Finding the balance between charitable giving and shopping

At the peak of the shopping and giving season, consumers are increasingly combining both activities. They are buying products that have charitable tie-ins, shopping through Web portals that send savings to nonprofits, and donating at the registers when they check out at stores.

These charity-linked purchases might give consumers a good feeling, but are they good for charities? Maybe so, but only if those shopping decisions aren’t taking the place of other charitable giving, say some specialists.

Charitable shopping “undermines the philanthropy of a nonprofit through diminished charitable donations,” said Sondra Dellaripa, principal consultant for the nonprofit consultancy Harvest Development Group. In fund-raising development for charities, she said, it is important to build a relationship with a donor — ­something that doesn’t happen in these ­transactions.

So, how can you make your shopping turn into giving while keeping in mind how much you’re really giving to charity? Not all products with charity tie-ins are created equal.

For those shopping online, there are pass-through sites where a charity gets money every time a consumer makes a purchase. The donated percentage of the purchase price varies from 1 to 25 percent.

Some deliver no money to charity at all; they’re just for awareness. Consumers can check this, before they buy, on the product’s website or by reading the tiny print on the product’s packaging.

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