Consumers look to help good causes with gifts

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
Tufts University hosted the OneWorld Global Crafts Bazaar, which helped a Washington-based nonprofit.

For some shoppers, a chic cashmere scarf has to be more than comfy and attractive neckwear to be plucked off a store shelf this holiday season.

They need to know that the wooly wrapping was stitched in America (or somewhere that supports free trade), and that part of the purchase price benefits charity. For good measure, the accessory should also somehow reduce the buyer’s carbon footprint.

The ranks of such cause-conscious shoppers are growing, retail analysts say. They are looking for more than good prices and quality - seeking gifts that are made locally or sold by small businesses, made under sustainable or environmentally friendly conditions, and benefit someone besides the recipient. The movement is being driven by heightened shopper awareness, wariness of conspicuous consumption, and the popularity of websites promoting informed giving.


“There is a pervasive sense that people want to try to give back in a world that feels increasingly chaotic and out of control, even when it comes to shopping,’’ said Jon Carson, chief executive of BiddingForGood in Cambridge, a two-year-old online marketplace that combines shopping and charity.

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Nonprofits, schools, and charities can list items they want to auction on BiddingForGood’s site. The company says 91 percent of sales proceeds go to the organizations.

“There is angst around overconsumption and people want to shop for gifts with a purpose,’’ Carson said. “It makes people feel less guilty about spending.’’

This year, Patty Levy, of Lincoln, used BiddingForGood to do her holiday shopping for the first time. She scored a pair of $20 silver-and-turquoise earrings for a friend and a $345 baseball for her husband and son that was signed by Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski. Her purchases provided funds for an educational nonprofit in New York and a community organization in California.

“I always love sharing where gifts come from. And this is more meaningful - not only is it a gift, but is also helps out an organization,’’ Levy said.


Kara Iskenderian knocked out her holiday shopping earlier this month at the OneWorld Global Crafts Bazaar at Tufts University. All the net proceeds from the sale of local and global handmade products benefited GoodWeave, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that works to end child labor in the carpet industry and to offer educational opportunities to children in South Asia.

At the OneWorld bazaar, the college freshman bought three fair trade woven scarves for $12 each for her mother, sister, and best friend, along with beaded jewelry for her aunt.

“I won’t shop at places like Walmart. But trying to buy gifts that are socially conscious and sustainable can be more difficult because you have to go out of your way to find options,’’ she said. “I think it adds extra meaning to the gift so it’s worth it. And they’ll be proud to wear it.’’

Vincent Kasten, a sustainability specialist at retail consulting firm Kurt Salmon, said the combined growth of social media and online shopping has made it easier for merchants and nonprofits to tap into the cause-conscious movement as it becomes more mainstream.

“It’s a multiplier effect, with more people becoming aware and more people getting involved in this type of activity,’’ Kasten said.


The Clear Water Carbon Fund in Maine recently launched a program that allows people to purchase trees for $6 that will be planted in either Maine or Vermont to help address greenhouse gas emissions. The organization marketed the trees as holiday gifts this season with the option to send a personalized note to the recipient. Just in the last month, the group sold more than 250 trees as presents - and 11 of them were purchased by Deb Harrison of Dedham.

Harrison, who teaches a class in environmental sustainability, set aside her usual gifts of paperwhite bulbs or homemade food in order to give the trees this year.

“Everyone does not need more stuff, even for the holidays,’’ Harrison said. “I think it’s the right thing to do and something my friends and kids would appreciate. It’s a way of sharing your own passion in way that matters.’’

Jenn Abelson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @jennabelson.