Rounding Up at the Checkout? It's Big Business

And part of a pretty smart strategy on the part of charities
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 12, 2024 2:32 PM CDT
Those Checkout Line Donations Are Big Business
The pennies add up.   (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Brother, can you spare a dime? The answer to most Americans is probably yes. But when asked to give a dollar, a lot of people hesitate. Thus, as NPR reports, we have found ourselves inundated at any number and type of checkout lines asking us on the spot if we want to round up our payment for a charity. That change generally isn't in our pockets, it just goes to a nice round number on the credit card with the punch of a button. And it's working—because really, who wants to say no to hungry children or veterans in front of the person behind you in line—to the tune of millions of dollars per year. A look around the landscape:

  • The rationale: The Taco Bell Foundation, which funds things like the Boys & Girls Club, is a case in point. Previous campaigns asked patrons to donate a buck, but in 2019 they switched to a round-up campaign at the register. "The data we had at that point was that customers were three times more likely to round up than to donate a dollar," says executive director Jennifer Bradbury. The net result? About $42 million last year with an average donation of 44 cents.
  • The tally: Charities that raised $1 million-plus clocked $749 million in 2022, which was a 24% spike over two years prior.
  • Who's giving: The charitable, whose numbers have spiked since the pandemic, and those with checkout-line guilt. "It's such a low-cost ask that to say no starts to induce slight feelings of guilt," says Ike Silver, assistant professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.
  • Too much? Still, customers are faced with a lot of these requests, and what the Philadelphia Inquirer calls "donation fatigue" is becoming a factor.
(More charity stories.)

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