Checkout charity is no doubt one of the most pervasive forms of modern-day philanthropy. You see it at your local Walmart, Costco, and Kmart, even at your local McDonalds, Chili, and Wendy’s. Nearly everywhere there’s a cash register, you have the option of donating a dollar or two to charity. As it happens, checkout charity is also one of the most successful forms of modern day philanthropy. In 2012, 63 campaigns across the country raised $358.4 million in donations. JCPenney alone raised $10.4 million in six months.

But it isn’t all good news.

In an article for the Tampa Bay Times, Susan Thurston takes a look at both sides of the issue. Checkout charity may be “big business for nonprofits,” but the practice isn’t necessarily sustainable. Charities receive no information about their donors, and, as a result, can’t make any follow-up requests down the line. Donating a dollar to cancer research at your local McDonald’s doesn’t do much to inspire a long-lasting relationship with the nonprofit accepting your money.

On the side of the consumer, the checkout charity model discourages responsible philanthropy. Spontaneous, “point-of-sale” fundraising makes it highly unlikely a person will do much research on the charity in question. The better option is to give to charities directly and diminish the risk that money might be diverted somewhere along the way. Direct donations also come with the benefit of a tax deduction and complete transparency with respect to where and how your money is being used.

In the words of Daniel Borochoff, president of CharityWatch, a prominent charity rating service in Chicago, be “more thoughtful, do some research, and find out what the charity is accomplishing.”

Photo courtesy NateOne

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