It can seem impossible to get through checkout at the grocery store or pharmacy these days without being prompted to donate money.
Sometimes it’s a sign, sometimes the cashier asks and sometimes a prompt pops up when you swipe your credit card. It can also be a frustrating combination of all of the above.
But regardless of the cause or how you’re asked, you should think twice before agreeing and consider handling your charitable donations personally. Following are some reasons why.
1. You don’t control where the money ends up
When you’re prompted for a donation, you’re usually told who is asking for money and at least something basic about why. And it’s reasonable to expect that the business is being honest.
But you didn’t pick the charity, and there might be another working more effectively toward the same goal. You don’t know why the store is working with a particular organization, and it may not always be straightforward.
For instance, a recent lawsuit against pharmacy chain CVS says its fundraising campaign for the American Diabetes Association was deceptive and that donations were being counted “toward the satisfaction of a legally binding obligation, which CVS had made to the ADA, to donate $10 million to the ADA” over a three-year period. It also claims CVS used donations to reimburse itself or pay down debt related to that agreement.
2. You don’t know when the money arrives
Another piece of information checkout donation prompts generally don’t provide is when your money will be given to the charity. Will the business hold the donations until it reaches a certain amount? Does it send them along one by one or in a quarterly batch?
Some people might prefer knowing their money will make a more immediate impact to help some person, place or thing.
3. You don’t have time to research the charity
A business having its employees make direct requests for donations may tug on your heartstrings a bit more than reading it on a computer screen. They’ve caught you with your wallet open, and you might feel anxious or pressured to donate without thinking.
“Act now” is a tried and true strategy for salespeople, and it prevents you from gathering other information like price comparisons and reviews to make an informed decision. Similarly, these checkout requests for donations don’t give you the opportunity to research what the charity’s goals are or how effective it is.
One idea is to decline to donate, then go home to research the charity. If everything sounds good, you can probably make a direct donation to the organization and avoid delays and any fees that could be involved in having a middleman. You could also simply donate twice as much the next time you visit the store.
4. You probably can’t deduct the donation on your taxes
Some people might think every donation is a good donation because it can use it to catch a break on federal income taxes. But the deduction for charitable contributions is an itemized deduction, meaning you can only claim it if you itemize your tax deductions, as opposed to claiming the flat-amount standard deduction.
Ever since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 roughly doubled the standard deduction, fewer people choose to itemize their taxes because the standard deduction saves them more money on their taxes. For example, the standard deduction for the 2023 tax year is $13,850 to $27,700 or more, depending on your tax-filing status.
Around 88% of taxpayers now claim the standard deduction. The other 12% itemize their deductions, which means only about 12% of taxpayers can deduct charitable contributions on their taxes.