Sweet Charity

After a wild fourth quarter, many people are looking to make their gift giving dollars go further. And the year’s end also is a popular time to donate to charities and support causes. Not only does this time of year evoke a holiday spirit of generosity, but it’s the last chance to squeeze in another tax deduction if you’ve been a bit of a Scrooge in ’08. Gifts that give back are becoming a popular way to not only give obligatory gifts to family, friends and colleagues, but to give something to the community as well.

But Nancy Finkelstein didn’t start marketing her “cause cakes” that way. Finkelstein and her brother Howie Lefkowitz own Carousel Cakes, a Nanuet, N.Y.-based wholesale bakery. Carousel’s products are sold in retail stores and served in restaurants in all five boroughs, North Jersey and Rockland County. The bakery also has a growing Internet business.

About two years ago, Finkelstein created a red velvet cake for Valentine’s Day that made the coveted “O List” in O, The Oprah Magazine. The bakery garnered so much attention from the press that Finkelstein thought there had to be a way to leverage it. Finkelstein’s father and Carousel founder Martin Lefkowitz had died of heart disease, and since February is American Heart Health Month, she decided to donate $3 from every cake sold to the American Heart Association. “Once the O magazine article came out, we sold about 1,500 cakes within the month of February,” says Finkelstein. “So we donated about $5,000 to the American Heart Association, which I thought was great. We aren’t a huge company. We’re a family-owned small business that has about 20 employees. Thankfully we seem to be able to make a lot of cakes!”

After the success of that fund-raiser, Finkelstein decided to create a pink velvet layer cake, from which proceeds would support breast cancer research. The cakes were sold during National Breast Cancer Awareness month and were featured in InStyle, Real Simple and Redbook magazines as well as receiving coverage from other media outlets. This time, it was the attention from the fundraiser that Finkelstein realized she could leverage, and the idea of monthly Carousel cause cakes was born. This year, in addition to the red velvet layer cake in February and the pink velvet layer cake in October, the bakery held “The Great American Pie Race,” which donated $1 to the John McCain campaign for every red cherry pie sold and $1 to the Barack Obama campaign for every blueberry pie sold.

In December, Carousel Cakes will donate money from each holiday coconut layer cake to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. InStyle will feature the cake in its December holiday guide. Finkelstein hopes to sell a different Carousel cause cake each month in 2009.