Checkout Charity: How Do the Pennies Add Up?

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September 1, 2013; Tampa Bay Times

If you’ve been to the grocery store lately, you were probably asked to donate to charity. Checkout charity campaigns are becoming an increasingly common way for nonprofits to raise funds and for corporations to indirectly contribute to good causes. The Cause Marketing Forum recently analyzed 63 campaigns that had each raised more than $1 million in 2012, a combined total of more than $358 million raised that year. (Their extensive list of campaigns follows at the end of this Newswire.)

Three of the biggest efforts of 2012 were as follows:

  1. EBay raised more than $54 million by encouraging online sellers to donate a portion of their proceeds to charity.
  2. Walmart and Sam’s Club’s six-week Miracle Balloon campaign raised more than $41 million in 2012. Four thousand stores were involved in raising the funds to be donated to a national network of pediatric hospitals.
  3. McDonald’s coin collection raised $28 million in 2012. More than 13,000 restaurants participated, raising funds for Ronald McDonald House Charities.

While these large campaigns catch our attention, thousands of smaller campaigns are also being organized around the country in businesses large and small. According to the Cause Marketing Forum, over the last 29 years, these sorts of campaigns have raised more than $2.3 billion for charity.

Health is the clear winner when it comes to checkout charity, receiving 68 percent of all donations. Children’s health charities received 47 percent of the funds analyzed by the Cause Marketing Forum. Significant donations went to well known organizations, such as St. Jude Children’s Hospital and the Children’s Miracle Network. Twenty-one percent of funds analyzed were donated to other (non-children’s) health-related concerns, such as autism, cystic fibrosis, breast cancer and muscular dystrophy.

Such campaigns have grown in recent years and are becoming so routine that many customers are becoming desensitized. In some cases, customers even dread the inevitable question.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that Jennie Blackburn of Redington Shores, Florida, said, “If there’s a bunch of people in line behind me and the cashier asks me to make a donation, it makes me feel so trapped and judged, especially if it’s for the troops…It’s a lot of pressure.”

There are four key solicitation tactics used by companies. Consumers are typically asked if they would like to:

  1. Purchase an Icon/Pinup for a set dollar amount
  2. Give a direct donation
  3. Put loose change in a collection jar
  4. Round up purchases to nearest dollar

Nonprofits interested in developing a campaign should do their homework. In our post-Sarbanes-Oxley world, there are numerous legal issues involved with such fundraising efforts. The laws and registration requirements vary from state to state.

The Cause Marketing Campaign’s report offers seven tips:

  1. Select the right partner
  2. Educate employees
  3. Create professional materials
  4. Build incentives for customers
  5. Involve vendors to build a total store event
  6. Analyze the data
  7. Recognize and thank

These seven tips seem simple enough but beware. It can be more complicated than you think. Remember the Pink Bucket campaign launched by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Kentucky Fried Chicken? This 2010 campaign raised $2 million in its first week, but garnered much negative attention when activists pointed out that the campaign seemed to send contradictory messages: It’s okay to eat fatty, fried foods as long as you get a breast exam. A seemingly good idea quickly became a public relations nightmare.

Like it or not, checkout charity campaigns are here to stay. They are an easy way for corporations to demonstrate corporate social responsibility. The campaigns raise significant funds, mostly for the larger and well-known nonprofit organizations. And they allow donors to contribute in small amounts.—Jennifer Amanda Jones

Company Name Charitable Beneficiary Year Initiated Final Donation 2012 Total Campaign Donation Since Inception
eBay Over 22,000 nonprofit organizations 2003 $54,020,000 $240,968,189
WalMart and Sam’s Club


Children’s Miracle Network


1987 $41,643,464 $556,750,072




Ronald McDonald House

Charities, Inc.

1992 $27,900,000 $227,400,000


Costco Wholesale Children’s Miracle Network


1988 $14,444,331 $136,649,713




Hundreds of nonprofit


2001 $12,350,561 $107,516,468


Easter Seals

Special Olympics

Rebuilding Together

Multiple local nonprofits

1986 $9,237,548 $139,000,000


Safeway The Prostate Cancer Foundation 2001 $9,235,491 $84,932,527
Walgreen Co. Susan G. Komen for the Cure 2011 $8,541,403  
Kmart March of Dimes 1983 $8,000,000 $106,000,000
Safeway The Muscular Dystrophy

Association (MDA)

2002 $7,607,677 $68,782,673




The Muscular Dystrophy

Association (MDA)

