How to turn your wedding into a charity fundraiser.

Advice on how to make the world better.
July 29 2009 7:03 AM

I Do Good

Can I turn my wedding into a charity fundraiser?

Wedding gifts. Click image to expand.
Can I turn my wedding into a charity fundraiser?

Do you have a real-life do-gooding dilemma? Please send it to ask.my.goodness@gmail.com, and Sandy will try to answer it.

Dear Sandy,

My fiance and I are getting married this summer. We appreciate how blessed we are, and we would like to ask family and friends to donate to a charity in lieu of gifts. We also plan to donate any and all cash gifts we receive for the wedding to a local charity. My question is about directing and thanking people. How can we (nicely) ask guests to do this? How should we thank them? My fiance would like to tell people in the thank-you card that their gifts went to support a wonderful cause, but I am concerned about how the givers might perceive this.

—Emma

Sandy:

First comes love, then comes marriage—then comes the china set you'll lug around for the rest of your life. For a variety of reasons, such as couples living together before marriage and marrying older, wedding gifts just don't seem as necessary as they once did. You can only have so many toasters, after all.

As a result, more couples are deciding to trade in their china for charity. There are a lot of great ways to have your wedding reflect your values, but make sure you don't alienate your guests while you're at it. If your pet cause is particularly controversial, throw in a few less contentious choices for guests to choose from. Still, many of your guests may want to celebrate your union by giving a tangible gift to help you share your life together. So why not have two registries?

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While Miss Manners may disagree with including information about gifts in your invitation, I couldn't care less. Everyone knows weddings equal gifts, so why not be upfront with your desire to have guests donate instead? If that makes you queasy, direct people to a personalized wedding Web site (de rigueur nowadays) that explains your dual registry or request for donations only.

The I Do Foundation makes it easy to integrate charity into every wedding. If you want to get gifts while doing good, it has a gift registry where up to 10 percent of the total amount of guests' purchases from partner retailers are donated to charity (at no additional cost). If you're just looking for an easy way to direct guests to your charity of choice, it offers a charity registry where you can inform your guests about your charitable preferences and allow them to make their donations online. The foundation even has information about sending leftovers from your reception to a local shelter, donating your wedding dress to charity, or giving alternative wedding favors to your guests. JustGive.org has a similar charity registry with a broader range of charities to choose from.

I went to a wedding a few years ago where the bride and groom asked for donations to Heifer International. I loved the idea of buying a menagerie of animals in their honor and even made them a card with a duck and a goose walking down the aisle. Heifer, like many other large charities, has its own gift registry service.

If you don't want to request donations but you do want "do good" wedding favors, there are lots of options. This wedding blogger took a cue from Whole Foods' bag tokens (bring your own bag, get a token to deposit in one of three charity buckets) and gave her guests the choice of how to donate their party favors. It's a nice way to encourage people to learn about a charity you admire, though you may prefer that your wedding conversation steer clear of the perils of dengue fever.

As for thanking your guests, I think that once you've given people the option to donate in your honor, I wouldn't necessarily tell folks who give you cash or a coffee pot that you turned around and donated it to a starving child in Africa. You can always donate gifts (or the item they duplicate in your kitchen) to Goodwill or a local organization that provides temporary housing or otherwise helps families in need. If it isn't polite to tell people you regifted their present, it probably isn't nice to tell them you gave it away, either.

Do you have a real-life do-gooding dilemma? Please send it to ask.my.goodness@gmail.com, and Sandy will try to answer it.

Sandy Stonesifer works on issues related to adolescent girls' health at a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

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