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Think twice before you think pink 

The color pink has been associated with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a Better Business Bureau-accredited charity, since the organization’s inception in 1982. Three years later, October was deemed Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Then in 1992, Self-magazine’s editor-in-chief created a pink ribbon and enlisted several cosmetics companies to help distribute them in promotion of their second annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month publication.

Kelsey Gardipee. Submitted photo

Now, pink ribbons are synonymous with breast cancer. Each fall, packaging labels and websites turn pink to encourage sales and generate donations.

There are certainly upsides to the increased prominence of pink ribbons, especially since roughly 13% of women in the United States will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Increased awareness of the disease has helped direct billions of dollars to breast cancer research. Those funds have led to the development of early detection methods that have raised the annual number of new breast cancer cases reported and decreased overall death rates.

We’re here to help you understand where your money is going. A well-executed cause-related marketing campaign should have all the details tied up in a pretty bow, leaving little question as to the impact your purchase will have.

If easily swayed by the opportunity to make a donation through your purchases, then it’ll pay to be a savvy consumer. Before dropping these items into your cart, ask the following questions:

  • How much of your purchase will be donated to charity? Some campaigns offer a donation per item purchased, such as 10% of the purchase price or a $1.00 per unit sold. Others are based on total sales volume, meaning the value of the donation may vary depending on the success of the promotion. Generic statements that “net proceeds” or “profits” will go to charity are not specific enough, by BBB’s Standards for Charity Accountability.
  • What are the limitations? Does the campaign have a guaranteed minimum or maximum donation? Is there a timeframe in which purchases must be made? In cases where a company has guaranteed a minimum donation, your purchase may not impact the overall donation, which should be transparent.
  • Which charity will receive the donation? It should be clear exactly which charity will receive the funds raised. Keep shopping if it’s too vague. Many charities, both national and local, require companies to sign agreements before using their trademarks – you can reach out to an organization to confirm authorized use of their logo in cause marketing campaigns.
  • How will the organization use donations from this campaign? Cancer research, outreach, services for patients or survivors? Advertisements and labels should make it very clear how your money will be spent. Check the label and double check the organization on to verify that the organization is one you can trust.

If the answers to these questions don’t add up the way you might like, then keep strolling (or scrolling). If you put an item back on the shelf because the $0.50 donation from your $20 purchase didn’t feel like enough, how about donating directly to the charity?


Kelsey Gardipee oversees the Better Business Bureau’s charity evaluation program. 

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