Profiting on pink

How much of the proceeds from that pink product actually benefit breast cancer awareness/testing/research? Here’s a pitch that arrived in my email box this morning — with two changes, which I’ll reveal in the next paragraph.

As October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month I wanted to take a moment to share some information regarding [BigCompany] and [CancerCharity] as I thought this might be a fit for your readers….  [BigCompany] recently launched an online Design and Buy program that allows visitors to design their own T-shirts adorned with messages of hope, love and support.  Additionally, [BigCompany and t-shirt partner CafePress] will keep 90 percent of the proceeds from all custom T-shirts through the Design and Buy program to [CancerCharity]. I thought this could be an interactive and engaging way to discuss the various ways your readers can get involved in spreading awareness and hope during Breast Cancer awareness month.

Okay, I’ll bite.  Let’s discuss ways you can get involved in spreading awareness and hope.  But let’s not all flock over to BigCompany’s web site to give them and CafePress 90% of the proceeds from an item that you weren’t looking to buy anyway (unless you are desparate for another t-shirt in your closet).  

What did I change in the indented paragraph?  Just the bolded words.  The original pitch said “donate 10 percent;” I changed it to “keep 90 percent” (and added a strike-through to the end clause for clarity). What’s the difference?  None.  Now let’s talk it through:

BigCompany’s site is powered by CafePress.  CafePress allows anyone to make t-shirts and make 10% commission on each shirt.  BigCompany’s t-shirts sell for $18, plus tax, shipping, and handling.  When I put one in my cart and went to checkout, I was also charged $5.25 for S&H, a not unreasonable amount, bringing the total for the t-shirt to $23.25.  Ten percent of the proceeds is between $1.80 and $0.18, depending on whether we’re talking gross or net proceeds.  But there’s no situation that I can see where the amount is more than $1.80.  Is that enough?  Is that what you meant to donate?

Do good.  Donate.  But be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking you’re making a much bigger contribution ($23.25) vs. what you actually are ($1.80, or 18 cents).

Please note: This BigCompany is just one of many companies participating in pink promotions or even worse, pinkwashing, this year.  It’s by no means the worst offender… but they did *ask* me to write about their promotion today.  And so I did. 

For more information: Think Before You Pink, Pink Ribbons, Inc., and news articles galore; just google “pinkwashing.”

32 Responses to Profiting on pink

  1. Val says:

    This seems to be the latest “thing”. I suggest going right to the source to donate so more money goes there. It’s why I love doing the Relay for Life every year for American Cancer Society. No scams, no extra’s, donate and fundraising right to the source 🙂 It’s super easy to get hooked into the “stuff” who doesn’t want some of these uber cute pink creations? lol Just know how much is actually be donated.

    Also remember you can buy a tee at any time, but if you donate to the source you can tax deduct the whole amount!!!

  2. Pgoodness says:

    This is important, because so many of us want to do sonething helpful and good and the pink is so easy. But it’s important to know that just because it’s pink doesn’t mean it’s helping as much as donating cash.

    • whymommy says:

      Well, that’s the thing, right? People are good. People want to help. But that $23.25 would do so much more good donated directly to the organization – research, education, awareness, mammograms all cost money, and I guarantee you they cost more than 18 cents per donor.

  3. justenjoyhim says:

    Wonderful post, just wonderful, and much needed. This really breaks it down for people. If they want to cause, just write a check to a great breast cancer charity. Don’t be sucked in by all the PINK all over the place!

  4. marty says:

    There is no way this can be interpreted as sounding ungrateful.

    Once again, you say with grace what I would love to shout from the rooftops peppered with inappropriate cursing.

    much love.

  5. There’s an episode of Penn & Teller about this. Almost NONE of that money goes towards real research. I am always careful to donate directly to real cancer charities.

  6. I’m so glad you wrote this post. You have the moral authority to write it. Every October I try to keep my mouth shut because the overwhelming majority of people think these corporations are “helping” with the pinkwashing. In some cases, the truth is even scarier than you laid out here…there are some firms (cosmetics firms in particular) selling products with ingredients that have been linked to cancer….all dressed up in a pink ribbon.

  7. And on a lighter note, how did I just notice that your badge which says “I’ll be tweeting at #blogher09” actually reads like “bloghero 9” ??
    You are a blog hero! (ine)! 🙂

  8. I don’t buy into the pink. I choose to donate directly to the causes and organizations I support. I also check out an organization to see how much of their budget goes to “admin” and “PR” prior to writing my check.

  9. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by cyn3matic, cyn3matic, Amy Gates, David Wescott, Susan N and others. Susan N said: Thanks to @bcaction posts on #pinkwashing , when I got pitched today, I could see right through it. #ecowed […]

  10. Metro DC Mom says:

    The whole “pinkwashing” thing drives me crazy. People could do so much more good by forgoing whatever item (really? did you need that t-shirt/spatula/coffee cup anyways?) and just give the full amount to their charity of choice. They get more money – you get more tax deduction. It’s Win/Win!

