08 May Would You Like to Donate $1 to the Disabled Tennis Players of Uzbekistan Foundation? Checkout Charity is Getting Out of Control
“Would you like to donate a dollar to the Buy Xboxes for Children in Timbuktu Foundation?” asked the cashier at a local supermarket.
“No thanks,” I said.
“Thank you,” she said, a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
Okay, so I’m lying about the name of the charity. The cashier said it so fast that I didn’t even catch the full name of it. But she really did give me a sarcastic “thank you” when I declined to contribute to what sounded like a pretty obscure charity that I’ve never heard of. I had popped into this grocery store to buy a $1.99 cookie, not to contribute to an unknown charity. I had already been to Walmart earlier in the day, where I did contribute to $1 to something or other, and the day before I had contributed a buck to God-knows-what at Whole Foods.
I know that these appeals can help people, in some cases. And they are certainly effective. In 2016, more than $441 million was raised in the U.S. in these kinds of appeals, according to America’s Charity Checkout Champions report. But the Better Business Bureau and other consumer advocates caution that consumers should “do their homework” before donating. How the hell are we supposed to “do homework” on charities while we’re paying for groceries, usually with other impatient shoppers behind us in line?
Here’s what I don’t like about checkout charity requests.
- Dozens, perhaps hundreds of companies ask us for checkout charity but it seems like very few are raising money for the kind of blue chip charities that have instant credibility and name recognition. If you ask me for money for the American Red Cross, March of Dimes or the Salvation Army, I immediately recognize those charities and might want to contribute. But it seems like many stores want us to contribute to obscure charities. How are we supposed to, in a second or two, assess what they do and whether we want to donate to them? How can I be sure that the brass at the Save the Central African Pygmies isn’t using donations to fly first class and invite hookers to their board meetings?
- Cashiers always ask if you’d like to round up your purchase or give a dollar or whatever charity, but I can’t recall one ever telling me that the store is matching donations at any level. And so, we’re the ones doing the good deed but the company is the one who will be crowing that they raised x amount of money for the Cross-eyed Orphans of Baluchistan or whatever.
- You can never be sure where your money is going. For example, if I give one dollar to a charity that supposedly helps unemployed dwarfs in Alabama learn how to open their own meth lab, how do I know that my $1 is really going towards helping those dwarfs get the appropriate meth cooking training they so desperately need? Does the charity pay the store to get their checkout charity pitches? Does the store donate 100% of proceeds to the charity? Who knows.
- There’s no tax write-off for making these touch screen donations, at least for shoppers. Do the stores take tax-write offs for our donations?
- Grocery stores and big box chains used to be the last “safe spaces” where shoppers weren’t obliged to leave guilt tips. We are fast approaching a point where there will be no cash register safe spaces in the country where we can simply pay for whatever item we’re buying and leave the establishment without being encouraged to donate to a charity or tip someone for doing their job. Enough already! Companies should charge me whatever price they want, donate whatever percent of profits they chose to the charity of their choice, and pay their employees a living wage.