Back then, I looked at Product (RED), which claimed that buying their products would make us "better looking samaritans"
If I recall correctly, Product(RED)'s website described them as a "business model". Today, their website says:
"(RED) is not a charity. It's an economic initiative designed to create awareness and a sustainable flow of money from the private sector into the Global Fund, to fight the AIDS pandemic in Africa. Consumers buy (PRODUCT) RED, and at no cost to them, money will be sent to the Global Fund."Last year I wrote to Product(RED) and asked who their owners were. I did not receive a reply. (After the New Year, I'll try again.)
Yoga clothing manufacturer lululemon runs in-store promotions that tout donations to local charities. (For example, I confirmed that a Chicago charter school received donated lululemon goods for a charity auction.)
Product(RED) and lululemon get something for this giving. It is a glow of goodness: these are good businesses, and by buying from them we are doing something good.
You may say, "Anne, you humbug, what could be wrong with this?"
Limited Financial Transparency.
Product(RED) promises friction free giving: "Consumers buy...and at no cost to them, money will be sent to the Global Fund." (emphasis mine).
It costs money to move money. Bank accounts cost money. Issuing checks and wire transfers cost money. Accounting to make sure the money moves correctly costs money.
Um, who pays to send the money to The Global Fund? Bono?
US not-for-profits -- recognizable by the term 501(c)3 -- must account for their income and expenditures. Organizations like NRDC and Freecycle publish their financials, and we can see how they spend the money we donate.
When Spending to Save the World, I can't see where my money goes. (Similar to carbon offsets.)
I'm glad to see questions about this practice emerging more fully into the collective consciousness.
Consider making your gifts directly to charities you know and trust, rather than Spending to Save the World. (You may want to check out Charity Navigator, a "rating agency" of not-for-profits.)
(And if you own a business that encourages your customers to Spend to Save the World? Please consider publishing a concise financial accounting of your results.)