Pitching in While Checking Out: Retail-driven Fundraising is Growing



At checkouts across the country, people are asked to make a $1 gift or $5 gift to a charity of the retailer’s choice. How effective are these campaigns at raising funds with tiny donations and no hope for donor engagement?

Very effective. That’s according to Engage for Good’s biannual study, the 2019 “America’s Charity Checkout Champions.” Charity checkout campaigns are also known as point-of-sale fundraising or checkout donations. In their recently released report, charity checkout campaigns raised more than $486 million in 2018. Overall, these campaigns have raised $5.3 billion in the past three decades. Moreover, the campaigns seem to be growing; 79 campaigns raised over $1 million, compared to only 73 in 2016, when the study was last conducted. And they report a 10 percent increase in money raised through these campaigns from 2016 to 2018.

These charity checkout campaigns can have different structures, whether it entails adding an amount to a pre-existing purchase, or a company donating a portion of the proceeds from an item to a cause. For instance, Best Buy held a 12-week campaign that accepted contributions in stores and online, raising over $20 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Lyft introduced the Round Up & Donate program in 2017, in which people can opt to round up their fares, donating the change to one of the participating national and local charities.

The report notes that traditional retailers and online companies have participated in these programs. eBay was No. 1, raising $69 million for over 66,000 charities. PetSmart followed, raising $42 million for PetSmart Charities. While the report focuses on $1 million campaigns, it notes that there are successful charity checkouts at all levels across the U.S., including local restaurants and mom and pop stores.

When asked about these charity checkouts in an interview, Reenie Collins, executive director of Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM) explains, “Corporations now have a much broader view of social responsibility. I think they see that they can create a win/win situation: They get exposure for themselves and get to be seen as a philanthropic company while the nonprofit benefits [from the funds].”

HAAM has been a part of Lyft’s Round Up & Give program since 2017, and there have been benefits from the partnership on both sides. HAAM “provides access to affordable healthcare for Austin’s low-income working musicians,” while many Lyft drivers in Austin are musicians who may benefit from HAAM’s services. The partnership evolved from event sponsorship to its Round-Up & Donate campaign, and now, Lyft offers free ride credits for musicians going to medical appointments. Charity checkouts might be the first step of engaging with a company or a series of touchpoints between a nonprofit and a company.

Collins notes that it’s important to be thoughtful about the partnerships a nonprofit builds with companies. Companies need to be vetted to ensure mission alignment and to avoid possible blowback.

Corporations also require the right partnerships with nonprofits. Aaron Fox, general manager, Texas, at Lyft, explains in an interview about their relationship with HAAM: “We at Lyft in Austin are very intentional in that we want to support and promote musicians and music. HAAM is the sweet spot of that focus...We are trying to touch the same people at the same level.” 

Dr. Sandy Goldberg, founder of A Silver Lining Foundation (ASL), a nonprofit that helps to provide free access to breast cancer screening based in Chicago, agrees that nonprofits should be prepared for vetting, as well: “Donors are more engaged than they ever were before.” Nonprofits should be prepared to answer questions about their mission and how they used funds.

Even when a partnership is made, Jeff Hauk, vice president and director of philanthropy programs for the Trust for Public Land, whose mission “is to create parks and protect land for people,” explains that it’s important for both the nonprofit and the corporation to take the time to get to know each other. The trust is a newer entrant into Lyft’s Round Up & Donate program, joining in 2019.

Moreover, in addition to raising funds, these retail programs are a great way to raise the profile of a nonprofit with the public. Hauk explains that he sees this partnership as “a great opportunity to connect people to the Trust for Public Land’s mission.”

And don’t forget the human touch. Dr. Goldberg notes that nonprofits need to communicate with corporations. She says, “Thank and bank. Whenever we get a check, before we do anything, we write the thank-you letter, and then cash the check.” This is true whether a donor is an individual or a company. Companies have people behind them, as well. Fox notes the importance of communication for their relationship with HAAM: “We have a really great working relationship with HAAM leadership. That makes all the difference... I know that anyone at Lyft can reach out to anyone at HAAM and receive good treatment, and vice versa. The trust level is really high.”

Moreover, these partnerships can be a real boost to employees’ sense of pride at a company. Fox explains, “Everyone who works in the local office is proud about the impact we have with HAAM and other organizations.”

While principals put much time and effort into these partnerships, Collins has one more critical piece of advice: “Nonprofits need to think outside of the box and be more creative.” There are many ways to engage corporations and individuals, and organizations should try different campaigns to raise funds. Collins credits Lyft for finding creative new ways to HAAM and Lyft to work together to better serve their target markets.

There’s great potential for nonprofits and corporations to work together to develop effective charity checkout campaigns. And when they do, it can be a real meeting of the minds.

For the full Engage for Good report, click here.