Corporate Charity Giving

Donate Radley Balko writes about “a minor irritation” we both share.

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?


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.

Radley suggests asking the cashier if the company will be making matching contributions and “politely reply that you have your own causes and charities you support.”

My own stance is to simply say “No.”  And, frankly, I no longer even feel guilty about it. I consider the companies’ practice rude and don’t feel the slightest compunction in treating the intrusion as such, much less explain myself.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. steve says:

    I say no and have zero guilt. We contribute heavily to many causes, but only after researching them. I would suggest others do the same as all too often, little of what you donate goes for the intended purpose.


  2. Michael says:

    I view these the same way I view people walking around in traffic collecting money in buckets. I too have stopped feeling guilty about it, and have come to resent the fact that we’re even expected to feel guilty about declining a random solicitation of money.

    I’ve practically stopped giving money to charities all together. I have my own non-profit that I run, and other causes that I care about get my time and energy. But nobody gets anything from me simply because they asked for it.

  3. 11B40 says:


    I use the “No, and I find your asking intrusive and an abuse of my custom.” approach.

  4. This is partially the public’s fault. It should be enough for a company to provide quality goods and services to their customers. Instead many people expect companies to be “socially responsible” as well.

    When we expect companies to donate huge amounts of money to charity to avoid social and government harrassment, it’s hard to complain when they pass the blackmail on to their customers.

  5. just me says:

    I say “no” and am pretty guilt free. I donate to causes and charities I know and really want to support.

    I do think it puts customers on the spot and frankly, if the company feels strongly about a charity, they should just fork over the money themselves.

    I prefer to donate by choice. The local animal shelter sets up outside Walmart a couple or so times a year with a wish list of various items, and customers can pick one or two or however much up as they shop, and drop it off as they leave. I actually like supporting a charity this way, and they will provide a charitable contribution receipt as you drop the stuff off as you leave.

  6. Franklin says:

    Dr. Joyner-

    I check this site nearly every day, and the new additions of Doug and Steven are producing so much material that this post and the Libertarian Paternalism were already pushed to the “next 10 posts” by the time I checked it. My opinion is that most will miss these interesting posts because they aren’t on the front page.

    I have no particular suggestion, and have no problem at all with the material being produced, I’m just pointing out what I see as an issue with the newer high-volume OTB.

  7. James Joyner says:

    I have no particular suggestion, and have no problem at all with the material being produced, I’m just pointing out what I see as an issue with the newer high-volume OTB.

    Thanks. There’s a redesign underway and hopefully we’ll solve that problem and the recent/recurring performance issues. Should be launched this month.

    We’re already showing 15 posts on the front page but I’ll trying bumping to 20, although that may slow the load.