Prince Harry wearing a blue suit and Meghan Markle wearing a white coat

Photograph By Samir Hussein / Getty Images

5 ways to give back on your wedding day

Here’s how to spread the love on your big day—it’s as easy as saying, “I do”

The dress. The rings. The invitations. The D.J. The bouquets. The open bar. And that’s only the beginning (don’t even get us started on the bombonieres).The average Canadian wedding can set a couple back by $30,000—small wonder some couples are celebrating by giving back. Take the world’s most famous newlyweds Harry and Meghan, who asked guests to give to the charities they support in lieu of gifts.

“Weddings tend to be quite self-indulgent,” says Helen Sweet, owner and founder of Toronto’s The Brides’ Project, a non-profit organization that sells donated dresses to raise money for cancer charities. “You can spend an awful lot of money on yourself for just one day.” When Sweet got married 14 years ago, she thought about all the money she’d spent and what she could do to give back. That’s when the idea for The Brides’ Project first began to take shape—her own dress was the first one she collected.

“We’re part of a larger community and have an obligation to make a contribution,” Sweet says. “Marriage is one of those times when your community is embracing you as a new family.”

In that spirit (and in honour of the royal nuptials), here are five easy ways to return the love on your special day.

White wedding dress and black suit with white shirt and champagne tie hanging on wardrobe

Choose a Dress That Keeps on Giving

Sweet’s post-wedding philanthropy planning continues to help other brides give back. Since 2004, The Brides’ Project has collected and resold donated wedding dresses, giving all the proceeds to various cancer charities. By selling designer styles at half their original cost, The Brides’ Project also helps less affluent brides don their dream gowns.

You can also donate bridesmaids’ dresses and older wedding gowns at the Yonge Street Mission’s Double Take thrift store, where those on a tighter budget can purchase a dress that supports a worthy cause. Suits can be donated as well at Dress Your Best, an organization that supports men with professional, job-ready clothes. (Photograph By ViDiStudio / Adobe Stock)

Throw a donation shower

The original purpose of a bridal shower was to gift a bride with everything she’d need for her new home. But these days, many couples already have fully equipped kitchens and just don’t need any more stuff. If you want the fun of a shower, but don’t need a new teapot, consider asking guests to make a donation to a charity instead.

For Michelle Price, a Toronto grad student who’s planning a wedding and a career in non-profit marketing, a donation shower was her way to compromise (her mother wanted a “big Italian wedding” with all the traditional parties). “I don’t want people to get me stuff I don’t need, so that’s where the idea of charity came along—to have a purpose to it,” she says. She’s still narrowing down her charity of choice, but is leaning toward supporting Toronto refugee relief centres.

green lawn and blue sky above the Sunnybrook estates

Host your wedding at a cultural or non-profit venue

Ontario is full of beautiful historic and contemporary locations run by non-profit or cultural organizations. When you host your wedding at a gallery, museum, historical site or botanical garden, your rental fee makes an important contribution to the organization’s annual operating costs. Some great options in Toronto include the Vaughan Estate at Sunnybrook Hospital, Artscape’s five venues, the Toronto Botanical Garden and Enoch Turner Schoolhouse.

Outside of the city, the McMichael Art Gallery in Kleinburg, Wishing Well animal sanctuary in Bradford, and the Art Gallery of Hamilton all host weddings. (Photograph Courtesy Of Estates Of Sunnybrook)

Give party favours a pass

Let’s be honest: anything that’s engraved with “Ben and Caitlin 2018” is only going to be of interest to Ben and Caitlin. Instead of spending a few bucks per guest on a trinket that will just collect dust, add that money up and make a donation to your favourite charity. You can print out tags or cards to let your guests know whom the money is helping. “As a guest, I’d rather see that than be given another wine stopper!” Sweet says.

a server carrying plates of food at a banquet

Donate leftovers

After the party’s over, you may be left with extra bouquets and canapés. When booking a venue or caterer, ask whether they have food-donation arrangements. LifTOvers, for example, is an organization that collects leftover food from events and distributes it to charitable organizations in the city. Second Harvest will also pick up large quantities of food and help you make arrangements so that smaller amounts don’t go to waste.

Meanwhile, extra flowers can be donated to a seniors’ residence or another residential facility. Check with the staff before dropping anything off. Groups like the Bunz Wedding Zone let you trade everything from decorations to dishware with other soon-to-be-married locals. (Photograph By MNStudio / Adobe Stock)