I’m not a trained hostage negotiator, and unfortunately, as of late, this fact is putting me at a disadvantage at certain big box stores. I feel quite unprepared when my purchases are “kidnapped” at the cash register until I offer an answer to their charitable donation request as the ransom to get them back.
I go into retail stores to buy my stuff and get out. I am not there to browse and I typically have a better place to be. I don’t mind a little friendly banter at the cash register, but the only money related question I want to hear is “debit or credit?” Why? Because I expect it. What I don’t expect is to be asked if I’d like to make a charitable contribution to “xyz making the world a better place charity” regardless of how insignificant the amount may be.
It’s like being asked if you’d like to buy Girl Guide cookies while you’re using a stall at a public restroom, and the seller won’t leave until you answer. The point, you ask? It’s a good sentiment, but there is a time and a place for everything.
Before you start penning a letter to the editor saying that I am a horrible person because I am against charitable contributions, let me be clear that I donate quite generously to several charities, and I do it because it feels right and it feels good. Cash register donation appeals don’t feel good. I feel blindsided and uncomfortable and I may not be the only one feeling that way.
The cashier probably doesn’t want to have to ask for the donation either. Did they know when they applied to be a cashier that they would also have to panhandle for their organization’s cause? People typically don’t like having to ask for money (nor do they want to be asked for it unless they are in the right mood).
My friend says that the gift is in the giving, so perhaps I should just smile and hand over the dollar here and two dollars there. Yet, unlike my other charitable giving, I don’t get a warm fuzzy feeling with this method ( … probably because that is left for the retailer’s CEO, who presents the handsome oversized cheque to the charity). In fact, I often walk away feeling a bit negatively towards the retailer and the charity as I’ve been “peer pressured” unexpectedly and unavoidably.
The peer pressure comes from the cashier standing there with her finger hovering over the “cheap bastard” or “social magnate” button to complete my purchase transaction. Additional social stigma hangs in the air like a bad smell as I am keenly aware that the people waiting in line behind me are likely eavesdropping to hear my answer. ( I ‘m pretty sure that their attention is not being held by the headlines of the celebrity gossip magazines on the racks .
With door-to-door canvassing, direct mail, email, and telemarketing I can choose to open the door, envelope, email, or to pick up the telephone, knowing that I am going to be asked for money. I can choose to give or say no thank you comfortably, without an audience. I also don’t have to lament for the canvassers as I know that they are being paid for asking, or have volunteered specifically to do so. These methods just seems so much more civil.
The bottom-line is that I want to be able to choose my charities, on my own time, and in the spirit of giving instead of being under the pressure of a moment where (as my friend says) I am corralled at the cash register like a bone-headed cow headed for the abattoir.
If retailers really want to be charitable (and fair to their customers) I’d respectfully ask that they stop the cash register donation solicitation. Instead, staff or volunteers could collect near the entrance of the store; cashiers could notify customers that donations are being accepted at customer service or in a container near the exit; retailers could stick with collection jars or boxes at every register; or they could simply dig into their own pockets for the contribution.
I understand that retailers’ contributions to these charities is very important and should not be deterred, and I also recognize that people often need a gentle reminder to donate. However, I simply ask that retailers find a more creative way to engage customers with their cause without forcing us into a corner by pairing their plea with our purchases.