Stop Donating at the Cash Register, Already

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Whether you shop primarily online or in person, you’ve likely been asked to make a donation to some kind of charitable organization as you’re checking out. Sometimes it’s rounding up the total of your order to the nearest dollar, and donating the change. Other times, you have the option of donating $1, $2, or another amount—or declining.

But if you’re looking for your dollars to have more of an impact, you should consider giving your money directly to a charity. Here’s what to know.

Are checkout donations a scam?

As a Lifehacker post from March 2021 points out, donations made at the cash register aren’t part of some sort of scheme where they are use to reimburse the retailers for previously donated funds.

But thanks to a lawsuit filed in New York in May 2022—alleging that CVS was using checkout donations to fulfill a pledge the pharmacy chain made to the American Diabetes Association to contribute $10 million over the course of three years—people are once again taking a closer look at this type of charitable giving. (Even though the lawsuit will likely be dismissed.)

Is this type of fundraising effective?

According to Engage for Good, in 2020, more than $605 million was raised at the checkout counter: Most of it in the form of donations of less than $1. So, if nothing else, that’s money that these charitable organizations would probably not have received otherwise.

However, in an email to Verywell Health, Laurie Styron, executive director of CharityWatch, said that it’s not necessarily that straightforward. For example, part of your donation may be used to cover administration fees—rather than the organization itself—and in some cases, a considerable amount of time may pass between when you made your donation at the cash register, and when the charity actually sees the money.

“In the worst case, your donation may never make it to the charity at all,” Styron told Verywell Health. This is why she recommends donating to charities directly, rather than through third parties, like a grocery store or pharmacy. 

Why you should skip donating to charities at the cash register

Needless to say, given all of that, donating to your favorite charities directly is usually a better option than doing so at the checkout. Here’s why:

You can choose where your money goes

Checkout donations typically benefit a charity that the retailer selected. And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with their choice, but you might want to give your money to a local charity instead, or one that benefits a specific medical condition that has affected you or your family.

It makes doing your taxes easier (if you itemize deductions)

Those who itemize their tax deductions can use charitable donations to reduce the amount of their taxable income. And while you can deduct donations made at the checkout—using your receipts as a record—it’s much easier to make a donation directly to a charity, and get a single receipt.

It gives you the chance to research the charity

Websites like CharityWatch and Charity Navigator allow you to look up different organizations to learn more about their values, as well as how they spend their money. When you donate at the checkout, you typically don’t have time for that (especially if people are behind you in line).

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