Checkout Charity Really Ticks Me Off!


Have you been deluged at the cash register this season with pitches for charity? All this checkout charity ticks me off! What is it with all these retailers? We’re already blessing them by spending our hard-earned money on their goods. Do they honestly believe it’s appropriate to additionally hit us up for the charity of their choice?

Before you start thinking I’m a meanie, or I’m not charitable and lack empathy, I’d like to say that Mr. Groovy and I are quite generous. But our giving is mindful. We decide when and to whom our charitable checks are written.  When I’m making a quick dash for Tums and shampoo, it isn’t exactly the right time to ask me if I want to round up my purchase to help the Red Cross. And, frankly, I resent being put on the spot. Can’t I just be appreciated for my business?

A few weeks ago I was asked for a donation when checking out at the supermarket.  I smiled sweetly at the cashier and said, “Do they FORCE you to ask for money?”  And she frowned and said, “Yes, it’s a requirement and we hate doing it.”

So hear me FoodLion, Publix and Harris Teeter! If you want to be charitable, how about giving your workers a raise, and providing them with paid vacation days and health insurance while you’re at it! Perhaps speak to them a bit more nicely in front of customers too.

My most recent experience with this trend was at the airport last week. I was at the typical terminal newsstand, you know, the catty-corner store that sells books, snacks, candy and beverages. There I was paying over $4 for a lousy bag of Chex-Mix and I’m asked, “Would you like to donate a bottle of water to a soldier?” And right before me was a glistening bottle of water at the register. I felt like saying, “Ah, nooo, I’d like all soldiers to dehydrate.” I mean really! They know I’m stupidly over-spending for junk (hey, it was a reimbursable business trip lunch), and they want to guilt me with their pitch, because they know that I know I’ll look like a b*tch if I say no. But I said no anyway.

And do I really need to justify my lack of giving  by saying I already give to Wounded Warriors? I don’t think so. Yet I see others respond this way with ‘I already give’, etc.  Why is who we give to, or do not give to, any of their business? I don’t even want to acknowledge these kinds of questions with a verbal response.

So maybe next time I won’t. In a ploy to fight back I think I’ll do my own version of a retort devised by the founders of the Pearl District Philanthropic Society in Portland, Oregon. Workers in the area got disgusted with getting “Green-Peaced” four or five times a day crossing the street to Powell Books or Whole Foods.  The Society made up this card which says:

I know you’re just doing your job

but the methods you’ve been asked to use are manipulative and make me less trustful of friendliness in general

and that, not indifference towards your cause,
is why I’m not going to talk to you.

My card will say:

I know you’re just doing your job

but asking me for money at the cash register when I’m already spending money in YOUR store is just plain STUPID!

Stupidity makes me less trustful of retailers that ask for donations.

And that, not indifference towards your cause,

is why I’m not going to talk to you.

Have a nice day! 🙂

How do you feel about checkout charity? How do you respond at the cash register? I’d love to hear your opinion.

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  1. Ron Cameron

    My wife and I disagree on this, but I can’t stand it either. And I never give in that format. My solution would be to just have silent signs near checkout offering to accept your donation (I gave at Costco recently because of one of these) or a question on the pinpad you can choose. That one is a little more intrusive but acceptable to me.

    As far as sales of credit cards and puppy prescriptions go, I have a motto for selling: “Selling is convincing someone to do something they don’t necessarily want to do, but are glad they did afterwards.” That last part is key! I don’t ever want to convince someone to do something they’ll regret. But if they’re happy they did it, I did them an genuine service.

    ps: If you google “south park are you helping the hungry kids?” and watch the clip you will laugh. If you manage to find and watch the whole episode, it’s all about this phenomenon and is hillariously accurate. If you have to spend the $2 or whatever to buy the episode you’ll be glad you did. There I go selling 🙂

    • Mrs. Groovy

      Hey, thanks for the comment Ron. You’re exactly right — being forced into responding yes or no is the part that bugs me most. “Yes” means you’re charitable and “no” means you’re a cheapskate? And why do people feel compelled to say “I already gave” or whatever. I’m paying money in exchange for goods or services when I shop and that’s the quid pro quo — a stranger has no business asking me for more money for the store’s cause, or asking me a question where I invariably have to explain my position or my convictions. I’ll just shop elsewhere.

