“Checkout Charity”: What’s the right thing to do?

You’ve seen it most stores: “checkout charity” is the relatively new and fast-growing way for making charitable contributions.

Checkout charity donations are often the result of spur-of-the-moment, periodic or one-time asks triggered by a tragedy, holiday, or cause. Solicitations can occur in person or online, and by either a familiar face or automated means like text messaging.

And while these donations may appear small on an individual level—say a dollar or more added to a grocery store visit—they quickly add up. Engage for Good reported that $605 million was collected in 2020 by 76 campaigns that each exceeded one million dollars, a 24% increase from 2018 when 79 campaigns exceeding one million dollars brought in more than $486 million.

However, concerns about such efforts have included feelings of anxiety, uncertainty or lack of knowledge about such causes; whether the gifts would reach their proper destinations or be used as intended; or if there could be elements of fraud or misrepresentation. Nearly 50% of survey respondents described such campaigns in negative terms or feelings like “annoyed,” “pressured,” or “being judged.” Of the remainder, 30% had neutral feelings; only 20% were positive.

Given the rising number of opportunities to give, their frequency and spontaneity, we encourage proper vetting of the requester and obtaining an appropriate confirmation for tax purposes when applicable. Donors should proceed with caution, but also know that many impulse gifts to charity, often made at a local grocery store or through a national brand retailer, are “pass-through” in nature, with no financial benefits accruing to the point-of-purchase organization.

The Community Foundation works for you as a one-stop shop for impactful giving specific to the organizations you hold dear. We welcome your questions regarding any organization or cause seeking your financial support.