02/09/2012 03:42 am ET | Updated Apr 09, 2012

Charity: Make it Your Wedding's 'Something New'

When planning a wedding, online access to friends' wedding albums, DIY blogs, a parade of competing vendors and a plethora of websites can be inspiring... and overwhelming. In an industry where advice is handed out like candy and society sets expectations for everything from ring size to dress size to guest list, it's hard to remember that a wedding is not a competition.

I've attended many weddings over the years, and it's not the fancy meal, the lighting, or the color of the bouquet ribbons I remember most. It's the personal touches like receiving Save the Date cards on Willy Wonka-inspired golden tickets at one wedding, laughing at the groom's delivery of a comedy routine before the vows at another, and being asked to share marital advice using an antique typewriter.

But these details pale in comparison to one very special moment at my friend Marina Mulligan's wedding, when her husband Sean honored his brother's memory and explained how gifts of charity were their way of making him a part of the day.

Their act of love and how it touched us created something couples dream of capturing on their wedding day: a unique, unforgettable memory. Expressing that with charity made a lasting impression.

Many couples are personalizing their weddings by registering for charity and requesting donations for causes they care about. With organizations like I Do Foundation, it's easy to manage a charity registry online, simple for guests to donate, and convenient to get a ready-made gift list when it's time to send thank you notes.

For some couples like Annette Toutonghi and Bruce Oberg of Seattle, Washington, registering for charity made perfect sense. "We have everything we really need," they said. "Physical gifts seemed wasteful. We are passionate about human rights, the environment, and the arts. And have quite a few loved ones who we've lost to cancer. What a wonderful gift to feel like our special day could benefit these causes."

They're not alone in their thinking. With nearly 70 percent of couples living together before marriage and many waiting until later in life to get married, home and kitchen items just aren't needed. They want to make their day about something else. Charity gifts are an inspired, eco-chic option that shares the love in a feel-good and meaningful way.

For other couples, a charity registry offers a chance to give back locally. "We lived for decades in Minneapolis before moving to California just before our wedding, and wanted to benefit a charity that serves that local community," explain Eric and Becky Bausman of San Mateo. "The notes from our guests reflected the true spirit of our celebration -- they completely understood that this was about choosing to celebrate our joy by sharing our blessings with the world around us."

The most important part of your day is joining the two of you as a couple. What causes and issues do you and your partner care about individually and together? Charity registries let you select favorite organizations so you can share your love with others.

Weddings reunite family and friends and are a time to remember someone special who is not there to celebrate with you. Why not honor them and their health struggle by giving to make a difference for the cause? It's a great way to include them in your day.

Let guests know about your registry by sharing a custom link in an email, on your invitations, and through social media--telling them how their gift to charity will mean the world to you.

"We felt giving our guests the opportunity to donate on our behalf would add to the good energy and feelings of love surrounding our wedding. It can be easy to get caught up in table decorations, favors, or any number of small details," comments Elizabeth James of Santa Monica, California.

When it comes to starting a marriage off on the right foot and remembering what's important, I think there's no better way than to include charity on your special day. When I plan my own ceremony, I know I want to represent who I am and my dedication to charity, and I'm confident my partner will share this passion with me. I would love for my guests to be a part of the causes I hold dear and to leave the wedding feeling like we made a difference together.

Charity makes it easy to celebrate generously and creates not-to-be-forgotten wedding memories.