Retailers for a Cause: Big Brands That Are Giving Back

'Tis the season to give and receive, and retailers are getting into the holiday spirit by making donations and promoting volunteer work. While some retailers like Ann Taylor, Kohl's and Williams-Sonoma are donating a portion of customer's shopping proceeds to a charity; others like Walmart, Macy's and REI are using their stores and websites to market charitable causes.

Here are some of the retailers who are giving a little back this holiday season.
Shopping and Giving

Ann Taylor
For the third year in a row, Ann Taylor is making an effort to raise funding for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital through the Thanks and Giving campaign (Full disclosure: WalletPop's parent company, AOL, also participates in the program). Customers shopping at Ann Taylor, Loft, Ann Taylor Factory or Loft Outlet Stores through December 31, will be asked to add a donation to their purchases. The stores will also offer Children's Cashmere Cardigans and give 60% of their full-priced sales to St. Jude.

Shop at Kohl's to help students and fight breast cancer through Kohl's Cares. Spend $5 on featured Dr. Seuss stuffed animals or books and 100% of the net profit will be used toward children's education and health programs in communities across the country. Buy featured items, that cost $5 to $10, from Vera Wang's collection, Simply Vera. All of the net profit will be donated to support the fight against breast cancer.

Pottery Barn
Brighten the holidays by buying one of four candles at Pottery Barn. Half of the profits from each selected candle will go toward St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. The donations will help fund treatment and research for cancer, along with other pediatric diseases.

Help the fight against hunger by shopping at Williams Sonoma. The gourmet food and kitchen store is asking its customers to donate to the No Hungry Kid Campaign. Sonoma shoppers can give donations to the fight against hungry children at checkout or donate directly online.

Promoting a Cause

Macy's Believe 2010 Campaign gives kids a chance to write and decorate a letter to Santa and support less fortunate children. Once they've written their letter to Santa, they can print it out and send it via a Santa mailbox located in Macy's locations throughout the country. For every letter to Santa, the company will donate $1 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, up to $1 million. Macy's also created a Facebook game called The Believe Challenge, and plans to donate $1 for each winning game, up to $250,000.

Outdoor store REI is donating $1 for every customer who checks into an REI store via Facebook Places. The donation, which will be capped at $100,000, will go to selected nonprofit organizations in the customers' community.

Walmart is using Facebook to help fight hunger this season. Shoppers can "like" the community they'd like to help the most. There are 100 communities to choose from, chosen because they carry the highest, national hunger rates. The foundation will donate $1 million to the one with the most "likes." The five runners-up will each receive $100,000.

For some retailers, the spirit of giving continues year-round. One of multiple organizations that Lowe's donates to is the Lowe's Charitable and Educational Foundation. Last year, the foundation and the store contributed over $30 million to community and educational projects in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Lowe's workers also volunteer to take on projects within their own communities through the Lowe's Heroes program

For the twentieth year in a row, Target will partner with United Way for the Share-a-Tree program. This year, more than 2,500 decorated display trees from Target will be donated to non-profit agencies and families in need across the country.

Shopping Malls
Even malls are getting in on the charitable act. This holiday season, Mall of America employees are donating clothing, toys and non-perishable food items to Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People. The program is designed to help low income families celebrate the holidays. Last year, the mall contributed about $700 worth of toys & clothing to several local families, in addition to 325 pounds of food, which fed 10 families for five days.

Noerr Programs provides Santa and holiday helpers in nearly 200 shopping centers and awards childrens who do good deeds by giving them badges and by having the big man congratulate them himself. "Our primary audience is children up to age seven so we wanted to find out how to impact that age and teach about Santa's character pillars: sharing, caring, good manners and healthy choices," said Ruth Rosenquist of Noerr Programs.

Noerr also helps the Public Relations Society of America Health Academy collect cleansing baby wipes for U.S. troops at local malls and is collecting donations for Save the Children by offering a chance at a trip to American Idol for a family of four.

When to Shop for a Cause
Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing and chief financial officer of Charity Navigator, a site that evaluates charities, says shoppers should only buy charity-related products if they were planning on making the purchase anyway.

The best way to engage in philanthropic shopping is to buy items directly from a charity, she says. Another helpful way to help is to provide non-cash donations, such as food, or participate in toy or clothing drives that many retailers host during the holiday season. That way, it's easier to determine where your donation is actually going. Cash is a much harder donation to track, she says.

"This is very challenging," said Miniutti. "The best you can do is carefully read the label and marketing materials. Look to see if a specific charity is mentioned as well as something definitive about how much money will be donated."

One thing is for sure: donation rates increase significantly during the holiday season. Network for Good recently released a study showing that one-third of all online giving happens in December. The study also showed that 22% of annual giving happens in the last two days of the year, confirming that the holidays really are a time to give. "When you give, it makes you merry," says Rosenquist.
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