2012-10-26 / Top Stories

Attorney General Warns On Breast Cancer Charities

In National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has issued best practices to promote transparency in charitable “cause marketing” campaigns, a growing billion-dollar-a-year industry in which companies advertise that the sale or use of a product will result in a charitable contribution. The best practices follow a year-long review of “pink ribbon” and similar campaigns of nearly 150 companies. While these campaigns have resulted in substantial donations, the Attorney General’s review found that consumers often do not have sufficient information to understand how their purchases will benefit charity.

“National Breast Cancer Awareness Month continues to increase our understanding of breast cancer and raise funds for the charities fighting it. Consumers who intend to support this worthy cause deserve to know that their purchases do the good promised by the pink ribbon campaigns,” Schneiderman said. “These best practices, agreed to by the nation’s largest breast cancer charities, will help ensure that cause marketing campaigns provide the benefit that’s expected, and that consumers, charities, and above all, the women and families affected by this devastating disease are protected.”

Schneiderman’s Five Best Practices for Transparent Cause Marketing will protect consumers and charities by having companies clearly and prominently disclose key information about each campaign, including the specific amount that will be donated to charity from each purchase. Companies using ribbons and similar symbols on products must make clear to consumers if a purchase will trigger a donation, or if the symbols are used merely for awareness of a cause. The best practices also ensure more transparency in social media campaigns, in which companies promise donations if consumers agree to “like” or “follow” them or their products.

The nation’s two largest breast cancer charities, Susan G. Komen For The Cure and Breast Cancer Research Foundation, are showing their commitment to transparency by adopting the best practices.

“Our office commends Susan G. Komen For The Cure and Breast Cancer Research Foundation for signing onto these best practices, and leading the industry to greater transparency and accountability,” added Schneiderman. “These guidelines will bolster public confidence in cause marketing and hopefully will result in more money going to fighting this horrible disease.”

“We congratulate Attorney General Schneiderman for issuing the Best Practices, which will promote transparency in cause marketing,” said H. Art Taylor, President and CEO, BBB Wise Giving Alliance. “With companies adopting these Best Practices and following the BBB’s Standards for Charity Accountability, consumers will now have the disclosures they need to make informed purchases.”

The Best Practices are designed to increase the quality and consistency of disclosure to consumers, requiring participating companies to:

Clearly Describe the Promotion Consumers should be able to easily understand before purchasing a product key terms such as: the name of the charity; the specific dollar amount per purchase that will go to charity; any caps on the donation; whether any consumer action is required to trigger a donation; and the start and end dates of the campaign. The Best Practices also encourage companies to use a “Donation Information Label,” akin to a nutrition label, that will include this information in a clear and uniform format. Allow Consumers to Easily Determine Donation Amount

In marketing their products, companies should use a fixed dollar amount - such as 50 cents for every purchase - rather than generic phrases like “a portion of proceeds” will go to charity. Be Transparent About What Is Not Apparent

Companies should disclose what might not be obvious to consumers, including if there are contractual limits on the campaigns, if charitable contributions will not be made in cash, or if a fixed amount has been promised to charity regardless of the number of products sold. Ensure Transparency in Social Media

Companies conducting cause marketing through social media should be equally transparent as in traditional campaigns, and clearly and prominently disclose key terms in on-line marketing. Tell the Public How Much Was Raised

At the conclusion of each campaign, the website should clearly disclose the amount of the charitable donation generated.

The Attorney General’s Best Practices, as well as other guidance and tips for charities and consumers, are available at www.charitiesnys.com.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Claire Evans and Karin Kunstler Goldman and Policy Analyst Liam Arbetman of the Charities Bureau, under the supervision of Charities Bureau Chief Jason Lilien and Executive Deputy Attorney General for the Social Justice Janet Sabel.

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