2001 $7,600,000 $30,000,000




St. Jude Children’s Research


2006 $7,500,000 $37,000,000
Pizza Hut


United Nations World Food


2007 $7,400,000




St. Jude Children’s Research


2004 $6,400,000 $37,446,525




Children’s Miracle Network


1991 $6,272,307 $50,000,000


Rite Aid 97 Children’s Miracle Network


1994 $6,000,000 $56,000,000


iTunes American Red Cross   $5,300,000  
Walgreen Co. American Red Cross 2011 $5,287,932  
CVS/Pharmacy ALS Therapy Alliance

Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

2002 $5,200,000 $30,274,639


Chili’s Grill & Bar* St. Jude Children’s Research


2002 $5,059,671


Food Lion Children’s Miracle Network


1991 $5,000,000 $45,000,000
Macy’s Reading is Fundamental 2004 $4,800,000 $27,000,000
Dick’s Sporting


St. Jude Children’s Research


2007 $4,800,000 $22,000,000


Taco Bell Taco Bell Foundation for Teens

Various nonprofit organizations

2010 $4,200,000 $10,000,000


Toys ’R’ Us Toys for Tots 2004 $4,000,000 $31,600,000
ANN INC. St. Jude Children’s Research


2007 $4,000,000 $15,800,000**
Williams Sonoma*


St. Jude Children’s Research




Spirit Halloween Over 130 children’s hospitals 2006 $3,500,000 $11,000,000
jcpenney Salvation Army 2012 $3,400,000  
Walgreen Co. American Diabetes Association 2011


Macy’s The Nature Conservancy 2012 $3,200,000  
Food Lion Easter Seals 2004 $3,100,000 $16,000,000
Macy’s March of Dimes and 8,000 local nonprofits 2006 $3,100,000 $42,000,000


Toys ’R’ Us Autism Speaks 2007 $3,100,000 $13,300,000
GNC* St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital 2006 $3,100,000 $10,000,000


Stop N Shop The Jimmy Fund 1995 $3,000,000 $50,000,000
Wendy’s Dave Thomas Foundation for


1996 $2,790,000 $20,000,000


Arby’s Share Our Strength 2011 $2,665,129 $4,170,000
Publix 21 Children’s Miracle Network


1992 $2,507,029 $23,576,549
New York & Company* St. Jude Children’s Research


2008 $2,500,000 $10,000,000
Corner Stores 32 Children’s Miracle Network


1997 $2,357,229 $16,902,450


Claire’s* St. Jude Children’s Research




jcpenney USO 2012 $1,900,000  
Toys ’R’ Us Alex’s Lemonade Stand


2011 $1,900,000 $3,400,000


Sears Rebuilding Together and its 200

local affiliates

2007 $1,800,000 $15,500,000


Sunglass Hut One Sight 2006 $1,792,445 $6,700,000
jcpenney Breast Cancer Research Foundation 2012 $1,600,000


Circle K American Red Cross 2010 $1,513,160 $3,000,000
Ace Hardware Children’s Miracle Network


1991 $1,500,000 $50,000,000


jcpenney 4H Boys & Girls Clubs 2012 $1,490,000  
Finish Line* Special Olympics   $1,450,000  
Love’s Travel Stops &

Country Stores

Children’s Miracle Network




Wells Fargo American Red Cross   $1,400,000  
Brooks Brothers


St. Jude Children’s Research


Make-A-Wish Foundation

2005 $1,350,693 $7,785,000
Jiffy Lube Muscular Dystrophy Association   $1,250,000  
Famous Footwear March of Dimes 2003 $1,245,000 $11,195,000
JP Morgan/Chase American Red Cross 2012 $1,198,324  
American Airlines U.S. Fund for UNICEF 1994 $1,185,740 $8,880,407
Kia Motors   $1,150,000  
jcpenney Share Our Strength 2012 $1,100,000  
TJX Companies American Red Cross 2012 $1,030,331  
Joe’s Crab Shack Share Our Strength 2005 $1,013,998 $2,400,000
Family Video Lymphoma Research Foundation   $1,000,000  

* Data gathered from publicly available sources. ** Reflects several programs

  • Ren

    Magic happens when volunteers of a non-profit’s local office can bring their 1st-hand stories to the retail employees. It’s the ‘ah-ha’ moment that connects an employee to the cause. This understanding is critical to a successful ‘ask for support’ of their customer.

  • Geraldine

    How do you get in touch with the organizations to be considered for partnerships in their charity checkout campaign?