You usually go to the store with one thing in mind — shopping. But lately it seems like more retailers are turning their checkstands into fundraising campaign headquarters, asking you for a donation to a cause in addition to taking your payment for groceries, coffee, or leggings. Would you like to add $2 to your purchase to help homeless cats? Round up to the nearest dollar to fight hunger? Buy some sort of paper icon to show your support for a cure or research? All worthy causes, of course, but it can be overwhelming when every retail transaction seems to involve a solicitation, especially when you're on a tight budget.
Like it or not, these types of campaigns — known officially as point-of-sale fundraising — are not going away anytime soon because, well, they work. According to a report published in 2017 by Engage for Good, an organization that provides resources to businesses and organizations that are “working at the intersection of profit and purpose,” more than $4.1 billion dollars have been raised via checkout charity in the past three decades.
Not only that, statistics show many consumers actually like this type of giving. A 2015 survey conducted by Good Scout, a branding and marketing firm that works with non-profit organizations, reports that 55 percent of respondents like being asked to give at the register. Among those who don’t like being asked, they often give out of guilt (35 percent) or peer pressure (12 percent) anyway. In all, the survey found that 71 percent of people wind up donating at the register at some point, regardless of their feelings on the fundraising method itself.
But this doesn’t mean you should feel compelled to open up your wallet if you don’t want or can't afford to give. Here are five things to consider before you make a donation to charity through a point-of-sale fundraising campaign.
- Do you support the cause? According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 million 501(c)(3) charities in the United States. This means there are bound to be at least a few working on causes that resonate with you and a few with goals and ideals that are not up your alley. If you don’t want your hard-earned dollars going toward the latter, it's OK to take a pass.
- Is the charity itself legitimate? Sadly, there are charity scams out there (for example, in 2015 four cancer charities were charged with ripping off donors — to the tune $187 million). That’s why it's always wise to make sure an organization you support passes muster. Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, and Guide Star provide easy ways to find out things like how an organization uses funds and how much of the money collected goes toward administrative fees and overhead. (Full disclosure: Hanscom FCU raises money every spring for pediatric neurological diseases being researched at Boston Children's Hospital. 100% of the donations go to the hospital through our affiliation with Credit Unions Kids at Heart with nothing taken out for administration fees.)
- Is giving in your budget? We get it; money is tight. And donating $5 here and $5 there can really add up over the course of a month or year, especially if you were to give every time someone asks and you're on a tight budget. Even if you love the organization in question, it is totally fine to put your own personal financial situation ahead of the goals of the campaign.
- Would you rather get your tax benefits? One downside to point-of-sale fundraising? No tax write-offs. The donation simply gets added to your purchase as if it were a part of the sale. This might not be a big deal for the occasional $1 donation, but it could become a big deal over time. Perhaps you are a fan of the cause but would rather make a more sizable one-time donation to the charity so you can take advantage of the tax benefits. Go for it. They'll truly appreciate your generosity!
- Does the ask itself irritate you so much you don’t want to give? Let’s face it, sometimes all you want to do is pay for your milk and eggs and get out of the grocery store quickly because your kid is about to melt down, but it feels like you've walked into an inquisition. Do you want paper or plastic? Are you interested in saving 10% with a loyalty card? Would you like to give today to...? If you decide to say no every time simply because all you want to do at the grocery store is pay for your milk and eggs, thankyouverymuch, this is perfectly acceptable. The bottom line: despite all the reasons to give or not to give, all that really matters is how you feel about it.
Next time you're asked, "Would you like to donate $5 today to save the rainforest?" and you can't for whatever reason, it's okay to politely answer, "No thank you, I'd just like to pay today." And don't feel like you have to give the dollar amount being asked of you; if a dollar is all you can afford to give, there's no need to feel guilty about that. A charity appreciates every dollar it receives.
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