  11. tinokislings says:

    yup – 10% is a load of nonsense.

    thanks for your post 🙂

  12. I’ve bought through cafepress because I like the more amusing breast cancer t-shirts that some sites do.Such as my “no they’re not real – the real ones tried to kill me.” I wear them to help open dialogue about the fact I’m a IBC breast cancer survivor when I want to make it obvious I am. (this month for example) I do buy them as a item of clothing rather than thinking I am actually contributing anything to charity.
    I do think I am contributing to awareness especially of IBC by having the discussions that ensue from me wearing them however.
    As you said be aware that the actual donation being made when you buy ‘pink’ is way smaller than the price or even necessarily the profit – I especially ‘love’ the companies that use the ubiquitous “we will give a percentage” message without specifying it

    • thought I would also share this which I thought was an excellent example of a company actually getting it more right, more appropriate. Although Timtams are a brand of chocolate biscuit instead of branding their biscuits as pink ribbon this year and encouraging us to buy more so they donate percentage of sales – they are encouraging people to donate directly and they will match it

  13. Krista says:

    I don’t tend to buy anything “pink” unless I was already planning on buying it. I noticed just yesterday that the normal pretzels I buy for snacks had a pink ribbon splashed across them. I didn’t really investigate much further. I too think it’s really lame that companies are really just making more of a buck in their own pocket while looking good.
    I did get a chance to write a review for Tic Tac last week. You can cause them to donate without even buying a product! I think that’s cool! There is a cap, but since we’re not forced to buy anything to reach that goal I should hope it would be easy!

  14. Laurie says:

    This is brilliant. Clear and persuasive. Thanks for writing it.

  15. magpie says:

    Yes! I got that same email, and had similar thoughts about it. I’m glad you wrote this. Direct donations to a non-profit are always better than relying on some touchy-feely pledge from a corporation that “proceeds” will go to charity.

  16. Lylah says:

    I get so many pitches like this in September and October. I reply, asking 1.) what percentage of the proceeds go to charity, 2.) which charity, and 3.) if there’s a cap on the amount the company is donating. So far, not a single PR person or company has gotten back to me on any of that.

    Unless it’s something you were buying anyway (applesauce? yogurt?), direct donations do so much more than “thinking pink.” Awareness is important, yes. But awareness without action doesn’t help much.

  17. Alex Linsker says:

    It’s the same as buying “indulgences” back in the early 1500’s and before (were a big reason Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation). The Church would sell trinkets so you could pay for your sins and get into heaven faster. Pretty similar to working for a big company that doesn’t do such good things in the world, and then buying something “pink” to “make a difference.” As you show, at least 90% goes to the big companies selling the indulgences.

  18. Jayne says:

    Oh, gosh. My email box is so overwhelmed with such pitches right now that I can hardly find my other emails. Shopping isn’t really my thing so I don’t get too caught up in buying pink stuff. But I do like to get out and socialize and build community, so I enjoy participating in events like 5Ks and Lunafest.

  19. […] with breast cancer. Maybe I’m worn out by it all. Or maybe a good dose of education, including the fact that many products contribute extremely little to breast cancer research and cure… just did me in on Pinktober, as some call […]

  20. Pinkwashing says:

    […] in a few days).  And I haven’t written about the phenomenon called pinkwashing.   Other bloggers have written about it; it’s well worth reading—so you think before you pink. Share this post on:  […]

  21. Anonymous says:

    This seems to be an organization solely devoted to providing research to metastatic breast cancer patients and I believe this would be an excellent organization to which to donate:

  22. gale says:

    Wonderful article! And very good points. I think, if you are going to buy an item anyway, and someone is donating 10% of their profits than, cool…go with them if it doesn’t cost more than somewhere else. Like, I do like to try to buy Christmas gifts from places that donate a percentage…since it’s something I’m buying anyways and my friends and relatives don’t all appreciate a “donation in their honor.” But if you weren’t going to buy that item and you bought it because of the cause, you’re wasting money.

    There are places however that donate 100% of their profits…the . Also, you can search Etsy or Ebay Giving works under a cause you care for and find people giving 100% of the sale price of items they’re basically donating for sale. (For ebay you can go to to donate…for etsy, just search under the cause, like Pakistan Floods or Breast Cancer or just charity, and then read the product descriptions of the items to see how much (if anything) the artists and crafters are donating from the sale.

    I’ve listed some places I’ve found like that here…a lot of them are the 10% and such, which I include but try to give the most exact amount as I can so people know what they’re giving. I need to put up info about what that means though on the site…something like your article to clarify:

    On a side note…how much was donated from the CafePress place also depends on whether it was sold in the marketplace, or whether they were donating their own profits from their shop. In the marketplace they donate a flat 10%, but in shops the shopkeepers set a mark-up over CafePress’s base price. That could be less than, or considerably more than that 10%. For instance, the base price on ornaments for shopkeepers is $5. I sell mine for $7.50 in my shop, but they sell for $12 in the marketplace. So, I make more on them in my shop even though they cost less…go figure! Either way, figuring out what they are really donating could be difficult.

    • whymommy says:

      Good points, thank you!

      I worked through trying to figure out some of the possibilities along the lines of what you outline in the last paragraph — but then realized that the MAXIMUM that this BigCompany is donating is 10% of the purchase price, or $1.80. It’s better than 18 cents (if that is indeed the case, the company hasn’t responded to my questions), but still nowhere near the $25 that people may “feel” that they’re donating.

  23. gale says:

    Wow…dang…that was long. I type faster than I thought I did. 🙂

  24. gale says:

    Doh, and I meant in the marketplace they get a flat 10% commission, not donate a flat 10%. UG.

  25. […] to what is still a good cause. or using the pink  ribbon arbitrarily to boost sales and giving a tiny or undisclosed sum to Breast Cancer […]

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