Pink half-zip pullover from Bobby Jones. - AP

Pink packages raise green for breast cancer causes

NEW YORK — Breast-cancer awareness month casts a pink tint in many stores, with many retailers and manufacturers offering specially packaged products to highlight "the cause."

But how can consumers be sure their pink purchases will turn green and help fill the coffers of legitimate charities?

Read the fine print, advises Robbie Franklin, director of marketing at The Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Be sure the details are all spelled out: What is the specific charity? How much is the donation? Is it based on sales or is there a flat fee being paid?

In the past, the BCRF had gone back and forth about how specific it wanted its partners to be. The organization didn't want to discourage consumers from products that, at first blush, seem to donate a small amount, Franklin says, but it was determined it was best to be up front with shoppers and to adopt the disclosure practices that the Better Business Bureau recommends.

"We just didn't want to be caught up in the question, 'Is it enough money?'" she says. "It's all about curing cancer ... and a million pennies still weighs a lot, and considering the current economy, we can't be picky about donations."

Carol Kurzig, executive director of the charitable Avon Foundation, also encourages consumers to do big-picture math. "You want to be sure the donation information is specific enough so that the consumer understands, but it's not really how high the number is that's important."

Since Avon is manufacturer, marketer and retailer, it can contribute $4 for every $5 charm bracelet sold to its Foundation's breast-cancer program. But, says Kurzig, the $2 from every $15 pink plastic clog is nothing to sneeze at; it's just that it's a more expensive product to produce.

In most cases, though, retailers set prices — and the markup — so no matter how committed manufacturers might be to charity, they are limited in what they can promise in a donation, Franklin says.

Other manufacturers avoid the potential perception problem by offering a flat amount to charity. Instead of basing its donation on sales of it's electronic glass kitchen scale, Taylor Precision Products is giving $10,000 to the BCRF. That contribution earns Taylor the ability to put the pink-ribbon logo on a version of the scale being sold at Target.

Saks Fifth Avenue has made a big push each fall since 1999 with its Key to the Cure T-shirt, getting a top-tier designer to make it and an A-list star to appear in ads. This year it's Karl Lagerfeld and Gwyneth Paltrow.

The $40 tee, with a crossed-arrow motif, benefits the Entertainment Industry Foundation's Women's Cancer Research Fund.

"We cover the expense of making it ... and we eat some of that expense," says Kimberly Grabel, senior vice president of marketing at Saks. She says the clutter-free approach to fundraising works. "It was important for us to say that $35 of the $40 is donated."

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