THE BLOG
12/05/2014 03:26 pm ET Updated Feb 04, 2015

Don't Make Your Shoppers Feel Like Scrooges

Zero Creatives via Getty Images

Would you like to contribute $1 to education? $5 to eradicate cancer? $10 to support homeless pets? Questions like these are an increasingly common part of the retail experience for shoppers who get hit up for donations at cash register after cash register. And, this season there seem to be more "checkout charity" campaigns than ever.

Reuters recently asked me to comment on this phenomenon, asking if I thought these campaigns worked or not. I said our research indicates that, in general, checkout donation initiatives do not drive sales. That's not to say they don't do good or have merit. And it's not to say that they can't drive growth -- at least in some categories or through some executions. But speaking from my own personal experience, I would have to say that in general checkout charity doesn't make me feel better about the retailer or make me want to spend more. In fact, quite the opposite is often the case. Having a sales clerk ask me if I would like to donate before she/he rings up my purchase makes me feel ambushed... and guilty if I say no. That makes me resent the store for putting me in that position. It's not that I am not philanthropic. I am. But my personal giving is strategic not merely opportunistic. It focuses on causes I care deeply about and on supporting organizations that I'm confident deliver the social outcomes I am seeking to achieve. And I don't think I am alone in this.

One reason checkout charity is so common is because it's easy and because companies can end up looking generous -- sometimes without even investing a dime of their own money. So, I get the appeal. But does it really drive your brand if the shopper is turned off or simply confused as to why this store is working with this charity? For example, what does a grocery store really have to do with cancer research? I'm not sure. But a grocery store teaming up with Feeding America, now that would make sense. Or Toys R Us partnering with Save the Children. I get that. Heck, even my 10-year-old gets that -- and she chooses to donate because it resonates with her.

So, I'm not saying stop all checkout charity. But, if you are going to do it, do it right. Here are three simple ideas to make those efforts less offensive to those of us who are not fans but are devoted shoppers:

1) Have skin in the game. Rather than just asking shoppers for extra dollars, companies should match donations -- at least one for one.

2) Instead of forcing a hasty yes or no response, help me understand the bigger picture. Why should I invest in your cause? How is my checkout donation part of a larger strategy to create meaningful social change?

3) And finally, stop making your sales clerks ask. Make the display prominent and easy for people to contribute to but don't force me into a "yes" or "no" answer right on the spot. Use a sign not a voice. I'll let you know if I want to support your cause. And if I choose to donate, as opposed to feeling pressured, I'll get that "warm glow" of giving that we'd all love to feel this time of year.