An interview with Kay McDonald

An interview with Kay McDonald, founder of Charity Charms

The Tribute Charms (see Shopping Cart) whose sale benefits Finding One Another [FOA] are produced by Charity Charms, founded by Kay McDonald, a Phoenix, AZ, entrepreneur. We sat down recently to discuss them with Kay, whose company manufactures jewelry for more than 250 charities.

Finding One Another: So how did Charity Charms get started?
Kay McDonald: I started Charity Charms seven years ago and I did it because I wanted to do something to help charities spread awareness and also fund-raise. I saw a need in the marketplace for a special piece of jewelry that would help them spread the word and was a little classier than, say, a hat or a visor or a T-shirt. I also saw trends happening with jewelry—for example, they came out with a breast cancer bracelet. I had been in the jewelry business for 25 years. And I thought I’ll create a line of bracelets, maybe with different charms, a cross, a heart, a fleur de lis, different things like that. And then we can create custom bracelets for charities. I had collected a lot of brochures from charities and as I looked them over to see which ones I wanted to approach, I saw all the icons on the charity logos just kind of popped out at me. And I thought, “Oh my gosh, they all have these great designs already!” They reinforced that branding. And I knew we could extract that little icon out and make it into a beautiful charm.

Did you have a charity background at all?
No, I really didn’t. I was on the board of a domestic violence shelter and in my wholesale jewelry business, we would do events and give back 10% of sales. So I did have a little bit of a tie-in. And many of my girlfriends support particular charities. And the idea of the charms really seemed to work because they could wear more than one. They could wear their passion on their wrists.

So has Charity Charms been growing?
Yes, it has. We’ve created charms for more than 250 charities. Some charities like to sell our charms, some use them for brand enhancement and giveaways, for thank-you’s and event take-aways. So they’re used in all kinds of different ways. The retail fundraising value is over $5 million.

How did you connect with Finding One Another?
Well, it was very interesting. One of my girlfriends here in Phoenix, her sister is Cindy Otto [Dr. Cynthia Otto of the Penn Vet school, director of the study on working dogs, including search-and-rescue (SAR) dogs, and national co-chair of the 10th Anniversary Tribute Committee to the Canine Search and Rescue Community of 9/11], and I met Cindy at a party when she was visiting. And we started chatting. And she said, “OH! That’s very interesting what you do.” And I think it was her sister who recommended to her that she contact me when they started this whole Finding One Another campaign. And then Cindy introduced me to Linda [Blick, co-chair of the 10th Anniversary Tribute Committee to the Canine Search and Rescue Community of 9/11], and we had several conversations and different brainstorming sessions about all the different ways the charms could be used to help support all the marketing they were doing for all their initiatives. And they’re doing a fabulous job.

Tell me about how the charms are made and the eco-friendly aspects.
We’re very proud that everything is made in America. We really stress that: we want to support our economy, we want to support our charities in America. We do two different metals: we do recycled lead-free pewter, which is what Finding One Another has done so far. The pewter charms are attached to earth-friendly silicon bands. And then the sterling silver we use is also recycled. And our products are always assembled by adults with disabilities. So just by buying the product, you’re already helping a charity.

Tell me something about the recent accessories show.
Yes, for the past seven years, we’ve basically been a private-label manufacturer. So we worked with the charities and helped them use the products for things within their own organization. And we have had a lot of response from people, a lot of requests, for a way to be able to offer the charms to retailers. Retailers can have them in their stores and help raise money for the charities. It’s a great way for the end user, the consumer, to be able to get them without having to go through the charity. So just out of need, we decided to launch this new division, which is to retailers. We decided to use the accessories show in New York as our venue to do that. Now we’ve teamed up a national distributor who’s going to take it to stores around the country.

What was the response at the Javits show?
Oh, the response was excellent! People had not seen anything like it before because really nobody else is doing what we’re doing. The stores love the aspect of being able to give back and having very exclusive items. And there was also interest from stores in developing their own charms for charities in their community. We really featured the 9/11 Tribute Charm, the whole Finding One Another program, in our booth. We had a big poster and we featured it as the key program for them to start and try the whole concept. So we put together a turnkey package that has its own little stand and then the bracelets come with the Finding One Another story card [describing the history and purpose of the charms, which were designed by SAR handler James Pearson of Ramapo Rescue Dog Association] in a plastic bag. And they get 100 pieces, and $1.50 per band goes back to Finding One Another. We put that together so that now we can approach retailers across the country, as can Finding One Another, with the package. And also SAR teams across the country—it’s something to support them and also raise money.

And is there anybody else that’s doing this kind of thing? Do you have any competition?
Not that I’m aware of. There are jewelers that have created a piece for a charity. But that’s not their whole business. And that is our whole business. The one thing that really makes us stand apart from, say, a jewelry store creating a piece is that, because we’ve worked with multiple charities, the collaborative effect of being able to purchase charms from multiple charities at one location is key.

I know FOA’s charms were designed by an actual search-and-rescue guy. I’m assuming that’s not a normal way of working for you.
No, it’s not. Normally, most established charities have a little icon in their logo that’s their brand. So that’s basically our business model—to extract the icon, kind of puff it out, make it 3D, make it beautiful, put it in a little frame.

For more information on participating in the retail program or special fundraising projects benefitting both FOA and SAR non-profit organizations, please contact Jenny Brown at Charity Charms, 800-615-3200, or email
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