"For my fiancé and I giving back is a no-brainer," explains bride-to-be Ami*. "But a lot of people in our families don't necessarily share that value, or they just don't understand how easy it can be. We want to use our wedding to show them lots of little ways they can do good in the world."
I chatted with Ami to learn more about why she’d chosen to sign up for COCObundle's gift registry (learn more about that below!). The conversation inspired me to share some amazing resources I've found as I've built this part of my company, and thought more deeply about how we can use weddings as a vehicle to create incredible impact.
1. Hire an Impact Dream Team
The wedding planner and vendors you choose are the foundation of your wedding, so hiring people who share your values is an important first step. Kate Neal (who also happens to be a fantastic photographer) has a podcast called The Giving Party where she and her husband John talk to wedding pros who care about giving back. Scouring their episodes is a great way to start thinking about how your hiring decisions can set the stage for a successful give-back wedding.
Hiring a planner? If so, remember that they will have a hand in every element of your wedding so, it's important to consider how they approach the idea of impact. One of my favorite planners, José Rolon in New York, started the Impact With Choice initiative. It allows couples to choose one of three easy ways to give back through their wedding (he even rewards the couple with wellness services to thank them for doing so!).
If you can find a planner who's already actively working to give back, awesome! If not, you can still ensure that your planner will support your give-back goals by bringing them up early in the hiring process. Talk about the causes that are important to you, and see how responsive they are to planning an impactful event. (hint: if their eyes glaze over, move on).
2. Say Yes to a Purposeful Dress
If you're willing to explore a secondhand gown, there are great organizations that collect and resell wedding dresses to raise money for charity.
Brides for a Cause, with locations in Portland, Seattle, and Tacoma, has recycled over 23,000 dresses and given away over $1,200,000 to support women and girls through a variety of charitable organizations. Brides Against Breast Cancer has an online shop where your dress purchase helps fund their mission of providing early detection education and supporting research and legislation efforts.
Is your heart set on a new gown? There are myriad great causes you can donate to when you're done with it (including both of those listed above). Another great cause is the NICU Helping Hands, Angel Gown Program. It supports families losing a baby by taking donated wedding gowns and converting them into beautiful custom-made gowns for final photos and burial services.
Don't want to part with your dress for good? How about following the lead of SPANX founder and CEO Sara Blakely, who started loaning out her wedding dress a long time ago to friends (and strangers!). During the pandemic, Sara wanted to continue the tradition by loaning it out to brides whose special day had been derailed. Read the adorable story of how this started on Sara's Instagram and see the first pandemic bride to borrow the dress here!
3. Register for Gifts That Go to Those in Need
While volunteering for a housing charity, I saw how donated items (like towels, bedding, and dishes) piled up with too much of one thing, not enough of another, and no consistency of quality. So a team and I started COCObundle to make it easier for people to give what's needed when it's needed.
COCO’s platform includes a registry where engaged couples can register for all the standards (like towels, bedding, dishes… see where I'm going here?). Instead of the gifts being delivered to the couple, we send them to those in need through our network of nonprofit partners.
Couples select a region and cause they want the gifts to support, we handle the rest. And guests like the experience of buying actual gifts. The COCObundle registry is a time-honored tradition with a modern, philanthropic twist. (You can also add items to any universal registry.)
A few other great ways to use your registry to do good:
- The Good Beginning has a beautiful mission that goes hand-in-hand with ours. Their platform allows you to browse charities, find up to three that resonate with you, and create a registry for donations (which will be split up equally).
- Setting up a registry on The Knot? The Knot Gifts Back will donate up to 3% of all qualified gifts purchased from your registry to the charity of your choice.
- On Zola? Add Charity Choice gift cards to your registry.
4. Sip Something Special
Many beverage companies give back, so this is a super-easy way to add impact without lifting a finger (except to lift your champagne glass!).
