Supermarket cashiers keep asking me to donate $1 to charity. Should I feel bad for saying no?

Advice on how to make the world better.
April 22 2009 6:56 AM

Checkout Charities

Supermarket cashiers keep asking me to donate $1 to charity. Should I feel bad for saying no?

Do you have a real-life do-gooding dilemma? Please send it to ask.my.goodness@gmail.com and Patty and Sandy will try to answer it.

Dear Patty and Sandy,

I am growing increasingly resentful of the store clerks who ask me if I'd like to donate $1 to cure cancer, help homeless pets, feed the homeless, cure muscular dystrophy, etc., every time I shop. While they are all good causes, I don't donate to anything that I don't have an opportunity to look into myself. Should I just give? Invest the time to ask for more information every time I go to the store? Ask to speak to the manager? Is there a Web site that critiques the charities?

Eva

Sandy:

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You're not alone, Eva. These supermarket "asks" have become ubiquitous. This article  features an annoyed shopper who is actually driving out of her way to avoid the pleas at her local Safeway. On the other hand, Safeway says it drummed up more than $40 million in checkout-line donations in 2007. So what do you do when you're asked to cure cancer every time you need a gallon of milk?

Start by looking at where the money is going. Recognize the name? Care about the issue? Respect the organization? Then give your nickel instead of letting it rattle around in the bottom of your purse. Would you rather give to homeless people than homeless pets? Then save your nickels, fill up a jar, and take it to a  Coinstar  machine, where you can choose from several well-known charities, from Feeding America to the World Wildlife Fund.

According to the IRS's  last published data  (from 2005), there are 807,421 active nonprofit charitable organizations. It's no wonder we're being asked to give every time we turn around, and you absolutely shouldn't feel bad for just saying no. As my mom and I told Erica in a recent column, the best way to donate is to take the time to figure out a few good charities, make a giving plan, and stick to it. There are a lot of ways to rank charities: Charity NavigatorGuideStar, and the  Better Business Bureau  are good places to start.

Patty:

I've got an easier answer than Sandy's: Just say, "Thanks, but I've got my own giving plan!" and move on. You should feel great that you have a plan (you do have a plan, right?), and you shouldn't ever feel bad about saying no. I never give to these quick-change fundraisers myself, but I don't resent their presence, either. Most organizations that resort to checkout-line fundraising are trying their best to raise awareness and a bit of money at the same time. If it doesn't work, they'll get the message and try another approach.

Do you have a real-life do-gooding dilemma? Please send it to ask.my.goodness@gmail.com and Patty and Sandy will try to answer it.

In our ongoing effort to do better ourselves, we're donating 25 percent of the proceeds from this column to ONE.org—an organization committed to raising public awareness about the issues of global poverty, hunger, and disease and the efforts to fight such problems in the world's poorest countries.

Patty Stonesifer is the chair of the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents and a senior adviser to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where she was president, then CEO for 10 years. She spent the first two decades of her career in the technology business, where her last job was senior vice president at Microsoft.

Sandy Stonesifer works on issues related to adolescent girls' health at a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.