Charity Shaming—Maybe Not So Bad After All
Most of us are familiar with “charity shaming” at the checkout. It’s where you’re asked if you’d like to donate to XYZ Charity, as you’re standing there paying for your merchandise with a bunch of other people around. Being put on the spot to make a donation in this way—even a small one—can feel disconcerting.
Whole Foods, in particular, is famous—or infamous—for this practice. If you’ve never seen it, take a minute and watch this classic clip from South Park called Nothing for Hungry Kids that lampoons Whole Foods for this practice.
Nevertheless, it turns out that “checkout charity” has become a big business. According to Engage for Good, in 2016, over $441 million was raised in the U.S. by a group of 73 point-of-sale fundraising campaigns that each raised in excess of $1 million. In total, these programs have raised more than $4.1 billion over three decades, and it’s trending up. Between 2014 and 2016 the dollars raised increased by almost five percent.
Retailers sometimes shy away from participating in checkout charity because they are unsure about how their customers will react to being asked to donate when they are paying for purchases. The last thing they want is to create an experience that will depress sales.
A recent study published in the academic journal Cornell Hospitality Quarterly suggests that retailer’s reluctance to participate may be misplaced. Researchers from Cornell University conducted multiple studies where they surveyed customers at a fast-food chain restaurant immediately after they were asked to donate.
The two main findings were customers had positive feelings as a result of their giving, and running a checkout charity program was good for the restaurant’s bottom-line.
Customers experienced what psychologists call the “warm glow effect,” as a result of making a donation. Researchers believe that consumers associate this positive emotional state with the retailer, making it more likely that they will return in the future and spend more of their dollars there.
Surprisingly, the customers who refused to donate had no negative feelings about the store brand. Being asked to donate and declining had no bearing on their desire to return to the retailer in the future.
Good for the charity and good for the retailer means that checkout charity may be in your future.
Katrina VanHuss and Otis Fulton have written a new book, Dollar Dash, on the psychology of peer-to-peer fundraising. Click here to download the first chapter, courtesy of NonProfit PRO!
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.