One of my favorites is One Hope Wine because they'll work with your vendor even if they don't allow outside beverages. They're #1 on The Good Trade’s list of wine, beer, and liquor brands that give back. The list is a great resource and includes options for supporting animals, veterans, environmental causes, music education, food banks, disaster recovery, and more.
Don't forget to include something special for your non-alcohol drinking guests. Consider creating a signature faux cocktail with sparkling Yerba Mate from CLEAN Cause, and 50% of your purchase will go to fund sober living scholarships for those in recovery. (The peach flavor is my favorite!)
5. Go Green
If the environment is your cause of choice, there's no end to the creative ways you can make your wedding eco-conscious. There are solar-powered sound and lighting companies like DJ Jacob Co and talented visual designers like Emily Clarke who use upcycled and sustainable elements to reduce their environmental footprint.
6. Make the Most of Leftovers
As COVID (hopefully) becomes a thing of the past, I'm optimistic that some of these awesome efforts will return. If this is something you're interested in, make a few calls to the organizations in your area who feed those in need to see what the protocol is for accepting leftovers.
If your wedding has the right vibe for it, you can also consider sending your guests home with the leftovers. Find out if your caterers are willing to pack up food in to-go containers (ideally the biodegradable kind… Bio & Chic makes some cute ones) and distribute it to guests as they're leaving. You'd be surprised how many guests are grateful for the late-night snack, especially if dinner was hours ago and they've been dancing the night away!
7. Let Your Flowers Bloom With Impact
Sometimes it makes sense to send flowers home with your guests. But if you're having a destination wedding or your florals big and bulky, it may not be all that practical. There are myriad organizations you can hire to pick up your flowers and donate them to a cause. They bring them to healthcare facilities, nursing homes, and mental health communities to help brighten the mood. Here are some of them:
Having your wedding in New York, Boston, or Los Angeles? Rebloom will repurpose your flowers and sell them the next day at up to a 90% discount, with most of the proceeds going to charity—you can even choose what cause you'd like to support.
8. Give Charitable Wedding Favors
A crazy simple way to make your favors charitable is to make a cash donation to your favorite nonprofit. Have cards printed to thank guests for coming, and to let them know that you've made a donation in their honor. You can also announce it during the reception and use it as an opportunity to talk about the organization and why it means something to you as a couple.
Don't have a specific charity in mind? Wish Upon a Wedding grants weddings and vow renewals to couples facing serious illness or life-altering health circumstances. It's a great way to spread the love from your big day.
Want something on the sweeter side? Feed Your Soul creates delicious dessert favors where every purchase helps feed those in need at the Coalition for the Homeless in NYC. Truffles for a Cause will donate a portion of proceeds to the cause of your choice.
9. Give With Your Thanks
Some people just seem to have giving back in their DNA, and those are the kinds of people whose work I like to support because I know it has a ripple effect.
Two of those people are Calligrapher Lily Stork of Loveletter Studio and stationery designer Katie Fischer of Katie Fischer Design. They just happen to be amazing when it comes to the art of invitations and thank you cards, so I enjoy recommending them to friends who are getting married.
Another easy way to make an impact is to order thank you cards from Cards for Causes, 20% of the proceeds go to a cause of your choice, and they have over 500 charities to partner with.
10. Charge It!
Regardless of what impact decisions you make, one thing is for sure—you're going to be spending some money. Several credit card companies offer the opportunity to give back (and/or get cash back) while you're racking up wedding expenses.
The Charity Charge Master Card donates 1% back to the charity of your choice. Susan G Komen Cash Back Reward Visa offers cash back while supporting the fight against breast cancer, and Goodshop gives you the option to earn cash back or donate when shopping at over 7,000 merchants.
Last but not least, I urge you to consider this. You'll interact with many people during the process of planning your wedding. Each of those interactions is an opportunity to make someone's day a little brighter, and for someone who works in the high-stress world of weddings, that's no small gift.
*Bride’s name changed for anonymity