• Tina Benitez-Eves

It Takes a Community

Retailers and manufacturers are partnering for the greater good.

Laurie ScheinmanLaurie Scheinman owner of Wit and Whim in Port Washington, NY, donates 100% of her proceeds to a different charity each month.
This Memorial Day will be special for Laurie Acosta, owner of Red Owl Jewelry and Gifts in Cheshire, CT. The former veteran will be launching a new bracelet from her Hazel and Harmony collection. What makes this venture more special is that proceeds from the sale of this bracelet will go to a veteran-related cause. Acosta is no stranger to giving back. At her store, she carries multiple products that have a “give back” component. Fortunately, it’s a message that more Americans are receiving and embracing.

Charitable contributions in the U.S. are projected to grow by 4.8 percent in 2015 and 4.9 percent by 2016, according to a report from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Overall, average, annual giving is projected to increase by $17 billion by 2016. Individual and household giving will account for nearly 70 percent of total giving this year and is projected to increase by 4.4 percent in 2015 and 4.1 percent in 2016.

As Americans start to get the philanthropic message, they’re also opening their wallets and giving more, which may translate into more sales of products that give back. “Stores love being able to support a charity that they’re into,” said Joe Cerbo, co-founder of Chavez for Charity, a company that supports charities through the sale of its fashion accessories. “It’s not about us, and it’s not about the product.”

Good is Glamorous

Prosperity CandlesProsperity Candles are poured by female refugees in Massachusetts. Prosperity Candles. 413.727.3078. prosperitycandle.com CIRCLE#830

Started in 2013 by Julie Marie Chavez, of Marie Chavez Jewelry, and Cerbo, the company gives 25 percent of its gross profits from the sale of its Signature bracelets to more than 20 charitable causes around the country. Half of the organizations that benefit from Chavez for Charity sales are child-centric, through its kid’s bracelet collection. The company also supports Gift for Life, the charitable arm of the gift industry, with a black bracelet in its signature collection. To date, Chavez for Charity bracelets are available in more than 2,200 stores.

This year, Chavez designed the 11th bracelet project—a collection of clear, cream and white bracelets—which allows retailers to give 25 percent to the charity of their choice. To date, nearly $500,000 has been raised through the 11th Bracelet Project and the 110 retailers participating nationwide. “The product’s initiative is what makes the change,” said Cerbo. “That’s at the forefront of what we do.”

As the company grows from its 30 employees, Cerbo would like to get more, personally involved with some of the charitable organizations they’ve connected with since the company’s inception. “We’re still a very young company, but our relationship with charities has already gone way beyond writing a check,” said Cerbo. “We’ve become friends with these organizations. We’re not just writing blind checks.”

In addition to her Hazel and Harmony initiative, Red Owl participates in the Chavez for Charity’s 11th Bracelet Project as well. According to owner Acosta, it has been a top seller in her store. Since December 2014, she’s raised more than $1,000 for the local Cheshire Food Pantry through the Project. “The town is excited that it’s a local charity,” she said. In addition to the 11th Bracelet piece, Acosta has also added earrings, necklaces, kid’s and men’s bracelets from the Chavez collection.

11th Bracelet Project11th Bracelet Project lets retailers support the charity of their choice. $10. Chavez for Charity. 973.337.8551. chavezforcharity.com CIRCLE#831

Another bracelet brand with give-back potential is Lokai bracelets, another popular item that lets buyers give back. The bead bracelets are filled with elements from the highest and lowest points on earth: clear beads are filled with water from Mt. Everest, and black beads contain mud from the Dead Sea. The company donates 10 percent of net profits to charities such as the American Himalayan Foundation, Music Beats Hearts, Pencil of Promise, Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, Kind Fun and Bent On Learning. Lokai recently released a blue bracelet in support of Water, which helps bring clean water to people in need.

“Customers are looking for unique items, and if the item gives back, they’re more likely to purchase it,” said Acosta. “It makes them feel good doing it. It helps them do something good, and they know that the person [or charitable organization] receiving it is getting something as well.”

It’s All in the Story

Open for nearly three years, Wit and Whim, in Port Washington, NY, gives 100 percent of its profits from its collection of handmade, vintage, contemporary and fair trade goods to a different organization each month. Each year, the retailer holds four community awareness projects and features the charity of the month so customers can learn more about the special needs and challenges each organization faces.