      Thanks for the recommendation for South Park. Can’t wait to watch it later.

  2. Arrgo

    I agree and there are so many charities these days. I’m sure some good things are done but I am also skeptical of the efficiency of even some of the more known ones. If I send $20 to a well known charity, they’ll keep mailing me all year and sometimes even include a small item. That cost has to eat up most of the $20 I sent for them to use. I think the marketing geniuses they hire figure they’ll break you down if they mail you enough or someday leave them a lot of money in your will. And those Salvation Army kettle ringers. How much do they get paid? Even at minimum wage, I bet they barely even take in enough to pay their salary for the day. Basically then, all you are doing is paying for them to have a job for the day. Free turkeys dinners – can of cranberry sauce, gravy, a bag of frozen vegetables etc. How much does that really cost? You can’t plan ahead a save $35 or $40 split among a few family members? Its a nice gesture and some are deserving of a break. But also many will have their cigarettes and booze, cell phones, cable TV etc. and still need “help” and be looking for a hand-out. Come on. In my opinion, about 75%+ have dug their own whole (and continue digging). Poor choices and spending. Being irresponsible and then want everyone else to bail them out. That said, there certainly are a small percentage that deserve everything we can give them in a time of need due to various tragedies and circumstances.(Which is what the charities are supposed to be for) I don’t mean to sound so harsh, but its more of the reality the way I see it. Its meant to help good people that are trying to do the right things, not help irresponsible freeloaders or enrich the executives of a poorly run charity.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      Thanks for your thoughtful response, Arrgo. I have the same issue with nonprofits that send me stuff all year long too, after I’ve made a contribution. In some cases I’ve given money in honor of someone who died, in which case, I may never be giving to that particular cause again. Yet they keep sending me address labels, notepads and other tchotchkes. And don’t get me started with those Salvation Army bell ringers. The ones near our supermarket are pretty aggressive in their attempts to catch you on the way in or out. It’s very annoying.

      I agree with you that there are people who need real help. And I don’t think you sound harsh. It’s frustrating when there are those getting handouts where you wonder why. A cousin of ours worked for a maid service and on one of her first jobs, she was sent to the home of a renter who was participating in one of those section 8 HUD housing programs. When she arrived she saw multiple huge flat screen TVs, other electronics, and the person to whom she was reporting had an iPhone in her hand. Our cousin got so pissed she said “clean your own damn home” and stormed out of there.

  3. We don’t have this problem in the UK, not yet at least! Before you hop on a plane, we do have something worse. Charity street collectors, armed with the sole purpose of getting you to agree to a direct debit (because apparently one off donations aren’t good enough anymore!?) This doesn’t bother me as such, its the ones that ask you “do you care about children?” or “would you say you have a good sense of humour” as a way of starting a conversation! My usual response is “regretably not”. Obviously not true but stops them in their tracks 😀

    • Mrs. Groovy

      Oh no, that’s horrible Sarah. I would be tempted to say “No, I hate children” to make them go away. But you bring up the exact point that annoys me most – strangers trying to engage me in conversation about my money and my life. I’ve written just a little bit about acting technique, but there’s something called “The Fourth Wall” when you’re on stage. The audience is the fourth wall – you’re not supposed to see them or recognize them. That’s how I feel when I’m busy and just going about my business – I don’t see you, and DON’T pierce my fourth wall!

      Thanks so much for commenting.

  4. The first time I saw this type of tipping setup was at the drive-thru window at a local – non chain – fast food place a few years back. They had cut the top off an old milk jug, affixed it to a hanger, and pasted a note on th front that simply said, ‘Tips.’

    I remember remarking to my wife, “what do they think we’re going to tip for, the fact that they hand us food – which we’re paying for – through a window?”

    On a related topic, I’m also mystified about the call to tip hotel maids. As a Marriott Platinum member, I was thunderstruck a few years back when the Marriott CEO wrote – in a column I believe – that guests should tip the maid staff. I remember thinking, “shouldn’t there be a single standard for cleaning a room [tipping is supposed to be for exceptional service in my mind ] and does that mean I get sub-standard service because I don’t tip?”

    Moreover, shouldn’t the billionaire CEO of a multi-national company be looking for ways to increase the pay, and benefits, of his staff if he believes they merit better compensation for their efforts?

