a New ORDER Goods and causes unite in new catalogs

July 26, 1993|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Staff Writer

Bite into the blueberry crunch granola from Walnut Acres catalog and help farmers in India raise silkworms. Purchase Christmas ornaments from the Good Catalog Company and help support a national food bank. Buy that car emergency kit from the Company of Women catalog and send funds to a women's shelter.

Any day now, Holiday 1993 will start taking root in America with the first arrivals of the nation's seasonal mail-order catalogs -- all 8,000 or so of them. Last year, 102 million Americans spent more than $52 billion on catalog merchandise, according to the WEFA Group forecasting firm. And this year, many catalogs will compete not only on the basis of their goods but their good works.

Whether they're selling organic food or children's clothing, direct mail companies are discovering that charitable giving is a way to set themselves apart in a crowded market, says catalog consultant Susan McIntyre of McIntyre Direct in Portland, Ore.

The new Made In Gay America catalog -- the first 250,000 were distributed last week -- is the latest to pledge a percentage of its profits to non-profit causes. Customers can help direct contributions by checking off -- or writing in -- their favorite gay and lesbian institution or service agency when they send in orders.

Made in Gay America is part of a group of charity-conscious catalogs that promote their philanthropy. The group also includes Hanna Andersson, children's clothing; Seventh Generation, environmentally-friendly "green" products; the Company of Women, products for women; Walnut Acres, organically grown food; the Good Catalog Company, gifts and clothing; Patagonia, outdoor clothing; and the Daily Planet, clothing and gift accessories from developing countries.

"It wouldn't make me buy something I didn't need, but if there were two catalogs that were equal in every other way, I would buy from the catalog that was donating to a cause or doing something for the environment," says Linda Rose, a 42-year-old Baltimore nurse-educator who often shops from clothing catalogs for her husband and children.

"I look first for the quality of the stuff the catalog is selling, but I'm more apt to have a positive view if I know some of that money I'm spending is going to help someone else at the same time."

Some of the largest general interest catalogs have bought into "charity marketing," as well. For the past five years, the Lillian Vernon catalog has identified one product in its fall catalog to benefit a particular charity, says David Hochberg, the company's vice president of public affairs. A percentage of the sales from last year's product raised $10,000 for the March of Dimes.

"A lot of this comes from the catalog companies wanting to put something back into the community," says New York catalog consultant Ray Slyper. However, he adds, "It's partly marketing and partly the companies' awareness that there are causes out there that need help."

Take Walnut Acres, for instance. An organic-farming catalog and farm founded by former missionaries, the Pennsylvania business supports a school and home for orphans and a silkworm farm in India as well as a community center in Penn Grove, Pa.

The Company of Women, a catalog that carries many products designed by women, raises money for the Rockland Family Shelter, which serves the homeless and victims of domestic violence and rape in Spring Valley, N.Y. The for-profit catalog began in 1987 with the help of a grant of $30,000 from the New York State Department of Social Services. This fall it will have contributed $250,000 toward the shelter, according to company president Melinda Little.

Barbara Todd, president of the Good Catalog Company, began publishing catalogs last year that guarantee a percentage of overall sales to benefit Second Harvest, the national food bank. The first catalog raised a little more than $26,000 for Second Harvest; the company will donate a minimum of $45,000 to the charity this year.

Hanna Andersson, mail-order clothing for children, encourages customers to return used Hanna clothing in exchange for a 20 percent discount of the garment's original price on their next purchase. The company donates the returned items to such TTC charities as women's shelters and disaster-relief programs. In one recent month, the company received and redistributed 8,400 pieces of clothing, according to catalog spokesperson Cheri Harney.

"This is a good situation for everyone: Good for the customer, good for marketing, good for charity. It's a win-win-win situation," says consultant Slyper about the "Hannadowns" program.

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