Giving and Receiving: How to Shop For Charity - Charity Week on BTR


Altruism in Purchasing –  photo by: Tonya Staab

We all know the importance of maintaining a philanthropic and generous spirit. Giving to others, without any kind of return on your investment, is on some level an acknowledgement of the universal human condition – we’re all in this life together, and must work as a community to solve problems, alleviate suffering, and provide support. Although, it’s not always easy to act on that awareness. Just like exercise, developing the habit of giving requires effort and is the result of self-discipline, thought and time. Still, often we come up short on one (or all) of those resources.

Enter the brilliance of… charitable shopping! Whether you already donate on a regular basis and want to go further, or you’re not yet able to make that commitment, there are a host of products and stores that offer an opportunity to give effortlessly when you shop for groceries, clothes, or gifts. These are just a few suggestions, but keep an eye out because goods that do good are everywhere.

Let’s start in one of my favorite places: the grocery store. You can do good by buying a wide variety of edibles, from treats to staples, and can find most of these opportunities at your local Whole Foods or other national retailer. Even  beer and chocolate, two products that I’m especially fond of, have a few brands that donate a portion of their proceeds to various causes.


    Finnegan’s Irish Amber, brewed in Minneapolis, MN, is the most altruistic of all beer choices – a full 100% of their profits go directly to local programs that offer support to the working poor. Currently carried in only three Midwestern states, the company is young and growing rapidly. They plan to launch a new beer this year, which hopefully means future expansion into more retail markets.
    Two breweries in Fort Collins, CO, are actively giving back: New Belgium and Odell. New Belgium, the first Belgian-style ale to be brewed in the U.S., donates $1 per barrel of beer to a long menu of nationwide non-profits. This may not sound like much, but the craft brew has grown since its founding in 1991, and in 2011 they expect to raise $650,000 for various programs. Odell also specializes in micro-brew and craft beers, and donates an average of $1500 to each of their featured Charity of the Month organizations. You can find a list of retailers for both NBB and Odell on their individual websites.


    If you’ve ever actually needed a good excuse to eat chocolate (frankly, I think Tuesdays are a decent reason), look no further – Endangered Species Chocolate provides full justification for indulgence. 10% of net annual profits from this organic, fair-trade chocolate bar company go to organizations that support and preserve wildlife. Endangered Species products are carried at many major grocery chains nation-wide.
    Chocomize bars are the perfect balance of selfish- and selfless-ness. This online company started by three college friends offers you the chance to create a customized chocolate bar, filled with ingredients of your choosing. Then you get to choose from one of three charities; 1% of proceeds from every bar sold goes to Doctors Without Borders, The Michael J. Fox Foundation, or A Drink For Tomorrow.


    Newman’s Own is a familiar brand in most grocery stores. Started in 1982 by actor Paul Newman’s quest for the perfect salad dressing, Newman’s Own dressings, sauces, cereals, and snacks are now carried in most grocery stores. All after-tax profits and royalty fees go directly to Newman’s Own Foundation, which in turn funds a host of non-profits. Today, Newman’s Own has generated over $300 million in charitable funds.
    While the international non-profit Coffee Kids does not sell coffee itself, there are several large coffee companies who donate to the organization. Coffee Kids is dedicated to improving quality of life for families in coffee farming communities, and its participating members include Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and DaVinci Gourmet.

Moving on from food, you can find a ton of companies in the fashion and apparel industry that support causes through their profits. From independent designers who direct portions of their sales to select non-profits, to charitable organizations that offer merchandise, there are countless ways to make a personal purchase that will contribute to the common good.

