Column: ‘Checkout Charities’ irk shoppers

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Dear Jill,

I would like to see you tackle the topic of ‘checkout charities.’ I am so tired of being asked to donate money to this charity or that charity when I am checking out at a store. I keep my charitable donations private and do not feel I have to donate to whatever a store’s charity du jour is this week or next week. Some of the cashiers make you feel very guilty if you don’t ‘round up’ your change to the nearest dollar. I bet many people don’t realize the person doing the donating cant write this off either as a contribution. The store gets the tax write off and the contribution to the tune of millions of dollars.

Anna R.”

“Dear Jill,

“Why haven’t you written about the practice of asking me to donate money to a charity when I am paying for my groceries? I feel like I am being ambushed, and it’s embarrassing to say no when there are other people behind me. I feel like that’s part of the tactic.

Tony M.”

Whether you love them or loathe them, checkout charities abound in the marketplace. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been asked to donate to cancer research, to help feed the hungry and to help homeless pets. While all of these are philanthropic causes, I’m not a fan of the practice. Like Anna, I prefer to keep my charitable practices to myself in accordance with my own beliefs and the causes I care about. I like to research organizations and find out exactly how much of my contribution reaches the cause to which I’m donating.

A 2014 Reuters article noted that checkout charity calls to action generate over $350 million in contributions per year. Reuters noted that checkout charities are “an easy way to capture small amounts of money from lots of people,” but they also put people on the spot, without giving them any time at all “to properly evaluate the charity or how the funds are going to be used.”

A 2012 study by Cause Marketing Forum noted that the top three checkout charities donated more than $123 million that year. The top three donors were Ebay, Walmart/Sam’s Club and McDonald’s, proving that checkout charity calls aren’t limited to retail. These campaigns are just as effective online and at restaurants as they are at traditional retailers.

It’s also true that the corporation collecting the donations gets credit for your checkout-lane contributions. I don’t donate specifically to receive credit for my actions, but shoppers looking for a tax deduction likely will be disappointed. I’ve also found that there simply isn’t time to learn exactly where your money is going when you’re asked at the point of sale to support a general cause, like “children’s education.” Does that money go to a local school? A library? A textbook publisher or somewhere else entirely? Often, the cashier doesn’t know the answer either, and it’s not the fault of the cashier that they’re asking you. As you’ll see in this next email, the checkout charity call to action is often part of the job requirement:

“Dear Jill,

I haven’t seen you write about this topic, but I’m a cashier at a supermarket. One of the things I am required to ask shoppers is if they will donate $1, $2 or $3 toward a local food bank. It is a good cause, but I’m not terribly comfortable asking every person to donate, over and over, all day long. However, we receive bonuses and extra perks if our donation numbers are higher than everyone else who works on the same shift. No, it is not fair, but if your readers don’t know about this, please remember this is not my idea. Don’t take it out on your cashiers when we ask. We have to.

Maureen C.”

Asking for charitable contributions in the checkout lane isn’t the only seemingly-unrelated-to-the-job responsibility our cashiers are often saddled with. Next week, I’ll share some stories of other products some cashiers are required to offer to you.

Jill Cataldo is a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three.

By |Apr. 8, 2015|

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