Consumers Want (And Deserve) More Transparency With Their Checkout Donations. Let's Give It To Them.

CBC recently did a piece titled "Checkout Charity: Doing Good, Feeling Bad" based on an online poll done by Ipsos Reid for Public Inc. and some follow-up investigation by the Marketplace team. In their recap blog post, they point out that that:

...44 per cent of respondents felt pressured to give when asked for a donation at the checkout, and most - 62 percent - oppose stores asking for donations in this way.

The reality is, people generally don't like being asked for money. Period. Sometimes not even when they are in the comfort of their own homes, asked via a nice email and by an organization they've supported in the past. So it's not that surprising to see some survey data showing that people don't like "feeling pressured" to give while buying other items. What is interesting, however, are some of the reasons why people don't like to give at the till and what companies can do to increase the likelihood of donation and overall experience when giving.

3 Reasons Why Consumers Don't Like Checkout Donations

1. They don't know where their money goes.
67% of those surveyed said, "It is not clear to me what contribution the retailer is making when they ask me to donate to a charitable cause". Not knowing where money is going is, not incidentally, a huge beef from regular donors as well. And that's when they have the luxury of time and access to information to do a bit of digging before they give. So if charities generally aren't doing a good enough job in those situations, it's going to be hard for a company to do that on behalf of their charity in a quick interaction and transaction.

2. They don't know how else the company is supporting the charity (if at all).
62% of people said they'd be more likely to donate if they knew that the retailer was also contributing to the cause. Why should customers donate their hard-earned cash to a charity if the company asking isn't even making a donation themselves? In fundraising, "lead gifts" (donations made in advance of a launch of a big campaign and/or by notable supporters) show needed momentum and credibility in that others are supporting the campaign. In these checkout donation campaigns, this form of lead giving seems to be missing.

3. They feel pressured to make a donation
At 44% of respondents, "pressured" was the most felt feeling while being asked to give at checkout. This is the one I have the hardest time defending as if we removed all pressure for people to give to charity, the drop in donations and corresponding ramifications would be quite immense. But I think it's the type of pressure that makes consumers squirmy. And they are in a public setting. Much of giving is influenced by social factors so when we are asked in public to give, amongst other people in our community, it can accentuate that 'pressured' feeling to the point where it can be frustrating. Even making some people embarrassed (10%) and angry (8%).

Are Checkout Donations A Bad Idea?

According to Public Inc. CEO and Co-Founder Philip Haid the answer is no... with a few caveats. "Checkout donations can still be a hugely important part of the [cause marketing] mix because of its volume and ability to raise funds and the profile of a cause with consumers." But it's not all good stuff either as Phillip points out that those feelings of frustration and pressure can be the last feeling customers have when leaving a store. Not exactly what the company wants for their brand.

But all is not lost, Phillip and Public Inc. have some ideas on how the checkout strategy can be improved (and will work on it). As do I. Here's 4 of them.

4 Things Companies Can Do About It

1. Match customers' donations.
What better way to show, in a tangible way, what the company is doing to support the cause than by matching the contributions of their consumers. You give $2, we give $2. In the Ipsos poll, 52% of those asked said they'd be more likely to donate if there was an incentive to participate. Matching donations can also help here as well as they have been proven time and again to increase donation amounts and total funds raised.

2. Communicate to and train the staff while trying to take some pressure off them.
Talking about a cause, charity or campaign is not in the normal flow for cashiers or staff that are asking customers to donate. But they are on the front lines and dealing with the questions that come up so they should be well equipped and hopefully pumped about the campaign themselves. Spending the time to communicate and train the staff in stores is crucial.

Haid also suggests finding some ways to 'prep' the customer as they enter the store, before they get to the store, and while they shop so when they are asked they are expecting it. And hopefully intrigued. "This isn't easy, but the better job the [company] can do, the more interested and inspired the customer will be and the less pressure the staff will feel to do all the heavy lifting".

3. Follow up with customers or make it easy for them to follow-up for themselves.
This can help alleviate a few concerns including the pressured feeling to give as well as not knowing enough about the cause and campaign. Using the receipt, having a takeaway piece and putting a link everywhere so customers can learn more about the cause, as well as give or share it, are some simple ways to do this. Phillip and Public Inc. recommend this approach as it also extends the campaign beyond the store and gives more value to the company and cause.

4. Be clear with who they support, why, and links to find out more.
"Most campaigns don't actually tell the impact story,"  Philip says, "of why the funds are needed and what they will actually do." In-store, online and even at the till, information and visuals should be presented with some clear statements around the cause, value and how customers can find out more. 53% of people said they'd be more likely to give if retailers did a better job of this.


When staff are well-trained and the story and information on the campaign are more clearly communicated, it reduces the pressure on both those asking and those being asked. By providing a bigger impact story and more ways to learn about and follow the campaign online, customers can feel more connected to the cause and confident as to where the funds are going. Add in a matching donation from the company to show leadership, incentivize giving and make it clear they are also financially supporting the campaign and maybe, just maybe, we can see a checkout donation program that can be good and do good for all those involved.