Asked to donate at the register? Feel free to say ‘bah humbug’

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Asked to donate at the register? Feel free to say noEver experience “donation shaming”?

It’s a common practice, especially during the holidays, for cashiers at grocery stores and big box retailers to ask you if you want to donate a few dollars to a charity along with your purchase.

“I’d like to say no. I spent twenty minutes clipping coupons to save $5 and now I’m giving half of it to a charity I don’t know anything about,” you tell yourself, as you obediently nod and hand over your money. “At least it’s going to a good cause.”

But being put on the spot in front of the cashier and other customers isn’t a great reason to donate to a charity, says Sandra Miniutti, vice president of the charity-rating website Charity Navigator.

“I think it’s a difficult call to make when you’re in the moment of trying to check out, and you’re juggling your bags and maybe your kids. It’s a difficult thing to be asked, ” Miniutti says. “Many times donors don’t know much about the charity behind the appeal, and it may not be a cause that’s in line with their personal philanthropic goals.”

In fact, customers should feel no guilt at all about turning retailers’ charity appeals down, even if it’s only for a couple of bucks, she says.

“It’s not the type of money that’s going to change the world, but I do think customers shouldn’t hesitate to say ‘no’ because you don’t know anything about that charity, what their mission is about or whether they’re efficient, effective or a worthy cause,” Minuitti says.

There are 1 million public charities in the U.S., and the sad truth is that plenty of them are squandering their donations and doing little or nothing to advance the cause they claim.

“It’s important for donors to be aware that the nonprofit sector is huge,” Miniutti says. “We see a lot of scandals around issues that really pull at the heartstrings. Anything that supports heroes, whether it be our local policemen or returning war veterans. Issues around children; I mean, who doesn’t want to make a donation to help a kid have a wish or get some medical treatment?”

Investigators at the Tampa Bay Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting found that one children’s charity, Kids Wish Network, spent just 3 cents on the dollar actually helping kids.

Of the 7,000 charities rated by Charity Navigator, less than 30 percent got the highest 4-star rating based on criteria such as how much of their funds they spend on administrative costs versus actually helping people, how much they have to spend to raise funds and how transparent and accountable their leadership is.

But even if a charity you’re being solicited to donate to is doing a great job advancing a cause the retailer likes, it may not be one you believe in.

“Presumably, the corporation or the retailer has done some due diligence, but again, at a minimum, that doesn’t mean that their interest in charitable causes matches yours,” Minuitti says.

The bottom line: Consumers need to be skeptical when considering which charities to support, and that ain’t happening in the checkout line at Target with five people waiting behind you and your baby screaming in your face.

A better approach is thinking about causes you want to support, find charities that are doing that well, and giving them your money instead, she says. That way you’ll know your money is actually working toward something you’d want, and get a tax break, to boot.

What do you think? Do you ever donate at the register?

(Photo: Flickr user ElCapitanBSC)

{ 20 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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20 Responses to “Asked to donate at the register? Feel free to say ‘bah humbug’”

  1. Matt says:

    AMEN! Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this. I often feel obligated or like I’m being put in the spotlight… “DO YOU WANT TO HELP OUT THE LESS FORTUNATE/HOMELESS/HUNGRY?”… in front of others. It drives me crazy. Thanks for shedding more light on the subject. I will continue to say, no thanks and donate to causes I have researched and believe in. Great article!

  2. Alistair says:

    Just say “no thank you I prefer to give to charities directly.”

  3. Kathryn says:

    Actually; at the grocery store I’m always curious when they have a brown bag, already bagged for donation; and they ask you if you want to purchase it for charity. Are they selling it at their cost ? (in essence, are they asking you to purchase more for their gain also?)
    If anyone knows the answer, please advise.
    Thank you.

    • libertyanne says:

      I agree. Why doesn’t the store just give the food directly to charity. The big ones especially have plenty of money. Write a check from the store and leave us alone. We spend enough money on groceries as it is.

  4. Cindy says:

    I never donate to whatever charity is being touted by the store/cashier. I also don’t like to be put on the spot or to sound like a Scrooge. So I always answer “Not this time, thanks!” with a smile. It’s still a no, but for all anyone within hearing distance knows, I may have given just yesterday or the last time I was at the store. And I don’t need to explain that I prefer other charitable donation avenues.

  5. Nancy says:

    Thanks for the affirming post. I can now let go of my guilt. I do say no but have felt uncomfortable at times saying no.
    Nancy G

  6. Marilyn says:

    Also never have donated in stores.

