Instead of sending their 100 guests off with tea towels embossed with their smiling faces, or a flower pot with their inscribed wedding date, Brittni Switser and Raymond Ulger wanted to give something that might not end up in the bottom of a trash bin.
So they made a donation to VOW, a nonprofit organization that works to end child marriages, on behalf of everyone who attended their Aug. 30 wedding.
“Marriage for us is waking up every day and making an active choice to love each other,” said Switser, 26, who works at a New York health care company. “Girls should be able to grow up into their own selves and know who they are before making that giant leap to love someone else.”
For their Oct. 12 wedding, Amanda Whitehead and Matt Griswold are donating $400 to the American Cancer Society in honor of Griswold’s grandmother, Carol Winsor, who died of lung cancer two years ago. The couple have also linked their registry on the Knot to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Trust Fund.
“It seemed like such a simple thing to do to help kids in need,” said Whitehead, 28, a high school special education teacher in New Jersey.
Bridezillas are certainly still around, but a kinder, gentler bride has also emerged. Rather than racking up expensive gift registries, they’ve gone all Harry and Meghan and requested charitable donations in their name or made their own donations.
Call them bridegivvas?
“Modern couples are beginning to question the consumer-focused version of weddings, seeking to create celebrations with greater meaning,” said Karen Hopkins, a former wedding planner who last year started Bride Disrupted, which helps couples create meaningful weddings.
A 2018 NerdWallet survey of 1,992 adults found that 43% would rather donate to charity than give a gift from a wedding registry. And according to the Knot, between Jan. 1 and Sept. 16, 27% of couples adopted a charity through the Knot Gifts Back, compared with 15% the same period in 2018.
Have a purpose
Hopkins encourages couples to determine a purpose for their wedding celebration.
“If your wedding’s purpose is about building community, you could get together with your friends to complete a service project like building a community garden or creating a mural at your local community center,” she said.
“You could host a potluck-style picnic for the reception and invite underprivileged or elderly community members to attend. If your wedding’s purpose is about honoring nature and the Earth’s gifts, you could include a beach cleanup in your wedding activities.”
In the Knot Gifts Back program, couples can attach a charity of their choice to their gift registries. For every gift purchased off that couple’s registry, the Knot donates, at no cost to the couple or guests, up to 3% of the price of every gift to a charity specified by the couple.
The top five charities have included the Humane Society, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, the American Cancer Society, Make-A-Wish Foundation of America and VOW, the Knot’s featured charity.
“Marriage should be a very exciting, celebratory moment for everyone,” said Kristen Maxwell Cooper, the Knot’s editor-in-chief. For the 12 million girls who are married each year before age 18, “This is not a joyous occasion for them. That was something we wanted to help end.”
Industry kicks in
The wedding industry is also doing its part.
Fashion designer Vera Wang is kicking off her 30th anniversary year with a partnership with Brides Across America, a nonprofit organization that provides free weddings and wedding gowns to military and medical emergency workers. David’s Bridal, Men’s Wearhouse, Zales Jewelers, Wedgwood, Kohl’s and Coty are among the other participants.
Hairstylist Martino Cartier, the founder of the nonprofit Wigs and Wishes, gives wigs to women with cancer. He estimates he’s done about 100 wigs for brides.
Wish Upon a Wedding goes the next step and offers free wedding and vow renewals for couples facing terminal illness or life-altering circumstances.
A recent wedding took place at a bedside ceremony at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, where the groom was a cancer patient. He died six days later.
“It’s sometimes the last time the family is together before they’re at someone’s funeral,” said the program coordinator, Lacey Wicksall of Columbus, Ohio. “We’re giving them a really lovely memory, photo and video. Just the process of planning a wedding gives them something joyful to focus on.”
Rather than buy party favors, Lisa VanderBloomer, 47, donated $500 to the Amukura orphanage, in Kenya, for her July 2014 wedding. Her cousin had worked closely with the organization, “so I knew the money would go directly to it,” said the physical therapist in Charlotte, N.C.
It was a cause close to her heart: Her husband, Brian Fox, a 48-year-old software engineer, was adopted, as were their three sons. “We thought the cause was close enough to us to be meaningful,” she said.
“Plus, I had no interest in wrapping bags of those stupid almond candies no one needs.”