It’s that time of year when we start daydreaming about turkey dinners and finding the perfect gift (and maybe buying a few gifts for ourselves). Cynical Grinches frown at holiday consumerism, but for many, the holidays inspire acts of genuine philanthropy.

Brands can create lasting emotional connections with these charitable consumers by facilitating a variety of types of giving – not just during the holidays, but all year. Here are a few ways to give and aid consumers’ giving.

Promote ethical consumerism

Ethical consumerism blends for-profit business and humanitarian aid, and it’s a growing trend. Basically, consumers spend to give. Over half (58%) of Millennials are willing to pay higher prices when part of their spend goes to help causes they support.

Ethical consumerism is the concept behind Product Red. The company partners with brands like Nike and American Express to make a Product Red edition of one of the brand’s products. The Product Red logo lets consumers know that part of their spending goes to fight AIDS – making the product likely to increase sales for the partnering brand. Product Red makes a small profit, the partnering brand makes a profit, and funding goes to AIDS research and prevention.

Toms shoes follows the same strategy with its “One for One” pledge. Consumers willingly buy a pair of shoes at a much higher price than the quality would normally demand, because their spending is giving. For every pair sold, Toms donates a pair to a child in need. Since the consumer and the brand work together to give to someone less fortunate, wearing Toms shoes thus becomes more than a fashion choice – the shoes are a badge of generosity. Buyers are proud to strut their Toms because they’re proud of themselves and the brand for the shared good deed. And so goes the social ripple effect associated with boosting consumers’ egos – the brand saw a meteoric rise from unknown to huge success.

Give in exchange for participation

Among Millennials, 63% say that knowing a company is “mindful of its social responsibilities” makes them more likely to buy from its brands. It’s no secret that giving to causes attracts consumers to your brand. But your gift can also be a way to gain consumers’ participation in your marketing efforts.

Fast food chain Wendy’s recently ran a “Treat it Forward” social campaign last Father’s Day. For every user that retweeted a Wendy’s post with the hashtag #TreatItForward, Wendy’s donated 50 cents to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, which helps foster children find permanent homes. Buying a Frosty on Father’s Day would also earn a donation, and every tweet users shared advertised the promotion. Wendy’s gained positive brand exposure, and likely attracted more buyers to their franchises on Father’s Day.

Last holiday season, Toys ‘R Us ran a holiday giving campaign with the Make A Wish foundation. For every wish list created on, the retailer donated $1 in gift cards to the foundation to help children with life-threatening medical conditions get their holiday wishes. Consumers triggered the retailer’s giving, creating an emotional connection with the brand. And Toys ‘R Us got customers to register on their site, gaining qualified leads who were now more likely to purchase their gifts through the retailer.

Let them share the love

Giving consumers a gift they can share with others is common in apparel retail – frequent shoppers receive a discount card to give to a friend. Their giving is free word of mouth for the retailer, bringing new customers into the store.

A more creative execution is Coca-Cola Australia’s recent “Share a Coke” campaign. Fans can send a Coke personalized with their friend’s name printed right on the can – creating an authentic, talkworthy moment between two friends around the brand. Says Lucie Austin, marketing director, Coca-Cola South Pacific,

“We’ve put names on Coca-Cola bottles so consumers will have fun finding their friends and family members’ names, and then enjoy sharing a Coke together.”

Enable their donations

Offering a convenient opportunity to make a donation through your brand can create an emotional connection as well. Most wireless carriers now make it easy to donate to natural disaster relief and charitable organizations via text message. Texting a special code like “HAITI” or “HABITAT” adds $10 to the texter’s monthly phone bill that goes to their chosen cause. Text donations for the Haiti earthquake exceeded $30 million in 10 days, and in 2005, text donations raised $400,000 for Hurricane Katrina relief.

Brands can further encourage consumers’ giving by giving something in return – even something as simple as a digital gift or badge. Popular social game Farmville used this tactic to gather funds for Hurricane Sandy relief. Gamers were prompted to donate a dollar to the cause, and in return received a “skyline tree” – a digital item for the game – for their own farm, and a “skyline unicorn” to give to a friend. The trees stood permanently in the gamer’s farm, reminding them of their generous act Farmville enabled, and the unicorns made giving social by alerting recipients to the campaign, further encouraging giving.

Supporting a cause is an emotional act that makes the giver feel good. Get consumers involved in your giving throughout the year to connect that positive emotion to your brand – and do some good while you’re at it.

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