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By Meredith Moss, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Dayton, Ohio -- When it came time to select gifts for the participants in their wedding, Nancy and Jason Kramer decided to do something different.

"We didn't want to give them the same old trinket they got for being in every other wedding a jewelry box or cuff links," she said. "Instead, we made a donation in honor of each person."

For women, the couple made donations to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. For the men, they donated to the American Cancer Society.

"Everyone was very touched that we did this for them," she said. "And we found a way to 'do good' over the course of our wedding weekend."

The Kramers aren't the only ones. At a time in their lives when couples are traditionally on the receiving end, more of them are finding ways to give as well: donating banquet leftovers to a soup kitchen or spending their honeymoon building houses for the homeless.

That's partly due to changing demographics, says Bethany Robertson, co-founder and executive director of the I Do Foundation, a nonprofit Web site designed to help couples find ways to include philanthropy on their "to do" list.

"Couples are getting married later in life," she says. The average age for brides is 27; for grooms, 29.

"Over 60 percent of couples live together before they get married, so the whole idea of a traditional gift registry is a little out of sync," explains Robertson. "They already have a lot of things they might have traditionally registered for, and they are interested in thinking about alternatives."

Robertson provided those alternatives by starting I Do after she'd attended a number of weddings of family and friends and noticed something was missing.

"These people were having wonderful celebrations, but I was seeing a disconnect between their everyday lives and this most important day of their lives," she says.

"The people I knew had a socially conscious approach to the world, but there wasn't an easy way to incorporate that into their wedding."

Robertson makes it a breeze by doing the legwork and offering options to couples that include:

  • Gift registry: Couples can register at stores such as JCPenney, Target and Linens 'N Things, which have agreed to donate up to 8 percent of each gift sale to the couple's favorite charity.
  • Donation registry: Instead of gifts, couples can send out a note asking invitees to consider honoring them by donating to one of their favorite charities.
  • Favors: In place of favors, couples can donate in honor of each guest. Charities such as the American Diabetes Association and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital provide cards or scrolls that can be placed at each seat.

Robertson, who started her service in 2001, says there's been a big jump in interest as people hear about the idea, see it at other weddings and realize it's OK to do in terms of etiquette.

"With the cost of weddings becoming somewhat out of control," says Robertson, "people are sensing that if you are spending $22,000 on a six-hour event, there needs to be some component that's not just about them, but about their community."

One of those who agrees is Terry Carlisle, who provides services to couples who do not have a pastor or who want to have their wedding in a location that their pastor or church cannot serve.

"I officiate at 30 to 40 weddings a year and donate a portion of each honorarium to the Society for the Improvement of Conditions for Stray Animals," he says.

"When couples learn of this, many of them give a little extra for SICSA."

Charitable donations also can be used to honor the memories of special people who cannot be at the wedding.
When Chris Kershner of Centerville married his wife, Lori, the couple made donations in memory of their grandparents, contributing to the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society, a Parkinson's support group and the Fraternal Order of Police Ladies Auxiliary.

"We hated the idea of spending money on something no one would ever use," Lori Kershner explains.

"We placed place cards with the information on the tables where the favors would have been."

Robertson says those who choose acts like the Kershners are also communicating something important about their marriage.

"When a couple chooses to do something charitable as a part of their wedding, it says something about their values and what kind of family they will become."

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