Sunday, September 02, 2012

Grocery Store Artifact: Before donating at the register

I'll go on record saying I don't like asking customers for donations. Sure, most of the various causes are worthy but it is annoying. A lot of customers don't like being asked but at my current work site they are not too hostile about being asked by the cashiers. Some places I have worked in the past the checkers would receive threats, derogatory remarks and complaints to the company above the store level. The complaints were not generalized against asking for charity but worded in such a way that they were attacks against the cashier for "rudeness" and intended to intimidate us into not asking them in the future.

It isn't like we have a choice. So many cashiers dislike asking for charitable donations from customers that store managers have to threaten disciplinary action against employees for those that do not. The signs hanging on checkout stations promising a customer with some free item from the store is ubiquitous and familiar sight during donation drives. Employees can and have been terminated because they refuse to ask for donations. It occurs in some work locations more than others and that can be due to the customers themselves. Employees just don't want to deal with the anger and grief they receive and since managers rarely support the employee they eventually get demoted or terminated.

Truth is, if a cashier asks every single customer for a donation the program will probably be at least moderately successful. The checkout experience is designed to maximize the donations. There are donation jars or boxes at every check stand, prompts at the point of sale pad where you pay with an electronic card and then cashier hits you up. At least one out of ten customers will donate something.

Particularly effective is the soft-pressure sales tactic. Many customers balk at giving a dollar but have little problem with donating by rounding up their purchase to the nearest dollar. It's a really effective psychological trick because often the same customer that would decline giving a dollar will often round up to $1.50, $2.00 or more.

Results at the store level are important. Managers are evaluated by how much they bring in not only in sales but other projects like charitable donations. There is also a large financial incentive for the manager that brings in the most donations. It is not unusual for store managers to personally kick in money from their own pocket to meet the expected goal for that day. Doing that helps them keep their jobs. If they don't or can't make their goal...well, there are plenty of people in line waiting for their jobs who say they can exceed expectations. In a lot of ways sales and donations are really things that managers don't have control over as they are at the mercy of the economy. Employees are under a lot of pressure to bring in donations "or else" so please don't take it out on them.

People should always feel comfortable about where the money they give is going. Where I work the company gives 100% of what they receive in donations to the charity they are supporting. How the charity disburses the funds after they but receive them is another matter. Stores usually receive materials that describe what happens with your donations but the best bet is to check out their online declarations. You may be surprised at what you find. Some retailers accept donations for a cause but will only donate up to a certain amount, say $2 million. But particularly for large chains over the course of the drive they will have collectively amassed far more than that. Depending on the company the extra funds will be dispersed evenly among the many charities they support year round or in some rare cases just go straight into the store coffers.

Charity Do's and Don'ts!

DO: Research. Check retailer websites for their list of charitable declarations. It isn't a big deal. You can even do it on your smartphone while in line. CharityWatch and Charity Navigator might be a few good resources to check where your money could be going.

: Dig into the donation jar at the checkstand to help pay your bill. What you buy costs what it costs. If your total is $20.33 don't take the change intended for hungry, crippled children because you don't want to break another dollar bill. This happens at least once daily where I work. Stop it.

: Get the tax identification number for the charity ahead of time before you sit down to declare it on your taxes. If the store or charitable organization's tax identification number for the donation doesn't appear on the receipt ask for it or look it up. Stores should but don't always have on hand paperwork stating the TID number for the charity. Don't count on them being able to find it right away since the office side of a retail store is particularly chaotic and usually overwhelmed with BS. The one document with the information you need will likely be buried in a month-deep flood of motivational/threatening emails or lost in a pile of paper flyers from a promotion that expired 3 weeks ago. Your best bet is to call customer service or look it up on their website.

: Come in to the store the last week of April after filing your taxes clutching a handful of receipts demanding a refund for all your checkstand donations over the last year claiming the cashier did it without your permission. That's just cheap and embarrassing. People do this.

DO: Be nice to the cashier when they ask for a donation. Just say 'Yes' or 'No' even though the point of sale pad requested it when you swiped your payment card. They have to ask.

: Give the cashier a story about how you "Already donated" or "Not this time, I give every day" or "I give a lot elsewhere" because A) We don't care, B) We're sure you are a good person, C) We know you are lying to feel better about yourself in a public venue with strangers judging you and D) We don't care.


  1. Wow, I had no idea charities were so high pressure in stores in the USA. In the UK you might find a donation box at the counter, but I don't think I've ever heard a cashier ask for a donation.

    On the other hand there are certain shopping areas where you can't move for charity workers clogging the streets, vying for attention to give you some spiel that ends with them wanting you to sign up a regular bank debit.

  2. It's ridiculous. A month or so ago I got counseled by one manger because I wasn't asking for donations that day (I'm typically one of the highest in donations). I told them it is because they were misappropriating the money given. We were soliciting and telling the public donations were for the national chain-promoted charity and then the manager was having each cashier take the money and apply it to another, which was that week's pet project of the District level corporate offices. Under a lot of pressure to perform they misdirected funds without the public knowing.

    As you can imagine I had an issue with that. It took a couple days for them to take the hint and then they walked around mocking me to to other cashiers about how we should be 'ethical'.

    There were more shenanigans to come about the final disposition of funds owed but that is detailed in a report to our Theft prevention office.

  3. I swear I avoid grocery stores that ask for donations. I'm such a pushover, I can hardly ever say no. I can't just run in and grab a 2 liter of Coke without being asked to donate a dollar - sometimes $5. I look at this as increasing the cost of food. Instead of a cola costing $1.50, now it's going to cost me $2.50. I'm single and I used to go to the grocery store every day to buy what I felt like cooking for that day. Now, I stock up on prepackaged foods and canned goods from places like Big Lots (who are cheaper than grocery stores and haven't bugged me for a donation yet). I'm saving a lot on groceries these days.

    Stores have to be making a profit off this or else they wouldn't be pressuring managers to put the pressure on the cashiers. I think their main benefit is getting to deduct all the money from their taxes. But I also wonder if they are getting paid by the charities or skimming some off for themselves. Whenever money is involved, you better believe somebody has a motive other than "it's for a good cause".

  4. Well, technically stores don't directly make a profit off it. Like most businesses this is about sales, good PR and at a more local level a bump in sales from 'pink washing' and about manager bonuses.

    As mentioned previously most companies have a set amount they will donate, like 2 million. After the drive is done nationally something like 9 million will have been collected. Does all the money beyond what was pledged go to the charity? Who knows.

    It's the pinkwashing, bluewashing, redwashing, etc that prompts the public into thinking they are doing some good. Buying tv dinners, yogurt and whatever that 'supports' a cause is little more than feel good stuff at the personal level. I've been observing customers getting jaded about it though and a few have been actively avoiding anything pink this month probably due to burn out and the belief money will be going to Komen.


Moderation enabled only because of trolling, racist, homophobic hate-mongers.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.