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Meet Kay McDonald of Charity Charms

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kay McDonald.

Kay, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.

My background is a combination of fashion and philanthropy.

I have been a department store buyer (Goldwater’s and Broadway Southwest) and owner of a women’s accessory business called Regalia. Charities and causes have always played an important part in my life from volunteering ,to serving on boards, to giving back through my businesses.

Charity Charms was the culmination of my years in both interests and I launched the concept in  2004 as an innovative way to help charities raise funds and awareness. At that time jewelry was not really used in this way, but I saw two emerging trends: 1) the resurgence of charms as a fashion trend, and 2) the need for charities to have branded, memorable items that their supporters would love to wear.

My idea was to take the icons in Charity Logos and turn them into beautiful charms that defined their cause. It was the perfect blend of fashion and compassion and fulfilled a niche that had not yet been identified.

I am proud to claim Charity Charms as the trailblazer and industry leader in cause jewelry. Using Charms as a Force for Good has now become a popular trend with jewelry companies around the world. I am currently writing a book about this trend and the worldwide impact.

Almost every major retail jewelry company now has a charity item or division, and the dollars that are being raised are monumental (Alex and Ani, Pura Vida, Pandora…to name a few).

We started out as a retail and wholesale company, but as we grew it became clear that what our non-profit clients really needed was private branded items that they could use throughout their organizations internally. They were using their custom charms for fundraising campaigns, gala gifts, donor recognition, and cause marketing. And, by purchasing from us at wholesale, they were able to keep 100% of the profit.

With the increasing competition in the retail arena from very large companies, it made sense to focus on what made us truly unique, our custom charms. So we closed our retail division and now we only do private label wholesale. Each item we make is unique to the client and we work closely with them to select items geared specifically to their audience and campaigns. We focus on the desired outcome (Is it to raise funds or giveaway to spread awareness or thank supporters), and we tie in brand colors, messaging, keywords…..and even corporate sponsor recognition into the packaging and product. Since 2004 we have worked with over 500 charities worldwide, and have produced thousands of meaningful charms that have resulted in millions of dollars in fundraising and awareness value.

Has it been a smooth road?
Not entirely.

The Non-Believers
My concept was new and innovative and I had to sell it to first adopters. Some people didn’t “get it”, and I had an uphill climb to turn Charity Charms and Charity Jewelry into the accepted genre that it is today.

One skeptic, when I was presenting my idea said: “You don’t know anything about charities and what they need…this will never fly”. It set me back a bit, but I forged ahead because I knew I had a great idea.

Getting the Funding
The Arizona Humane Society was our very first client, The Executive Director at the time, Cheryl Nauman, immediately embraced the concept when I presented it to her. But the struggle was finding the funds to pay for the charms. My business model included the concept that the charms should be underwritten at no cost to the charity. So, to get it off the ground..they started with three charms (their logo has three icons) and each charm was underwritten by individuals (myself and two friends).

Subsequently, charm programs are still often underwritten so there is no cost to the charity, and it has become a favorite way to engage corporate partners and recognize their contribution.

A Challenging Economy
We also took a hit in 2009 when the economy tanked and the price of sterling silver skyrocketed. At that time, all of our charms and jewelry were sterling silver. The charity market did not understand fluctuating sterling prices so we could not raise our prices and stay in business, especially in a tough economy. This challenge turned into a victory as we introduced a new item called GivingBands. These lower priced bracelets featured charms made of pewter on a silicone band and GivingkBands, almost ten years later, are still our strongest item.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Charity Charms story. Tell us more about the business.
Charity Charms serves a unique niche. We are a b2b private label company that makes logo charms and jewelry to help raise funds, spread awareness, and brand causes. Our clients are non-profits, schools, and cause-minded corporations.

The charms we make are especially engaging and aesthetically pleasing as they feature the icon from a logo on the front. The back of the charm usually has the full logo with words, etc. All of our charms are hand cast in pewter or sterling, and are Made in the USA. We do go to offshore occasionally for large projects.

We work with each client to create custom items specifically tailored to their needs. For example, we helped The American Lung association launch their LUNG FORCE campaign by designing a turquoise GivingBand bracelet with their swirl logo charm. It was presented on a custom 3 x 4 card with their campaign message. The bracelets were given to “Ambassadors” who helped them spread the word about the campaign.

Charity Charms is known as the leading private label cause jewelry company, and we were the first company to harness the power of Charms as “Force for Good”.

We are proud and blessed to be able to support wonderful causes and companies by empowering them with meaningful items that help them engage supporters and spread the word about their mission.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
In the last 10 years we have seen a huge shift in two areas and I predict this is just the beginning:

Non-profits are learning that they need to think more like for-profits in order to survive.
When we first started Charity Charms very few organizations sold items online and at events to raise funds. Today, most medium to large charities have their own online stores, and some are licensing their brand as a new way to bring in funds. Forward-thinking non-profits are even starting their own “Social Enterprises”, which we believe is a big trend for the future. For example: Phoenix Rescue Mission has “Mission Possible Cookies”, SAARC has “Beneficial Beans”, Beads of Courage provides a bead program for children with serious illness.

Companies are becoming more cause-minded, and Corporate Social Responsibility is a necessary component. Most consumers prefer to align with products that support a cause, so Cause Marketing is becoming a key area of focus. In fact, there is a huge trend towards “Purpose Driven Entrepreneurship” and corporations are becoming B corps instead of C corps to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. This trend is a win/win for both companies and charities. It helps companies engage their employees and encourage a giving mindset while supporting charities who so desperately need funds and exposure. The best alignments are when the cause fits the corporation, for example, National Bank of Arizona started a specific Non-Profit Banking division to support valley charities. They help underwrite programs, hold their own fundraising events, and provide specialized services for the non-profits they serve, I was honored to be a founding member of their NFP Advisory Board when they launched their program in 2009, and have been thrilled to see them becoming the Valley’s leader in non-profit banking.


  • Custom Quote available on request

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Jean Langinga Portraits

Getting in touch: VoyagePhoenix is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Jackie Russell

    May 16, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    I LOVE this!

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