Retailers everywhere, it seems, now ask customers to make small donations at the checkout counter—everything from helping homeless pets (PetSmart) to supporting American troops (JCPenney). It also seems to make business sense: Show your company’s compassionate side, engage your customers in goodwill and raise money for a good cause.
“Checkout charity” campaigns, as they’re called, have become especially common around the holiday season, when consumers are in the giving mood. It’s basically the next-generation version of Salvation Army bell ringers, and more companies are now helping business owners effectively launch charitable checkout campaigns at their stores. There's Charitable Checkout, a platform that helps businesses set up “rewarded giving” programs that hand out loyalty rewards to customers who give to charity. Even Amazon joined the trend this year with its AmazonSmile program, which lets customers donate 0.5 percent of their purchases to their favorite charity.
A report by the Cause Marketing Forum earlier this year analyzed the 63 checkout campaigns that earned at least $1 million in 2012 and discovered that they raised a combined $358.4 million, or more than $1 for every American.
But small retailers should be very careful before rolling out checkout charity at their stores, experts say, and make sure it doesn’t hurt their business reputation.
An analysis by the Tampa Bay Tribune found that shoppers often feel uncomfortable when asked to donate at the register. "If there's a bunch of people in line behind me and the cashier asks me to make a donation, it makes me feel so trapped and judged, especially if it's for the troops," Jennie Blackburn of Redington Shores, Florida told the Tribune. Blackburn said she frequently gets asked for donations when shopping at Walgreens and the grocery store Publix. "It's a lot of pressure."
Moreover, experts say that checkout charity has become so ubiquitous that consumers are starting to become desensitized to it. They also generally don’t get to claim a tax deduction for their donations at checkout as they could if they donated directly to a nonprofit.
While checkout charity can be a good fit for small businesses—especially if the charity is closely aligned with what the business does—businesses should proceed carefully. The Cause Marketing Forum report offers these seven tips to businesses, according to Nonprofit Quarterly:
1. Select the right charitable organization, and make sure it’s reputable and not too controversial. The website Charity Navigator can help you vet prospective organizations.
2. Educate employees about the campaign and charitable cause.
3. Create professional materials about the campaign.
4. Build in incentives for customers who donate.
5. Involve vendors to build a total store event.
6. Analyze the data from the campaign.
7. Recognize and thank.
Read more articles on holiday shopping.
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