didn’t want a newspaper, I asked the adult mentor for the organization’s contact information to make a direct donation. He gave me a flyer and told me to put the child’s fundraising number on it so he’d get credit toward the trip he was earning. Everybody won – a worthwhile organization got money, the kid got his reward, and I didn’t have another newspaper to recycle.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy a product with a pink ribbon, just make sure it’s something you were going to buy anyway and aren’t paying extra for the privilege of seeing the company make a tiny donation to a cause.

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