Helping Charities by Shopping? Not Really

A look behind the “shopping for a cause” trend.

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The whole idea of “shopping for a cause” is tempting. After all, if you’re going to buy an iPod anyway, why not buy the red one that sends a portion of proceeds to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria?

While you probably won’t be doing any harm, except to your own bank account, by buying products that promise to share profits with charities, you may not be doing much good, either. That’s why Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing for Charity Navigator, suggests looking closely at the details of profit-sharing arrangements.

Miniutti recommends avoiding purchases that offer vague promises, such as sending a “portion” of proceeds to an unnamed charity. If the company promises a certain percentage of the sale price to a specific organization, then you have a better idea of where you’re money is going. Even then, your money might not make much of a difference if it comes in after the company has reached its limit of how much it planned to donate. A good rule of thumb, she says, is to buy only products that you planned to purchase anyway, and not to be swayed by the promise of doing good. “Usually the dollar figures are pretty small," she adds.

A better way to use your shopping habits for good is to buy directly from charities themselves. Miniutti says organizations increasingly offer shops on their websites and they keep a portion of the proceeds. Many animal shelters, for example, sell holiday cards to raise money, and Susan G. Komen for the Cure sells running gear on its site. For more insight on where your money goes after the charity gets it, you can look up Charity Navigator’s reports, which break down how much of the organizations’ budgets go to programs versus administrative costs.

Also in personal finance news today:

  • Beware of Twitter scams. The Better Business Bureau warns that Twitter scams targeting unemployed Tweeters claim to offer easy ways to make money from home but end up costing the victims money. “Twitter is the newest bright shiny object online and a perfect hook for yet another work-at-home scheme,” says the BBB’s Steve Cox. The organization warns Twitter users to beware of such make-money-quick schemes, including those from EasyTweetProfits.com, which charges $47 a month for its instructional CD.
    • The American Bankers Association reports that delinquencies are on the rise, a trend the industry group attributes primarily to job loss. “When people lose their jobs, they can’t pay their bills. Delinquencies won’t improve until companies start hiring again and we see a significant economic turnaround,” says ABA economist James Chessen. On average, delinquencies in eight different loan categories, including personal, auto, and home equity loans, rose to 3.23 percent from 3.22 percent last quarter.