Generous Jewelers Give Back to Communities Through Charity

A philanthropic program does good for your store by first doing good for the community

When Nancy Schuring flew to Madagascar in 2008, the trip was ­supposed to be an enjoyable excursion to see where the gems she’d sold at Devon Fine Jewelry for nearly three decades were mined. She had no idea the trip would inspire her to do much more than learn about the roots of her industry.

“We toured the Institute of Gemology of Madagascar, where students come from all over the world to learn how to mine gems, but it was a beautiful oasis in the midst of incredible poverty,” Schuring recalls. “The locals couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity because they couldn’t afford the $1,500 tuition.”

Seeing people begging against a backdrop of such riches moved her: “I remember driving away, looking out the back window of the car and thinking, ‘I’ll be back.’?”

Upon returning to her Wyckoff, N.J., store, Schuring immediately ­created The Devon Foundation. To date, it has provided scholarships to eight Madagascar students and seven in Tanzania.

While Schuring’s story is extraordinary, hers is just one example of the generosity of jewelers. Whether it’s donating a necklace to a charity raffle, designing a piece to support a nonprofit, or starting a foundation to help those less fortunate, members of the industry have been giving back to their communities for years. And the actions are not only good for the heart; they’re good for business as well.

Alex and Ani’s $28 Stand Up To Cancer bangle; 20 percent of all sales go to SUTC.

“Traditional business giving is an expression of faith that what is good for its community will, in the long run, also be good for the company,” says Michael J. ­Montgomery of Montgomery Consulting Inc., a Huntington Woods, Mich.–based philanthropic adviser. “Increased visibility and goodwill with customers should be your bottom-line goal for giving.”

Finding a Cause

Starting a foundation is a big undertaking, but philanthropic programs come in many sizes. Schuring says before she created her foundation, she participated in local charitable giving by donating pieces of ­jewelry for fundraising raffles. “Start by choosing one local cause and make a statement,” she advises. “You can’t do a lot of little things and get on the map. Make it significant.”

Alex and Ani’s Carolyn Rafaelian

Charity is in the DNA at Alex and Ani, a jewelry manufacturer and retailer with approximately 40 locations. Founder Carolyn Rafaelian’s father owned a jewelry manufacturing company in the 1960s and ’70s, and regularly supported veterans’ groups and other nonprofit organizations. Rafaelian followed in his footsteps by launching Charity by Design, Alex and Ani’s philanthropic arm. Creating customized charms, she supports dozens of charities, including the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, Stand Up To Cancer, and the National Autism Association, and gives 20 percent of sales to the nonprofit partner.

“The fans of our brand are looking for something that touches their heart,” says Nicki Maher, vice president of Charity by Design. “We rarely use the logo of a nonprofit. Instead, we design something a little more abstract, and as a result, we introduce our fans to charities we love.”

Maher says choosing the nonprofit is like a dating relationship: “We start by seeing if their people fit our people,” she says. “We try to find ways to say yes.”

Nicki Maher, Charity by Design

Because Alex and Ani is a fast-growing business, Maher says the company is still working out its best practices, including how many SKUs to designate for Charity by Design, how many partnerships to make, and whether to stick to regional nonprofits or support global entities. “When we move into new communities, we’ve found that our customers appreciate supporting their own local charities, like the children’s hospital,” she says. “We are working toward having a good mix of regional, national, and global nonprofits.”

When selecting a cause, Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest evaluator of charities, says a jeweler should confirm the organization’s 501(c)(3) status to ensure that the donation will be tax deductible. Also, be careful of sound-alike names. For example, the Children’s Charity Fund and the Children’s Defense Fund sound similar, but their performance and ratings are vastly different. The Children’s Charity Fund rates zero of four stars from Charity Navigator while the Children’s Defense Fund is a three-star charity. Finally, check the charity’s financial records, which should be available on its website. The most ­efficient charities spend 75 percent or more of their budget on their programs and services and less than 25 percent on fundraising and administrative fees. 

If choosing a charity is intimidating, Jewelers for ­Children (JFC), the industry’s charity organization, has a solution. “We operate like a foundation and raise money from jewelers,” says executive director David Rocha. “Once a year we give away the money to children’s charities in the name of our industry.”

Founded in 1999, JFC has donated more than $43 million to its four charity partners: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Make-A-Wish America, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and the National Court-Appointed Special Advocate Association.

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Jewelers for Children board members at St. Jude’s

“We’ve gone through the process of selecting well-run, well-known charities,” Rocha says. “Jewelers are happy because the support goes back into their local communities. They’re often asked to donate a piece for a fundraising event, but working with JFC allows them to say they already support strong organizations through their industry.”

Promoting Goodwill

Schuring says jewelers should share news of their charitable activities with customers. Using signage in her store, she lets shoppers know about the work of The Devon Foundation and gives them an opportunity to participate.

“I hate to ask for money, but I’ve found that customers like to support what we’re doing,” she says. The Devon Foundation recently sent a flyer to customers asking for a $20 donation. Schuring says the campaign was very successful.

The more than 5,000 members of JFC receive a number of promotional tools they can use to spread the news of their good deeds, including a window decal, counter card, and collection box. “We also make available ad slicks, postcards, and press releases that the jewelers can customize and distribute,” Rocha says. “For example, some jewelers will announce a weekend sale where 2 percent of sales support JFC. It’s important to spread the word because customers often respond positively.”

At Alex and Ani, Maher says nonprofits are excited to publicize their partnership with the jeweler, but she doesn’t rely on their efforts: “We tell our charities that their job is to continue doing their good work,” she says. “We take on all of the marketing and digital promotion, placing TV and radio ads, and posting on social media.”

The Results

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Nancy Schuring (fourth from r.) with students from the Arusha Gemmological & Jewelry Vocational Training Center

While all of the jewelers JCK spoke with say that supporting nonprofits gives them personal satisfaction, it also provides an avenue for customers to feel good, too.

“When customers come in and our retailers tell them the story, it creates an organic bond,” says Alex and Ani’s Maher. “We believe we have long retention of customers because of Charity by Design. They’re not just stacking their wrists with symbols; they engage with us and often share heartfelt stories about how the charities touched their lives.”

Positive public attention is another benefit companies can—and should—get from their charitable giving, says philanthropic adviser Montgomery.

“We get praise and awards all the time for our work,” Schuring says of The Devon Foundation’s scholarship program focused on gem-mining communities. “I know people shop here because of those things we do. There’s a segment of customers that consider charitable giving a high priority. Having a philanthropic program allows you to tap into those new customers.”

Maher says it’s important for successful businesses to make philanthropy a priority. “The more successful you are, the more you can give back,” she says. “When you give a bucketful, you get a waterfall in return. We encourage other businesses to do the same.”

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