Giving Back on Your Big Day

Giving Back on Your Big Day

In an American Express survey conducted in February of 2014, a sample of 1503 American adults found that the average cost of attending a wedding is $592.  You can expect to spend about $100 on a gift, and nearly double that if a close family member is the bride- or groom-to-be.

I – and many others, I'm sure – balk at this price tag, but it's not that difficult to believe.  Bridesmaid dresses and tuxedo rentals run into the hundreds, as do cookware and home goods: arguably some of the most expensive gifts on any registry.  And if your friends happen to be the adventurous or jetsetter type, I wouldn't be surprised if their special day costs you upwards of $1000 in travel and accommodations. 

Have your wedding cake and eat it too

While we all want to support our friends and family as they begin new chapters in their lives, it's hard to look at big, one-time expenses without wondering whether that money could be better spent elsewhere.  But there's a way to have your cake and eat it too.  Precisely because of the increasing expense of having a lavish wedding today, many new couples are including opportunities for charitable giving in their big day. 

Giving as a couple

As a bride or groom, you may be looking at a five-digit bill, but you can still let your guests know that giving will be a priority in your new life together.  

  • Forgo gifts and ask guests to join forces to support a few of your favorite charities.  If the explosion of crowd-funding has taught us anything, it's that evidence of progress and the support of others really encourages giving.  If these registries don't serve the organizations that you support, you can easily use a platform like Indiegogo or Crowdrise to create your own campaign. 
  • At your reception, be sure to announce how much you’ve raised for effective charities, and to convert that number into vaccines, malaria nets, or life-saving medical procedures.  Your guests will know exactly how much good they've done for the world's poor. 
  • Altruism doesn't end after the money's been counted.  Offer your guests the opportunity to increase their contributions at the reception or ceremony.  Change jars on dinner tables, a basket passed along with the church's collection, and addressed donation envelopes all encourage a spirit of convenient, low-stress charitable giving.

Gifts that aren't on the registry

As a guest, you have the opportunity to give a gift that represents your altruistic priorities.   

  • Make a long-term or recurring donation in the newlyweds' honor.  Some top charities like PSI show you exactly what size donation will serve, say, a mother and child or a family of three.  A beautiful gesture to support new families! 
  • If you want a wrapped gift in hand when you arrive, make a purchase from Oxfam's Online Shop, which has a wide variety of products that all support Oxfam's poverty-fighting programs worldwide.  (They sell wedding dresses too.)  
  • If you have The Gift in mind and it simply doesn't work into your charitable plans, consider cutting one of your personal expenses and making a matching donation to an effective charity.  If you decide to borrow a dress rather than buy one, you might want to use that $150 to empower women around the world.  

Whether you're a guest or a host, weddings are expensive – but they also foster an incredible sense of community and generosity.  Whether you make a small gift yourself or introduce your whole extended family to their new favorite charity, you have the opportunity to make a big impact.  If you're a wedding guest for the next five weekends or just for one, you can enjoy “wedding season” knowing that you don't have to compromise on your charitable contributions, and you might even pick up some new supporters along the way.  

Share this story:

Related stories:


About the author:

Rachel Elizabeth Maley

Rachel Elizabeth Maley is a nonprofit development and marketing specialist based outside of Chicago. She is also a multi-disciplinary artist and advocate for integrative arts education, and was introduced to Effective Altruism through Peter Singer's work on the rights of non-human animals. Connect with Rachel at

The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.