    • Mrs. Groovy

      I wish I’d gotten a look at that milk-jug/tip jar. That must have been a sight.

      I found the column you were referring to about the Marriott CEO. Very interesting. You’re so right about these billionaires who should be better compensating their employees. That’s what annoys me, too, about all the United Way efforts among employers. They guilt their workers into collecting money that they match to give to a nonprofit that doesn’t need money, but has power. Can’t they just pay their workers more? No, because they want the PR about all the wonderful charitable work they’re doing. And that PR helps lock in the bonuses for the honchos at the top.

  5. This is frustrating. Our grocery stores often ask for donations to the local hospitals, where I already see 40-50% of my patients for free. (They are homeless or uninsured and don’t pay, yet they retain the right to complain, hit/punch/spit, threaten my family, or sue… Don’t get me started.) We donate to plenty of other charities, but on this front I feel that I have already given enough.

    Even pharmacists these days are required to ask about store credit cards or bringing in your puppy prescriptions. It’s awful.

    But I know that the employees feel as awkward and annoyed as I do, so I try to give a cheerful “No, thanks!” and move on.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      I can see how the hospital situation is very frustrating. When I lived in NYC my apartment was near Bellevue Hospital – years ago it had a crazy reputation but in more recent years it was THE place to go if you were uninsured and get excellent care.

      A friend of mine who’s a bit older and on Social Security works part time for extra income. She was forced to quit a job as a bank teller because they were required to annoy customers with questions about opening new accounts, taking loans, or adding a credit card.

  6. I hate this practice. Most of the charities selected have horrible overhead. I also resent that corporations that do this count what their customers donate as part of their own good work. I hate this almost as much as extended questions about store cards.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      These companies would do much better charitable work by treating and paying their employees well.

      For me this is about boundaries and privacy. Who or what I give my money to is no one else’s business. Companies should be grateful that consumers are buying their products because we can just as easily purchase elsewhere. When it becomes a regular occurrence, that’s exactly what I do – buy elsewhere.

  7. I already donate to three charities: Feeding America, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Doctors without Borders…so it’s really awkward when I’m asked at checkout to donate.

    I do a little speech. “Oh I already donate to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Feeding America, and Doctors without Borders. I donate directly to them. I know you’re doing your job. Thanks for asking.”

    When I used to work at for a big department store back in 2009, I’d have to ask if people wanted to sign up for their credit card and save 10%. I also had to ask people for their email addresses and get them on the newsletter. I didn’t like asking people.

    You’d get in trouble if there was a manager around and you didn’t ask for both. They had this requirement that you had to get 2 credit card customers per week as a cashier or they’d cut down your hours.

    I do feel for these cashiers. They have to ask & most of them hate it. I used to work for another retail store and we’d have to up-sell a different candy bar each week.

    It was a chain of stores and the managers have contests on which store in the city would sell the most candy bars each week. There was a prize for the manager and the cashier that sold the most. I did win a few of these contests I will admit.

    Also there are mystery shoppers that “test” the cashiers and customer service. So if you didn’t ask and you got the mystery shopper, you’d get a talk from the manager. So they have to ask because they’re scared of the mystery shopper.

    At one store I worked for, the manager would say, “The mystery shopper is coming tonight!!! Everyone be on your best behavior. Make sure to up-sell! Please!”

    We didn’t know who the mystery shopper was but we just knew they were coming on that night and I have no idea how my manager got a hold of the fact that the mystery shopper was coming!

    As for giving benefits to their workers, that’s why they hire part-time workers and a bunch of them so they can avoid paying benefits. Most chains don’t have full-time workers except for Hobby Lobby and a few other stores. That’s why I no longer work minimum wage and went to college.

    It’s difficult to move up in those jobs and there aren’t any benefits. They won’t pay for benefits because they don’t really have to with enough part-timers on their employee list.

    Anyway, sorry for writing you a novel but just letting you know what it’s like from someone that’s worked those jobs. In the stores I worked at we didn’t have to ask for charity donations though, we just up-sold our own products.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      You can write me a novel anytime, Jaime. I enjoy your novels.

      I hear everything you’re saying. A friend of mine was a bank teller and was forced to peddle credit cards and loans. She hated it. I’m not blaming the employees, but I do blame the employers. If they’re so into charity, why don’t they give benefits to their part timers? Many of them don’t just get involved in these charity drives for bonuses or incentives. They do it because it’s good PR.

