By now most of us have seen at least one “reality” TV show where a normally sane couple bankrupts themselves trying to plan some over the top wedding-to-end-all-weddings. We shake our heads as the frazzled groom argues about the wood grain in the resort’s gazebo; we feel our jaws drop when the bride breaks down in tears over the shape of the 24 karat gold shavings on the Strawberries Arnaud. We ask ourselves, is this what the modern wedding has become?
Thankfully, the real reality of most 21st century weddings couldn’t be more different than their depictions on television and elsewhere. Sure, weddings are a big business, raking in tens of billions of dollars annually, but many couples are embracing a more profound view of the big day that captures the spirit of what getting married is all about. Britain’s The Daily Telegraph even reported that in 2009 a full one in ten couples included requests for charity wedding gifts in their registries.
The trend is clear, today’s weddings are about recognizing that your love is much more encompassing than the feelings you have for your spouse-to-be — connecting your wedding to an important cause is now more popular, easier, and affordable than ever. Do you want your big day to make a big difference? Use this list of 10 tips and ideas for inspiration and join the millions of couples this year who are celebrating their love by sharing it with the world!
1. Involve Your Guests Early with Charity Wedding Invitations
Mentioning gifts in your wedding invitations is normally considered a breach of etiquette and is in poor taste, but it’s a bit different if your wedding will be supporting a worthwhile cause. If you have something special in mind for your wedding, whether it’s a request for charity donations in place of gifts or a special event you have planned, consider making a note on your invitations or including a card (printed on recycled paper) that explains what you’ll be doing and why.
You can use wording like, “To share our love and gratitude, our wedding will support name of cause.” You can follow this statement with a description of what you plan to do and why you have selected a particular charity. You can also include website addresses, resources, and additional information for your guests.
Being upfront with your arrangements can help build enthusiasm for your cause and will encourage your guests to get involved too!
2. Hold a Group Charity Event before the Big Day
Get your friends together for an afternoon of fun and a lifetime of memories by volunteering as a group to give back to your local community. You can join a charity relay, adopt a highway, help clean a local park, or spend a day helping Habitat for Humanity build affordable housing (speaking from experience, no carpentry skills are necessary). Volunteering a little of your time feels great and is an excellent way to get in some lighthearted bonding before the big day.
If you want to go a step further and maximize your efforts, remember that many companies and organizations are willing to donate resources or funding to group charity events. Consider talking to your employer or a few of your favorite businesses to see about getting some corporate sponsorship!
3. Give Your Guests Charity Wedding Favors
It’s nice to give your guests a little treat on the big day, but instead of a bag of mints, give them a wedding favor that will help make the world a better place! If you already have a budget set aside for your wedding favors, consider donating that amount to a charity of your choice. Then, at each place setting, you can leave a card explaining the donation you made in your guests’ honor — many charities will even provide you with the cards, so be sure to ask.
But if you still want your guests to have a tangible memento of your day, there are ways to give your guests a take-home gift and help make a difference: Some charities sell small favors like candy, ornaments, or those ever-popular wristbands, and then use the profit to support their programs. No matter what you do, charity donation wedding favors are a guest favorite and will have everyone at your celebration feeling better than they already do!
4. Purchase Carbon Offset Credits
Chances are you have guests who will be travelling to make it to your wedding, and the carbon dioxide emissions from all those miles will really start to add up. Even worse, many of the areas most affected by the warming connected to carbon pollution are also among the poorest, increasing the hardships of many people who are already suffering.
What can you do? You can still invite those long-distance friends and relatives to your celebration while helping the environment and the people of developing nations by purchasing carbon credits.
Carbon credits are a calculation that determines how much carbon dioxide a person, business, or event creates over a set period of time (usually measured in tons of CO2). When you purchase carbon credits, you are essentially donating the amount of money it would take to offset that pollution through projects like reforestation or renewable energy development. Once your donation has been used you can become “carbon neutral” — you’ve helped take as much carbon out of the atmosphere as you’ve put into it.
Sound complicated? It’s actually much easier (and cheaper) than you think. CarbonFund.org has a free calculator on its website that will help you figure out the carbon footprint of your wedding; the website also has tools that will help you make your big day carbon neutral.
5. Plant Trees or Grow Flowers as Wedding Favors
If you don’t want to simply buy credits you can also help the environment by planting trees in honor of your guests. Planting a tree is the single most effective way to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and a single mature tree on average removes up to 48 pounds of carbon per year. That may not sound like much, but keep in mind that each year a single tree also produces enough oxygen for two people.
