Save The Polar Bear Sweaters Are Nice, But Do The Bears Really Get The Cash?

So you’re shopping and have a choice between Sweater A, and Sweater B, the one that saves polar bears. This so-called “embedded giving” where you buy something and part of the money goes towards a charity has become quite popular, especially during the holiday season, but did you ever stop to think if the polar bears are really getting the money?

Some companies sell items saying that a “portion” or “share” goes to a charitable organization, but the actual percentage is not covered in any specific contract between them and the charity, or governed by disclosure requirements. This disturbing lack of transparency opens the door to companies that want to use the charity angle as a marketing hook, without passing on much in the way of bucks to the actual charities. For instance, the supposed recipients of charity dollars in an embedded giving campaign in a Barney’s catalog only found out they were beneficiaries after the NYT talked to them.

If you really want to help out, donate directly to the charity. You can use a site like Charity Navigator to make sure that most of your money goes to the cause, and not the corporate coffers.

The 2009 Embedded Giving Challenge [Philanthropy 2173] (Thanks to C-side!) (Photo: thelearnr)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Trai_Dep says:

    I have to ask: do Canadians have an option to Save The Grizzlies?
    (I’m speaking of wild Grizzlies, of course, not the domesticated house Grizzlies that many Canadians have as pets)

  2. Red Cat Linux says:

    That’s always bugged me about charities. The ones that don’t note what percentage of donations actually get used for the cause and not overhead/management bonuses.

    I tend to stick with the ones that state it up front. Everything else just seems like the purchase of a warm-fuzzy feeling.

  3. jivesukka says:

    That usually doesn’t sway my judgment when I am buying an item either. If I can get a clear cut amount and more information, I would give it thought but that is rarely the case.

  4. ARP says:

    So to try to create a typical example: you may buy a product that donates 10% of its proceeds to a charity. The charity in turn spends 40% (with 60% being administration) on the actual cause. So, if you bought a charity product for $100.00, you might have given just $4.00 (or less) to actually help that cause.

  5. Ben Popken says:

    The problem with donating to polar bears is they always try to game the float and end up losing in the fish exchange arbitrage.

  6. larrymac thinks testing should have occurred says:

    Polar bears eat ring(ed) seals, almost exclusively, not fish. They also enjoy dancing -> []

  7. AD8BC says:

    I’m getting a little bit sick of the Komen campaign turning everything pink… Granted, I am against breast cancer but I am also against buying a pink container of Philadelphia Cream Cheese… unless it’s strawberry flavored, of course.

    • babyruthless says:

      @AD8BC: you might be interested in this:
      [] which advocates for asking critical questions (like how much of my donation is actually going to “fight” breast cancer) and to call attention to companies who are nominally against breast cancer, but also do things to promote it (like using hormone-laden milk)

  8. Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

    This makes me wonder about all those pink items that seem to be for breast cancer.

    I don’t buy those items.. not that I’m *for* breast cancer, I’m just *against* pink.

  9. Conrad says:

    Most large company charities pocket a majority of their earnings. Either that or they spend the money on functions to advertise their charity. A lot of the money for Breast Cancer Research, goes towards events not research, and the same can be said for Relay for Life.

  10. WraithSama says:

    Reminds me of when Starbucks had a thing where for every cup of coffee they sold this one day, a nickle would be given to some charity. Didn’t sound terribly charitable considering the price of their coffee.

  11. Jamfish says:

    Big props to CharityNavigator for slogging through the bad apples to bring us the good ones! However, the polar bears tell me they are doing fine.

  12. Propaniac says:

    Zero is a percent!

    A similar thing that bugs me is when there’s a cap on how much money the company will give to the charity. Like a few years ago, McDonald’s had what was clearly a multi-million-dollar ad campaign with the Williams sisters, hyping that if you bought some McDonald’s product, McDonald’s would donate some of the money to a good cause. But there was fine print in the ad that McDonald’s would only donate up to $10,000. They probably spent more than that each time they ran the commercial.

  13. Smashville says:

    Let the bears pay the bear tax. I pay the Homer tax.

  14. Gnort says:

    This reminded me of the Mitchell and Webb bit on vegetarians…

    “There might be a few polar bears left if more people wanted one for breakfast.”

    + Watch video

    But, oh my, that was wildly off topic! hehe

  15. hi says:

    global warming is a hoax and the bears are safe.

  16. PølάrβǽЯ says:

    I haven’t seen a fricken dime. Where’s my money?!?

  17. rocketbear79: threadkiller says:

    @Applekid: Your post is an affront to bears everywhere, including this one. :p

  18. Pink Puppet says:

    @Trai_Dep: So much this. Blizzard is selling a little trophy pet for WoW characters where five dollars of it goes to Make-A-Wish.

    Is Make-A-Wish a charity I give to? No, but I get something nifty and Make-A-Wish gets five bucks. And they get another five bucks every time another tiny pixel-pet obsessed geek buys one, too.

  19. pop top says:

    @pecan 3.14159265: “I would certainly not donate to organizations with a history of improper spending…”

    I never give to United Way simply because of all the scandals they’ve had over the years. I don’t understand how they’re still in business.

  20. Red Cat Linux says:

    @pecan 3.14159265: It’s the ‘improper spending’ bit that gives me pause. Charities do need to function, but some of them seem to function along the lines of banks happily handing out bailout bonuses.

    This is why I never had a problem giving to the Red Cross. They can have as much of my blood (within reason!) that they like, and I know that somewhere out there, it’s helping someone.

  21. theblackdog says:

    @rocketbear79: threadkiller: He’s right though, save them and fatten then up and you have even more sweater material to work with.

  22. Covertghost says:

    @Applekid: Fish and blow man, fish and blow.

    It gets lonely up there.

  23. Pink Puppet says:

    @pecan 3.14159265: I’m right there with you. I have the warm fuzzies from supporting medical research and helping kids and knocking out my holiday shopping for my nephews.

    You just can’t go wrong there.

  24. GitEmSteveDave_RockinLabCoat says:

    @pecan 3.14159265: They have labcoats there?

  25. H3ion says:

    @squinko: They can protect themselves. The Second Amendment preserves the right to arm bears.

  26. RandomHookup says:

    @Covertghost: Actually, all the lady polar bears end up with all the cash *and* the fish.