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Check-out Charities

Check-out Charities

It was Monday afternoon. I was in a hurry and in no mood to be hectored.

Company was coming for dinner and I was on my final supermarket run. I was at the checkout, debit card in the reader when the cashier looked up and chirped, “Would you like to round up for the United Way?”

I sighed. I glanced around and saw the man behind me, staring. I was embarrassed. I didn’t even look to my total to see what rounding up would mean.

“No,” I replied.

Not, “I’m so sorry” or “I gave at the office” just NO.

Nothing personal, United Way, I know you do amazing work in our community.

But I always say no to check-out charities. No matter how worthy the beneficiary. No matter how many people are within earshot.

I don’t like the tactic. I want it to stop.

You know how this works, right? The cashier has been instructed to ask loudly for a donation, which has the effect of shaming the shopper into giving. I mean, who wants to look like a miser to the rest of the schlumps waiting in line? Especially if your basket is full of wine or steak. Once one person has been goaded into giving, everyone else is more likely to follow suit. There's some kind of mass psychology at work here.

Lemmings. That’s what we are.

It works. News reports say about 71 percent of shoppers donate when asked, which translates into about $441 million a year.

Would you like to give a dollar to fight juvenile diabetes? Would you like to round up to help starving puppies? Would you like to give a contribution to wipe out monkey pox?

No, I wouldn’t. I’m part of the 29 percent Check-Out Charities Resistance.

The way I see it, I have my own favorite do-good organizations and I try to be generous to them. When I do donate I save my receipts for tax time.

So why should I help the giant corporation that owns Harris Teeter get a big tax break for charitable contributions that were collected from the wallets of coerced customers? Worse, why should I help CEOs look like mighty philanthropists - you know, posing for the obligatory photos with giant checks - when it’s OUR money they’re donating? (Except in cases where the retailer matches the contributions, of course.)

I'm not dissing the jars of change for the children’s' hospital or an animal shelter at 7-Eleven or McDonald’s. Most of us welcome these as a way to get rid of coins. They're a convenience. Besides, there's no pressure to drop in your nickels and dimes.

Check-out charities are something else. They pop up unexpectedly when the cashier rings your purchase and asks you if you want to fork over a buck to help help the homeless, save the whales or attack the disease du jour.


Sorry. My answer is no. Always.

But next time I contribute - on my own - to the United Way I’ll remember to include an extra buck. To make up for what they didn’t get from me yesterday.

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