    I don’t know how much of my donation goes to the charity. I wonder how much those donations count toward revenue (not profits but cash flowing in).

    There was a segment on American Public Media this morning about the for-profit fundraisers, who may keep 85 cents of each dollar raised, giving only 15 cents to the charities who hire them. It’s not just that some charities are not managed well, it’s that many fundraising campaigns are operated by for-profit professional fundraising companies. I bet a lot of the store campaigns are too. I bet the stores even keep some of the money. Plus they get a polished reputation for supporting breast cancer resarch, etc.

    So many Americans say they don’t need the government to do things for them. I don’t need corporate America to do charity for me. If I want to give money to an organization, I do it directly so that there is more governmental reporting and oversight concerning donations.

  7. freeby50 says:

    Theres certainly nothing wrong with saying no to those requests. Most people do seem to say no and its clearly optional. People shouldn’t feel guilted into such giving.

    On the other hand I really don’t see anything wrong with saying yes to those charity drives either. The request is usually $1 ballpark for starters and the charities that grocery stores pick are almost certainly not shady scams or something.

  8. Dave says:

    I never give at the grocery store or to the ones that stick the can in your car window at intersections.

    A plug for Charity Navigator. Since finding it I won’t give to a charity unless it rates at least 3 stars with them.

  9. Blondie says:

    I never give to any charity at the grocery story. I just say “no thank you”
    And this time of year I seem to get frequent phone calls asking for donations to various organizations. And again, I always say no. I only give to charities that I have researched. I never give over the phone, ever.

  10. sue says:

    After the corporation has collected all of those tiny donations, they may add up to thousands, even millions, of dollars, taking all their locations into consideration. When the corporation hands it over to the charity, do they get to take a tax deduction for it? If so, your $1 just went to feed another corporation’s bottom line. And they can turn around and proclaim themselves to be great, socially conscious corporate citizens. They can claim all the credit for money YOU donated.

    Just say no. Put those little dollars in your own piggy bank, a special one labeled “charity”, and when it adds up, pick one favorite charity to give it to.

  11. Meagan says:

    I just donated a dollar today! Now know to say “not this time!” And not feel bad about it

  12. Frank says:

    I prefer to say “Not again.”

  13. arcadia says:

    OMG! thanks for the post, i was not aware of this,i actually learn something today, not now thanks:)

  14. Jamie says:

    I generally decline & the cashier continues the transaction. I had one experience at Whole Foods where the cashier wanted to go on & on about the charity and why Whole Foods supported it. I told her “that’s great but I already have my philanthropic giving determined”. That didn’t work, so I stared at her with a blank expression until she finished my transaction.

  15. Debra says:

    Today at JCPenneys they asked if I want to ‘donate your change’. “No.” is my simple answer.
    Two of the BIG local grocery stores in town promote this idea of giving at the cash register (SAFEWAY and ALBERTSONS)
    This is a regular practice at PETSMART too, at every check out line, not just during holidays.

    I too say ‘No’. with no excuses. No guilt.
    and I don’t care who is behind me in the line hearing me nicely say ‘no’.
    (for ALL the reasons stated above by those who have commented)

    • Jake says:

      Those major companies aren’t going to stop. It’s a huge tax write-off they couldn’t give two chits about where the money goes. I agree with the other comments. Donate directly with charities of your choice.

  16. Holly says:

    Actually my main concern is how much goes to the charity. Does the store and/or cashier ‘skim’ a bit off the top?

    Also, I NEVER buy the pre-bagged groceries. They are filled w/CHEAP items that go on extreme sale frequently BUT each item is priced at FULL shelf price.

  17. adam carolla fan says:

    i feel sorry for the cashiers that have to ask the customers. that’s hella bootsy.

    i once worked for bank of america as a teller, and we had $2.00 bills pinned to all of us. we were tellers that had to ask each customer if they were a homeowner, and if we didn’t the customer got the @2 dollar bill (we were wearing a little sign that said that “if i don’t ask you…then you get this 2 dolla bill).

    well, some beezy “caught” me not asking her, so she walked off with me $2 bill.

    hella bootsy

  18. Michael says:

    I used to work for a well-known nonprofit and I was surprised at how much money went to raising more money and administration. A little-known secret is if you designate in writing that you want your donation to be used exclusively for something like research, then your donation can only be used for that designated purpose. Only undesignated donations could be partially used for fundraising and administrative purposes.

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