Several regional bridal shops are preparing to host their second-annual dress and accessory sale with part of the proceeds going to charity.
However, the nonprofit organization they donated money to last year declined when approached for a replay this year. The executive director of Cancer Patient Care said his organization expected, after use of its name in advertising, to receive more than $1,000 of the $6,000 the event brought in.
Making volunteers who help with the event, and customers who attend, believe that they are supporting funding for cancer patients is misleading with that small percentage of the proceeds going to charity, said Cliff Evans, executive director of Cancer Patient Care.
“To allow you to use the plight of our cancer patients and their families to sell your merchandise … and retain 90 percent of the money collected would be totally irresponsible on my part,” Evans wrote in a letter to Marcella Davis, owner of Marcella’s Bridal, one of the participating shops. “While not illegal, our attorney has assured me that this is unethical. You might share this with your other partners and rethink the approach you are taking – especially when you are recruiting un-paid volunteers and media to support your efforts to primarily raise money for your own businesses.”
The letter upset Davis so much that she called the newspaper. She said the stores sold dresses and other accessories for prices below their cost, devoted 40 hours apiece to organizing the event, and were able to donate $1,000 to Cancer Patient Care. That actually works out to about 16 percent of the proceeds, despite a planned 10 percent donation.
“We were really clear with them about what we were going to give,” Davis said, adding that the bridal shops actually lost money because the dresses were sold below cost. In addition, she said, her group’s promotion of the event added up to a lot of free publicity for Cancer Patient Care. “I just feel like when somebody is donating money to you, you just don’t say, ‘No, thank you, it’s not enough.’ It just feels wrong. We were trying to give back to the community. Why would he take the spirit of what we were doing and make us look like such greedy people?”
The shops that participated last year are: Bridal Collections and Mossuto’s, both in Spokane, and Affordable Elegance, in Coeur d’Alene.
Evans said it was the bridal shops that benefited from advertising that included use of a nonprofit organization’s name, which naturally draws more people because they believe they’re supporting a good cause. A sale of bridal gowns on its own would not be covered by television, radio and newspapers the way it was last year, he said. The event resulted in almost 90 percent of volunteers’ time and 90 percent of the money spent going to retail enterprises, he said.
“If you say you’re going to benefit cancer patients that are struggling with cancer and they’re becoming your customers because it’s a fundraiser for that cause, and you’re calling that event Brides for a Cure, my feeling is that the public thinks they’re donating to a cause,” Evans said.
This year, the event will be called Brides Who Care and the same percentage of the proceeds will go to Hospice of Spokane. Dale Hammond, marketing and development specialist for Hospice, said he views the event as an opportunity to educate young people about hospice care. As Cancer Patient Care did last year, Hospice of Spokane will have an information booth at the event and will accept donations.
“This is not the Hospice of Spokane bridal event sale. It’s Marcella’s event and they’ve elected to take a portion of the proceeds to benefit us. That was my understanding walking into it,” Hammond said.
However, Hammond added, this topic frequently surfaces among nonprofit corporations — what should the guidelines be for fundraisers and when should commercial enterprises be able to use a nonprofit’s name in a money-making endeavor?
“Where’s that tipping point?” Hammond asked.
The tipping point is clear for Evans, who said organizations that sponsor fundraisers for nonprofits should subtract “legitimate expenses” and turn over the rest.
“When it comes to raising money and awareness for vulnerable members of our community, I don’t think there’s any side other than their side,” Evans said. “That’s the only side that counts.”