Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed more and more retail outlets who instruct cashiers to ask me for donations to various causes when I’m making a purchase. I was hit up a couple of times two donate a dollar or two to breast cancer awareness last week, today at Costco for children’s hospitals, and for a panoply of causes pretty much every time I’ve gone to Whole Foods for the last year. My favorites are the two big pet supply retailers, Petco and PetSmart, where they ask you to donate to various homeless pet charities. You’re presumably standing there because you’ve just bought something for your own pet. How cold do you have to be to refuse an extra dollar for pets without homes? You bastard.
It’s usually only a dollar or two, but I’m starting to find all of this a bit irritating. I have no quarrels with companies that put out a display or collection bucket, or let workers from the charity come and ask for donations on the premises. (To give one example, I think IHOP’s “free pancake day” fundraiser is brilliant. And delicious.) But the popular tactic of late seems to be to put the customer on the spot. Customer then looks like an asshole if he declines to toss in an extra dollar or two for whatever cause the company happens to be pushing. I mean, you can’t spare a buck? What, are you pro breast cancer?
Thing is, there’s no time to check to see if the cause is actually worth supporting. And frankly, there are plenty of noble-sounding causes that aren’t. (See the American Cancer Society or the American Heart Association, both of which push for Nanny State legislation, for example.) At the end of the campaign, the company then gets to present a big check to the given cause and get “corporate citizen” points, when all it’s really done is charge its customers a couple bucks per visit to feel free of guilt for the rest of the day. Or at least until the next time they’re hit up at the check-out line.
I realize that many of these companies do make significant contributions to various causes outside of these campaigns. That doesn’t make the campaigns themselves any less annoying.
Here’s my suggestion: Next time the YuppieCorp cashier asks if you’d like to donate $3 to purchase progressive jazz CDs for Haitian orphans, ask if YuppieCorp will be matching your donation dollar for dollar. That at least makes some sense. If the answer is “no” or “I don’t know”—and I suspect that will usually be the case—politely reply that you have your own causes and charities you support.