By Kristen Castillo

November 16, 2011 5 min read

Jon Scarnecchia and Alyssa Leathers fell in love while working at a movie theater. They got engaged, moved in together and planned their "I do's." But then the groom was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer. Still, they married in July 2011.

The wedding was courtesy of Wish Upon a Wedding, a nonprofit that provides weddings and vow renewals to couples facing terminal illness or life-altering circumstances, regardless of sexual orientation.

Former wedding planner Liz Guthrie is the founder and executive director of Wish Upon a Wedding, an organization she started after seeing the impact of a wedding giveaway she coordinated.

"I realized we could do a lot more," she says. So Wish Upon a Wedding launched in January 2010. Since then, they've helped 25 in-need couples tie the knot.

"A lot of times, it's the last time they will gather with family," says Guthrie. "It's very special, and they're very grateful."

Wedding vendors and volunteers are pledging their help to the charity, which has more than 20 chapters across the country. "It's a great way for people to directly do something," says Guthrie.

Soon-to-be newlyweds can support a charity like Wish Upon a Wedding with a monetary gift. They'll give couples free postcards to send to their guests, encouraging them to donate to the charity, instead of giving the engaged couple a wedding gift. Couples can also click the "shop" button on the Wish Upon a Wedding website to purchase tent cards, book marks, favor cards and teal Wish Upon a Wedding bracelets to support the cause and announce their donation to their wedding guests.

Couples can also apply to receive a wedding through Wish Upon a Wedding. The organization receives three to four requests each week.

*Charitable Intentions

"You don't think it's that big a deal, but there are programs where $200 to $300 matters," explains Margaret Moore of Simple Elegance Event and Wedding Designs.

She often suggests donations to smaller, lesser-known charities, such as Angel Heart Farm, a nonprofit that uses equine-assisted therapy to help kids with chronic and life-threatening illness.

"If you can help a small bit, then do it," says Moore. "Every little bit counts."

Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge used their wedding as an opportunity to support causes that matter to them. Through their charitable gift fund, they raised $1.6 million to support 26 charities and five causes, such as "Changing Lives Through Arts and Sport" and "Support for Service Personnel and Their Families," as well as "Conservation for Future Generations."

*Show Your Support

When Katelyn Dodge married John Elicker in August 2011, they donated to Gift of Life because the organization helped the bride and her family five years ago when she needed a liver transplant.

"We felt that it was only proper to thank this organization and make it a part of our special day, and it seemed as though our guests appreciated our decision," says Dodge noting guests honored the cause by wearing Gift of Life bracelets, which were available to them at the wedding welcome table.

Another worthy organization, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, receives many charitable gifts through its "Wedding and Special Occasion Favors" program.

"Donating to a charity like the ASPCA is a meaningful and heartfelt way to thank your guests for sharing your special day with you, and, at the end of the night, you know you've done something to help those who are less fortunate," says Mallory Kerley of ASPCA. "Guests might not always need another wine-bottle stopper, but animals could always use the extra help."

*Celebrate Giving

Some couples donate to charity in lieu of favors. Others do both favors and a charitable contribution.

No matter what the amount or to which organization it benefits, share the news with your guests.

"I think you should let people know about it," says Moore. "I encourage people to know and put the charity's information on your (wedding) website."

Many brides donate in honor of those affected by cancer, as well as organizations that support animals.

One of Moore's couples made a contribution to protect polar bears and they announced their contribution by giving guests polar bear cookies with a card detailing the donation.

Couples have declared their support for ASPCA, by giving guests dog treats to take home as well as creating reception table centerpieces showcasing photos of adoptable animals.

Savor your wedding day, but take some time to share your good fortune. Large or small, a donation can help a deserving cause.

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