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With a donation can on every check-out stand and charitable links on shopping websites, it’s easy for consumers to become mini-philanthropists several times a day. Getting coffee, gassing up the car, even purchasing wine online can include opportunities to do good while doing business.
Something as simple as spare change can add up to serious money— just ask the folks at Healthy Spot , a Santa Monica, Calif., pet care store, where customers “rounding up” their purchases to the nearest dollar have given more than $7,500 since the store opened in May 2008. Best Friends Animal Society/LA,Walk for the Underdog and Rescue Train are among the beneficiaries of their customers’ generosity.
For Mary Snellgrove, president of Cru Vin Dogs Wine Group, giving has been part of her company’s business plan since 2006,when she and her partners all agreed on four intertwined passions: wine, art, dogs and giving back. Today, Cru Vin Dogs  shares 10 percent of each sale with three dog-related nonprofits— not 10 percent of profits, mind, but 10 percent straight off the top of each transaction. The lucky recipients include Canine Companions for Independence, which trains service dogs; the Morris Animal Foundation, which focuses on improving the health of companion animals; and the ALIE Foundation, providers of Bloodhounds to law enforcement agencies.
When a for-profit company directs charitable dollars to a nonprofit, it is called “embedded giving” or “cause marketing.” Many mega-corporations, including Subaru, PetSmart and The Gap have conducted massive check-out-charity programs, some of which are quite ambitious, such as the Gap (PRODUCT) RED campaign, which focuses on eliminating AIDS in Africa. But a business does not have to be big to make a difference.
Even tiny mom-and-pop e-commerce businesses such as Collars for Cures  can launch their own giving campaigns.With numerous cancer-related deaths in their family, husband and wife Chris and Erika Nelson of Huntington Beach, Calif., wanted to raise more funds than they were already giving to the American Association for Cancer Research(AACR).“It hit me driving home one day. Collars help keep pets safe, and if someone is buying a collar anyway, why not buy from a business that has a charitable plan?” recalls Chris Nelson, whose company donates 50 percent of its proceeds to AACR.
While Nelson’s idea to utilize check-out charity came in a flash, jewelry designer Gavin Kovacs, the 26-year-old CEO of Heart U Back  has long wanted to support the ASPCA in New York City. Heart U Back jewelry designs are created with animal lovers in mind, and Kovacs has pledged to donate a minimum of $125,000 to the ASPCA. “Our business philosophy is that you can be stylish and give back,” says Sarah Nohe, creative director of Heart U Back.“Wearing our designs spreads the message of caring for animals in need.”
In Berkeley, Calif., Ana Poe, founder/ owner of Paco Collars , regards charitable giving as just part of doing business.“We do a lot of donations. Sometimes to the point we wonder if we actually make a profit,” she confesses with a laugh. Sales of certain leather collars automatically trigger donations to dog rescue groups, and Poe regularly approves donation boxes filled with dog toys and less-than-perfect collars. She worries, though, that online customers might be missing some of these giving opportunities.“ I wish more customers would team up with their orders, because on any order over $300,we donate 10 percent of that sale to BADRAP or another group that needs it,” says Poe.
Some inspirations for giving have been hatched at a kitchen table.Now featured on the shelves at Whole Foods and other groceries in southern California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii, Margo’s Bark Root Beer  is the brainchild of entrepreneurial dad Tim Youd.What started as his son’s school science project to create carbonation has grown into an all-natural microbrewed soda that saves dogs. The family dog,Margo, adorns the label. “I like my [giving] model because I’m working within my community,” says Youd, who lists 16 dog rescue groups and shelters on his website.“When you write a check to a big charity, you might wonder where it’s going…The Internet is about getting things where they need to be.” Another “kitchen table” product— musician, writer and political gadfly Kinky Friedman’s Private Stock  salsas—supports Friedman’s Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch near Medina, Texas.
At over 700 Maurices  stores nationwide, going to the dogs (and cats) is considered a good thing for employees and customers alike. Partnering with the ASPCA,Maurices—a division of Dress Barn Inc.—dedicated the month of September to “Rescues & Runways,” putting on pet-oriented fashion shows to raise money and collect supplies for local shelters and rescue groups.Maurices has pledged to raise $100,000 for the ASPCA and its national shelter outreach program.
“We are a 78-year-old company,” says Maurices’ John Schroeder, senior vice president of stores, headquartered in Duluth,Minn.“We think of this effort as hometown pride.” Schroeder notes the recent double whammy of falling financial markets and rising home foreclosures, which has caused a surge in pet surrenders at shelters.“Animal shelters are really struggling right now ... We knew this would be a great giving opportunity for our customers and our associates.”
This method of giving is a growing segment of the estimated $300 billion Americans donate to charities annually. As with any other type of donation, consumers who participate in embedded giving should use common sense, advises San Francisco attorney Gene Takagi, author and publisher of the Nonprofit Law Blog. “Anybody can put a sign up saying proceeds go to charity,” Takagi says.He encourages shoppers to call the designated charity to check that a joint program exists. They may also want to research how much of their donation ultimately benefits the charity.
For the nonprofit on the receiving end of embedded giving, it means more dreams can come true. As Jeanine Konopelski, national director of marketing communications at Canine Companions for Independence in Santa Rosa, Calif., says, contributing even a tiny part of the $45,000 price tag to train just one service dog is incredibly meaningful. “Not everyone can make a big direct financial gift, but if you can buy what you need and the charity you support benefits as well, you are making a difference.”