To date, Wit and Whim has raised more than $50,000 for various local and national charities. “People are still interested in getting a good buy,” said owner Laurie Scheinman. “Some customers will pay more for an item, let’s say a leather tote bag, because it has been handmade and supports education to children in a village in Africa. Some will buy it if it seems to be priced well. I think if two totes are the same price, more often than not the one with the better story will win out.”

The story is important. Sharing a story has always been important for nonprofits to successfully engage donors. What is the charity? How will this purchase help those in need? These are questions retailers should be equipped to answer in store, to tell the story behind the product.

Banded givesBanded gives three meals to children in need for every headband sold. $9.98-$29.98. Banded. 615.628.8159. banded2gether.com CIRCLE #832

Telling stories has inspired Chavez for Charity’s next project. This fall, the company is launching the “Find a Good” program, which will award up to $10,000 to an individual or foundation supporting a good cause. The company plans to document the individual or group’s story through video. “The whole brand is always about storytelling,” said Cerbo. “Find a Good helps put us where we want to be in terms of telling stories.”

Alexa’s Angels has managed to get its story out across the country as well. Aside from financial donations to organizations, the company donates products for fundraising efforts. “We’ve found this gives the store owner or foundation more control over exactly how they’d like to do their fundraising,” said Valerie Craig, design and visual coordinator, Alexa’s Angels.

Each month, the company highlights one organization to donate a percentage of the proceeds of its sales. The company also supports local food banks, a local individual battling a life-threatening illness or even the school volleyball team raising money for disaster relief. “We like to support small charities and not just the bigger, well-known organizations,” said Craig. “There are many, many deserving small nonprofit organizations that need our help and support.”

Age Doesn’t Matter

When it comes to giving something back, consumers of all ages are inclined to participate; millennials—the generation born between 1980 and 1995—are particularly interested in embracing the greater charitable good. “Millennials care about the big picture,” said Wit and Whim’s Scheinman. “They are not as quick to buy goods and are more thoughtful about the impact that their purchase will have.”

In 2013, 87 percent of millennials gave a financial gift to nonprofits, according to the Achieve’s Millennial Impact Report. This number is projected to soar as the demographic expands its purchasing power and is expected to comprise 50 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2020.

“Our demographic is literally 5 to 90 years old. Kids wear our bracelets and my grandmother wears our bracelets,” said Cerbo. “It’s that broad, which can be challenging from a marketing perspective. People who buy our bracelets want to be part of something philanthropic.”

Wings collection ofWings collection of handcrafted wallets support female artisans in Nepal. $12. Alexa's Angels. 877.264.3576. alexas-angels.com CIRCLE #833

Still, Cerbo and others recognize that millennials, and younger generations, are embracing philanthropy and are more cause conscious. “The younger generation wants to get involved,” he said. “They’re engaged and know more about organizations.”

Cerbo cited the popularity of Tom’s “One For One” approach, which has put shoes on more than two million kids. The popularity of the program has allowed the company to do more, including fulfilling medical, educational and other needs globally. Organizations like Tom’s have raised awareness about the power of individual giving. “We’re in a generation where people care a little bit more,” he said. “Compare that to 20 or 30 years ago where corporations were writing blind checks.”

To capture a younger generation, Chavez for Charity recently partnered with a distributor that will place their jewelry in college and university gift shops around the country.

Overall, most people want to help at any age, according to Scheinman, adding that social media has helped to educate consumers about products that give back. “Facebook isn’t just for the younger generation,” she added, “and by drawing a crowd over social media, we are better able to spread the word about organizations we love to help, and love to involve our customers in helping.

Young or old, if it’s a cause they believe in, they will buy into it. Give retailers the tools to tell more of these stories and educate consumers, and the product sells itself—and helps someone in return.

“We believe the consumers are what is driving the retailers to be more conscious,” said Alexa’s Angels’ Craig. “They’ve helped retailers realize that something as small as a piece of jewelry can have a powerful role in making a difference.”

Tina BenitezTina Benitez-Eves | Business Editor, Gifts and Decorative Accessories

Tina covers the business of the gift/home decor and toy industry for Gifts and Decorative Accessories and Playthings. Also published in Men's Fitness, amNewYork, Wine Spectator and other publications.

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