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In the current surge of the ‘checkout charity’ phenomenon, it is evident that certain Americans are more prone to impulsive giving than others.

If you reside in the United States, it’s likely that cashiers frequently inquire whether you would like to contribute to a cause supported by their employer. Causes such as Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, or relief efforts in Ukraine were some of the initiatives retailers promoted in 2022.

You might be prompted to round up your total to the nearest dollar, add a small amount, or “purchase” a shamrock, heart, or another token that will be displayed in the store with your name on it. Occasionally, these prompts are presented by a credit card reader or a website during an online purchase.

According to Engage for Good, a social impact organization, 77 businesses each raised over $1 million in 2022 from their customers for charity. These campaigns, the largest in the U.S., collectively raised $749 million. Some of the nation’s largest checkout charity campaigns are conducted through platforms like eBay, Walgreens, and PetSmart.

As researchers in the field of nonprofit management and charitable fundraising, we aimed to delve into the characteristics of individuals who engage in “impulse giving,” those who spontaneously contribute when asked at the checkout.

More than half give this way In contrast to an impulse buyer who purchases items they hadn’t planned to buy while shopping, impulse giving is linked to the widespread instinct to assist others.

To gain insights into the characteristics of those who have collectively contributed hundreds of millions of dollars in this manner, we conducted a national survey involving 1,383 American adults. The results of this survey will be published in an upcoming article in the Journal of Public and Nonprofit Affairs.

Participants, recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform, were asked about their checkout giving habits, the total amount they donated in the past year, and their preferred donation methods. Additionally, we collected demographic information to construct a profile of a typical impulse giver.

More than half of the respondents – 53% – indicated that they had contributed to charity while paying for their purchases in the previous year. Individuals who engage in this form of giving reported an average annual donation of about $50 to charities, roughly a dollar per week on average. Rounding up their total to the nearest dollar was the most prevalent form of checkout charity, with approximately 85% of impulse givers stating that they did so.

More than two-thirds of the identified impulse givers mentioned that they sometimes choose to add an extra amount to their purchase, such as $1, instead of rounding up. About one-fifth of those supporting charities at checkout reported purchasing tokens for in-store display.

Among those engaging in checkout charity, approximately 59% stated that they contribute to charities in multiple ways throughout the year.

Demographically, checkout charity appears to be more appealing to individuals under 50 and those with middle-class incomes ranging from $35,000 to $99,000 annually. Interestingly, college attendees were slightly less likely to give at the register compared to other survey participants. These patterns differ from direct donations to charitable organizations, where older individuals with higher incomes and more years of education are more likely to contribute.

Women are also more likely to engage in checkout charity and contribute more than men in this context. Additionally, there are demographic differences in the average amount donated, with Black respondents giving more on average than white respondents, even when accounting for other factors like age and income. Black Americans, in general, are reported to be more likely to participate in checkout charity than their white counterparts.

When considering the last time they donated at checkout, 31% of impulse givers claimed to be “very knowledgeable” about the receiving organization, while 12% stated having no familiarity at all. The majority had at least some awareness of the organization benefiting from their donation.

While the total raised from major checkout charity campaigns has increased annually, the frequent requests for donations during checkout may lead to customer complacency or potential annoyance. Customers, accustomed to these solicitations, might be becoming less impulsive in their giving decisions.



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