(RNN) - During this festive season of giving it's easy to get caught up in decorations and dinners and lose sight of the charitable spirit of the holidays.
Apron-wearing good Samaritans ring bells outside of store fronts, and simply dropping change into those red kettles is one way to give. Another way is to pick a product that donates part of the proceeds to a good cause.
Breast cancer awareness offers endless ways for a gift-giver to "Go Pink," but do a little research before you buy a gift for its charitable value.
Giving to breast cancer charities
There are various reasons for people to give to charities. Breast cancer awareness and research is one of the most popular because of the disease's prevalence.
In the U.S., about 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer at some point in her lifetime, according to breastcancer.org. Death rates have been dropping since 1990, but about 39,840 women in the U.S. were expected to die in 2010 from breast cancer.
With those odds, most people in the country know someone who has been diagnosed with the disease.
Lea Goldman, deputy editor of Marie Claire Magazine and author of the article, The Big Business of Breast Cancer, says the disease is a plague on women.
"It's an issue that will always resonate with women, more people I know will be touched by breast cancer, the circle keeps tightening a little bit," Goldman said.
Purchasing "Go Pink for breast cancer" products has surged in popularity in the past few years. You can buy everything from watches, to mugs, to hats, to T-shirts, to blenders and toasters.
Sporting the pink ribbon has become a sort of homage to friends or family members who are affected.
Melissa Schenkel, public relations manager for bag and purse maker Vera Bradley, said pink products are so popular because "almost everyone knows someone (an aunt, mother, grandmother, friend, cousin, etc) who has had breast cancer."
Companies, like Coach, sell pink-hued purses. KitchenAid has a line of pink appliances for their "Cook for the Cure" line.
Since 2004, the upscale self-care product line Aveda has supported parent company Estee Lauder's annual Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, which raises money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Aveda's Hand Relief for Breast Cancer Awareness product has been a top seller year 'round since 1998, said Tina Tuohy, Aveda spokeswoman.
Vera Bradley also has been extremely successful marketing its pink products toward funding for breast cancer research. Ten percent of the proceeds from its breast cancer design go to The Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer.
Since 1998, the foundation has donated more than $15 million, according to Schenkel.
Not every charity is charitable
Not every foundation and company is open with their profits and as generous with their collections. Some organizations take money from donors and give only a small percentage – if any – to the charity they claim to support.
A brand's act of starting a foundation for charity and then marketing that to draw sales can be very lucrative. Some charities leave little room for the actual philanthropy itself.
While many of the "Go Pink" products do, in fact, go towards a breast cancer foundation or towards cancer research, there is nothing that prevents an unscrupulous marketer from slapping a product with a pink ribbon and calling it "charity," Goldman said.
The pink ribbon is not copyrighted. Susan G. Komen has its own, official version of the pink ribbon, but the general use of a pink ribbon is fair game.
"There are so many more products than costumers. Don't go out of your way to buy something because it's pink," said Goldman. If you already need a product, going for pink makes sense, and let's be honest, some products are adorable."
To give yourself some measure of protection when purchasing gifts that profess to give to a good cause, Goldman says to check out the website, Guidestar.org, which can tell you how much of the donations go to administrative costs, like salaries, and how much goes to the charity involved.
Bottom line: If you're buying the product just for the charitable value, do some research about who you're giving your money to. But if you're buying a product because you like it, then you really aren't losing much.
"My generation is also being raised that money talks, if you don't like something take your money elsewhere," Goldman said.
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