      When I’m the customer I want to shop, pay and get out. I want a pleasant experience and I will certainly be friendly. But I feel it’s crossing the line to hit people up for money at the register. It forces people to say yes or no, when they shouldn’t have to say anything. I used to be like you and explain that I give other ways. Now I either say “no thank you” without an explanation, or “do they make you ask that?”.

  8. I don’t like when the cashier asks but after years of say “No thanks” – I’ve kind of gotten used to it. What I dislike most though is that most of those checkout charities don’t even get 100% of the proceeds, there’s sometimes a middle-man company that takes a %. That bothers me more… so that’s why I donate directly when I ddo.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      I agree about the middle-man and I also worry about cash. Where does it go at the end of the day? Who handles it and how is it accounted for? It’s too sloppy for me. Thanks for the comment, Jim.

  9. I even dislike the request for donations when going to a small outdoors fair or event. I would rather pay a $5 cover fee than to go through the awkward process of walking in, being asked if I’d like to donate, and trying to find the best way to say ‘no’ . . . or just reaching into my pocket and giving them the money anyway. For whatever reason, when I end up paying in situations like this, I feel like it’s more of a hit to the pocketbook than a simple $5 cover, even though it’s the same price! Anyway, I agree with your sentiment. Good write up!


    • Mrs. Groovy

      DP, I know exactly what you mean. I think you hit the nail right on the head with the word ‘awkward’. It feels uncomfortable under certain circumstances to be asked for money. There’s a time and place for everything. I can just imagine, you’re about to enjoy some downtime with family and/or friends outdoors, you’ve been looking forward to this day all week, you’re beginning to salivate thinking about the scrumptious BBQ lunch you’re about to have, and boom! You’re hit up for a donation and you’ve barely stepped foot on the premises. It’s a mood-crusher. I’d be cranky for at least 15 minutes before refocusing on my search for a deep-fried Twinkie.

      Thanks for your comment and for reading, DP!

  10. Like you, I don’t donate in this way, just like I never donate to those who hit me up for money in a parking lot or street corner. We have people in my city who stand up on the curb in intersections holding signs in the hopes that drivers will give money as they are stopped at red lights.

    Basically, if you ask me for a hand out, I don’t give. I pick and choose where my charity goes because quite frankly, I don’t have any idea where that money is going when I’m solicited like that. I’d like to think that the money donated at checkout is actually going to a good cause, but who the hell knows? This is even more of a concern when you’re handing over your hard-earned money to beggars on the street.

    This time of year, we all get hit up for money almost everywhere we go…and it’s not because the “need” is supposedly greater. No, it’s because they want to appeal to our emotional side and try to extract money from us during the holiday season when we are more likely to give. But I don’t give based on season.

    Every time I write about this topic, I feel like I come across as a heartless bastard. But frankly, getting hit up for money every time I walk into a store simply should not happen, and none of us should feel bad about not giving or opposing that kind of in-your-face solicitations for charity. Americans are some of the most generous givers in the history of the world. We already give a ton, and Red Cross’ insistence that we give more by ringing bells outside of grocery stores definitely isn’t convincing me to part with my money – at least with them as the recipient.

    Basically, if someone asks for a hand out, I don’t give, and I never offer an explanation as to why. I usually respond with, “Nah, I’m good” and that’s pretty much it.

    I have voluntarily given money and food to people whom I see who are in need. In fact, I remember giving a whole freaking pizza (we totally over-bought one night) to a small group of homeless people, and they were very, very appreciative. But if they actually came up to me and asked for food, I probably would have walked on.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      Mrs. Groovy here.

      Thank you for your comment, Steve. You make a great point about having no idea where the money goes. I’ve often thought that myself when being asked for cash. And I’ve also wondered about some online donations we’ve made at sites like CaringBridge where we’ve helped some neighbors and friends in need. Usually we don’t get an acknowledgment. We’re not looking for thanks, but it would be nice to know the funds reached the intended persons.

      Donating by check is the best way to insure your money goes where you feel it is needed. And I still like to check Charity Navigator or some similar watchdog site, to insure that a large percentage of contributions go towards programs, and not to overhead or staff.