Clothing and Accessories

    As the host of “Sew & Tell,” BTR’s fashion-focused interview show, I’ve spoken with lots of young entrepreneurs who are committed to giving back. Belinda Pasqua, sustainable designer and owner of The Sway, has a unique approach with the proceeds from her recycled leather handbags. Instead of choosing any specific charity or organization, Belinda and her company send a portion of profits each year to wherever they’re most urgently needed. Belinda feels that this flexibility enables them to consistently address the most relevant global crises.
    Another great accessory and gift idea comes courtesy of the Wear Your Music company. Hannah Garrison had been making guitar string bracelets as gifts for her friends for years, so when she saw executive Steve Bernstein’s Craigslist ad seeking innovative ways to use old strings, she knew it was a match. Wear Your Music bracelets were born, and the two worked together to grow a network of celebrities and charitable causes. Now, when you go to their website, you can order a bracelet made from recycled guitar strings, strummed by one of hundreds of celebrity musicians. Their roster includes rockers like Bonnie Raitt, Ani DiFranco, Brandi Carlile, Ben Harper, Carlos Santana, Jack Johnson, Eric Clapton, and Dolly Parton, to name just a few. Not only do you get to wear a piece of rock history, but all the proceeds from your purchase go directly to the charity of that artist’s choosing. Support music and a great cause? Yes, please!
    Montreal-based Yellow Bird Project also finds its funds at the intersection of music and fashion. Their collection of indie rocker-designed tee shirts is truly stellar (their cool selection includes graphics done by Bon Iver, Andrew Bird, of Montreal, Ra Ra Riot, Broken Social Scene, Devandra Banhart and more), and like Wear Your Music, all the profits go to a cause selected by that musician. (Plus – don’t miss their awesome Indie Rock Coloring Book! With 25+ illustrations from Iron & Wine, The National, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and more, it’s a sure bet for any die-hard indie rock fan on your gift list!)
    If you haven’t heard of TOMS Shoes, you may have been living under a rock for the last five years. What started in 2006 as a simple idea – the purchase of one pair of shoes funds the donation of shoes to a person in need –  has grown into a conscientious fashion phenomenon. In addition to an online store, TOMS Shoes are stocked in retailers all over the world and have found favor with A-list celebrities. TOMS recently launched an eyewear division, and will donate the funds for corrective surgery, glasses or medication for every purchase of sunglasses. (I got my own pair of TOMS simple, cherry-red flat shoes last summer, and absolutely love them.)
    Nelson Mandella founded 46664 as an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign, using the prisoner number and date of incarceration for his time spent imprisoned on Robben Island in Cape Town, South Africa. This spring, the organization announced preparations for the launch of a clothing line that will benefit 46664’s charitable activity, as well as bolster the textile and garment industry of South Africa. The stylishly colorful garments range from men’s classic button-downs and casual pullovers to well-made womenswear basics, and will be sold online as well as at major retailers throughout South Africa.
    While there are plenty of independent jewelry designers on the market, these two are turning their pretty profits over to charity. Joan Hornig launched her signature line in 2003, and all proceeds from the sale of her bold, modern, feminine designs go to the buyer’s charity of choice, selected from a drop-down menu on the website. Hornig also has some elegant stationery gifts, including seeded paper and recycled leather-encased notepads. Somewhat more casual but equally beautiful are Elizabeth Carlock‘s designs. The line is grouped into several collections, some of which are for-profit and others of which are 100% charitable. One of these collections is a partnership with Akola Project, a branch of the Ugandan American Partnership Organization (UAPO) which employs women in craft trades, offering them sustainable income.
    Last (but certainly not least) is PACT Organic Underwear. Yes, you can even buy underwear that will contribute to a good cause, allowing you to build a wardrobe that is pure philanthropy. 10% of PACT’s undie sales go towards one of several causes they support, addressing educational, environmental, and creative organizations. Of course, you get a cute pair of organic cotton unmentionables out of the bargain as well!

In addition to all of these individual manufacturers and small companies, there are a near infinite number of stores that donate sale proceeds as well.  Online, spots like,, and the Not For Sale webshop offer housewares, clothing, jewelry, coffee and other goods that contribute to sustainable and fair trade ethics, supporting organizations that fight for human justice. Sites like, and turn a percentage of your purchase from brand-name chains like Starbuck’s, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Amazon or REI into donations.

Of course, The Salvation Army has nationwide locations that offer everything from cookbooks to furniture and electronics. New York’s Housing Works organization, which has been helping those affected by homelessness and HIV for over twenty years, has a social enterprise branch with several stores throughout Manhattan, a webshop, and catering services. The profits from these business ventures contribute an annual sum of more than $13 million to their community services.

There are also hundreds of fun events and activities, from volunteering at your local animal shelter to attending a fundraising rock concert, that make for a great night out. With a little creative thinking and basic web search skills, you can find ways to make almost any purchase count towards charity, and easily integrate giving into your daily life.