That’s good news for all of us who breathe, and planting trees is an incredible way to establish a legacy for your wedding that will last for generations.
Also, if you would still rather give your guests something they can take home and enjoy, try some good old-fashioned gardening and give them living flowers they can replant later. Flowers have the added benefit of doing double-duty as table decorations, and growing them yourself is great for the environment.
6. Donate Your Leftover Food
If there’s one thing weddings usually have a lot of, it’s extra food from the reception; don’t forget that most of those leftovers can be used to help feed the hungry. Donating your extra food is one of the easiest charitable activities you can do at your wedding. It literally costs you nothing and can even cut down on the clean-up time at your reception.
Contact a local soup kitchen or food bank before your wedding day to make arrangements to donate your extra food. Many organizations will even send someone to pick up the leftovers for you. This will reduce waste, make clean-up easier for the staff working at your reception, and will immediately help people in desperate need.
7. Donate Your Wedding Dress
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of finding the wedding dress you love, but your dress is probably the only piece of clothing you will ever own that you will wear just once (hopefully). Instead of sentencing your dress to a lifetime in a garment bag, you can give your gown a loving legacy that will last far after your wedding day by donating it to charity.
Charity wedding dresses are much, much more than thrift store castoffs and can even help women who aren’t getting married. Brides Against Breast Cancer, for example, resells donated wedding dresses then uses the proceeds to support terminally ill breast cancer patients and to fund new research into beating the disease.
Just by donating your dress you can help a future bride with a small budget have the wedding of her dreams and put an end to an epidemic that kills tens of thousands of women each year!
8. Start a Scholarship in Honor of Your Wedding
Work with your former high school, a school in your community, your college, or a local youth organization to form a scholarship program in your names that will benefit a struggling or underprivileged student. Then, when you create your registry, you can request that your guests donate cash to the program in place of a gift.
When you start a scholarship program you’re often permitted to set the terms and the requirements for each winner, so you can even custom-tailor your award to a particular area of study, a hobby or sport, or to benefit a student who may be facing some of the same challenges you have overcome in your own life. Whatever you do, endowing a scholarship has a direct impact on a young person’s life and your guests will love helping you fund it!
9. Hold Your Ceremony and/or Reception at Non-profit Venue
Yes, you could hold your reception at that fancy banquet hall at the other end of town or at that country club down by the park, but you could also celebrate the big day somewhere just as elegant and help out your community. How? Choose a non-profit location for your celebration!
Museums are perfect for this. Most museums have banquet and conference areas that can be rented at rates comparable to or less than for-profit banquet halls. Museums also have the advantage of surrounding your celebrations with fabulous art or timeless treasures from history. The decor at the country club may be nice, but it’s doubtful they have an original JW Waterhouse or Andrew Wyeth painting hanging up anywhere. Most museums survive on donations and special events like weddings, so selecting one for your big day is an excellent way to contribute to the arts and culture where you live.
If you’re not feeling up for a museum, keep in mind that many community parks, churches, community centers, and civic organizations also offer spaces for weddings. Holding your ceremony, reception, or both at any of these locations helps these groups help your community.
10. Select Charities and Causes that Are Meaningful to You
Choosing a charity or cause to support through your wedding is a personal decision that should reflect your values and something you care deeply about. Follow your heart, but remember to carefully vet any charitable organization you’re thinking of contacting. While the vast majority of charities are honestly committed to their respective causes, some are run better than others, and some are much more effective at wisely spending donations and contributions.
Any reputable charity will provide a financial accountability statement that breaks down how they spend donations — you can usually find this information on the organization’s website. Try to focus on groups that apply a high percentage of the donations they receive (85% or higher) to their stated mission.
Make Helping the World a Part of Your Wedding and a Part of Your Life
To say that the world around us could use some help is an understatement. The number of problems facing the planet today and the untold millions of people in dire need of assistance can overwhelm just about anyone who thinks about it for more than a few minutes. It’s tempting to ignore these issues just to stave off depression, but millions of wedding couples are showing us each year that there is a better way.
When you make something like charitable giving a part of your wedding, you make helping to fix the Earth a joyful experience rather than a depressing one. Indeed, by tying your wedding to a worthwhile cause you celebrate, not just your own life, but the lives of everyone living today. By giving back a little each day, by making it a part of our routines and special events, and by making it fun, we can leave the world in much better shape than we found it.
So forget those reality TV shows; today’s real top weddings are about all of us, not just the egos of the wedding couple. Charitable weddings have layers of beauty and meaning that will never, ever be matched by fancy dessert pastries, exotic locations, or titanic decorating budgets. Happy planning and good luck.