For Those Who Have It All, Charitable Wedding Registries
Christopher and Deirdre Culver met four years ago in Newport, R.I., aboard his yacht, through mutual friends. Their courtship was rooted in their love of the sea and of sailing. One sign that they made a good couple was the experience they had sailing together on his yacht in a race.
“He’s very calm,” Ms. Culver said. “He thinks of it as a team effort. We win as a team, we lose as a team.”
Both in their 50s and successful in their own careers, the Culvers felt they needed nothing in the way of gifts when they married two years ago at the American Yacht Club in Rye, N.Y. He is the chief executive of the Health Media Network, a technology company. She is a vice president at Brookside Mezzanine Partners, which provides financing to small and medium-size companies.
They decided to put just one item on their registry: a link to Sail to Prevail, a charity that teaches disabled children and adults to sail and in the process imparts life skills.
The Culvers’ wedding ended up raising enough money to help the group build an endowment, with some money left over for general operating expenses.
“It made a major, significant difference,” said Paul Callahan, chief executive of Sail to Prevail. “We’ve got a million-dollar budget and it helped seed that comfortably.”
Technology has made it easier for couples, from millennials to older adults, to replace wedding gifts with charitable donations. Given the vast amount of money spent on weddings in the United States each year, this shift could move the charitable needle in a major way.
In 2015, 2.2 million couples married in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Last year, couples spent, on average, $35,000 to cover the costs of their big day, according to the annual survey by the Knot, the wedding website, of its membership. Their guests spent, on average, $127 on a gift if they were family members and $99 if they were friends, according to an American Express survey.
Wedding planners and philanthropic advisers say the interest in including a charity on a wedding registry has paralleled the growth of internet registries. In essence, when guests can click online boxes for wine glasses, vases, china sets, silverware and silver picture frames, it is just as simple to add a link to a charity of the couple’s choice.
“It’s easy for people who don’t have the dream of a registry for gifts in the traditional way,” said Anthony Taccetta, a wedding and event planner in New York.
He said he recently worked with one couple who wanted donations to go to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in New York and raised over $10,000. Another couple, who had their dog in their wedding, were able to raise more than $15,000 for the Humane Society of New York.
Lindsay McKay, 37, and James Nero, 38, who are to be married in September in Santa Barbara, Calif., are making the rescue dog that brought them together a focus of their wedding. While they are registered at traditional places like Williams-Sonoma, they are also asking people to make donations to a no-kill animal shelter in Los Angeles.
Ms. McKay credits the dog she adopted from the shelter with leading her to slow down in her life — she’s a Hollywood costume designer — and making herself more open to a relationship.
Adding a nonprofit organization to a registry is fairly simple. The Culvers simply put a link on their wedding website to Sail to Prevail. Ms. McKay and Mr. Nero broached the idea with their wedding planner, Beth Helmstetter, who about a year ago started a website called the Good Beginning, to ease the process of charitable gift-giving for guests and make gifts trackable the way they are in a regular registry for couples.
“What is important to couples is they want to be able to thank people for those donations,” said Ms. Helmstetter, who charges 10 percent of the donation for the service.
Since it started last year, some 800 couples have used the platform to set up charitable gift registries, including 10 of her client couples, she said. She hopes to reach $500,000 in donations by next year.
Ms. Helmstetter is not alone. Other websites, including Blueprint Registry, SimpleRegistry and JustGive, allow charities to be added to wedding registries.
Of course, for many couples, wedding presents give them their start in life. Those sheets, plates and glasses are practical help in setting up their lives together as much as they are nice gifts.
But more affluent couples who can afford to buy what they want or older couples who have already accumulated what they need often face the opposite problem: having two of everything. They may even be preparing to downsize.
While it might be easy to dismiss these charitable options as just one more request of guests who may already be spending a lot of money traveling to a wedding, the registries have the potential to be effective and to have a positive impact.
“I think there’s a growing awareness among millennials that what you do with your whole life should reflect your values,” said Melissa A. Berman, chief executive of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. “Millennials have really pushed this into the forefront.”
For the charities themselves, being given prominent billing on a couple’s wedding day, when their closest friends and family are there, can bring new donors to the cause.
“From where I sit, it’s awfully thoughtful and generous,” Mr. Callahan of Sail to Prevail said. “When you do something so special as this at one of the two to three most important days of your life, it sends a message to the people who are close to you.”
Ms. Culver said what made her happiest were the guests who were not sailors and did not know about Sail to Prevail ahead of time. “We got some great bites,” she said. “I wouldn’t care if someone gave $10 or $100.”
Putting a charity on a wedding registry is not without some risk. With some causes, there is the potential to alienate guests. Ms. Berman said making Planned Parenthood the recipient of wedding largess, for example, could risk alienating guests who are opposed to the organization’s mission.
“Guests might feel like they’re being told their values are wrong,” she said. “Most people I know who are doing this always offer this as an option. Or they stick to charities everyone is O.K. with or say, ‘some other organization of your choice.’”
If couples still want or need gifts, Mr. Taccetta said, they can incorporate a donation into the party favors. He said he had clients who totaled up what they would spend on party favors — generally $5 to $100 per person — and made a donation in that amount to their favorite charities.
“They just leave a note saying a donation has been made in your name to an organization in lieu of a gift,” he said. “It’s another way to bring a donation into a wedding.”
And it also saves guests from having to cart home a jar full of seashells or other cute but useless mementos.