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Consumer expert explains benefits, precautions when giving store check-out donation

Posted at 2:39 PM, May 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-22 16:39:00-04

MISSOULA - You’ve probably seen the option to donate a dollar or $2 when you whip out your credit card at your favorite grocery store or local shop.

Making a charitable donation at store checkouts is becoming more accessible than ever.

Consumer experts say it's a convenient way for people to give back to their community and help keep company overhead costs to a minimum.

“Store check-out donations have become very popular in recent years,” said Laurie Styron, the executive director of CharityWatch. It’s an organization that looks into fraud or financial mismanagement of charitable donations letting donors know where their dollar is going, according to Styron.

“One reason for that is it’s actually a fairly inexpensive way for a non-profit to raise a lot of money in a short amount of time. You have a captive audience at the store check-out line,” Styron said.

Multiple non-profit organizations across Montana are jumping on the growing trend.

Make-a-Wish Montana and South Dakota raised $186,152 in their 2023 campaign with Albertsons stores in the Intermountain region.

Shodair’s Children’s Hospital raised $17,220 in 2022 through its ongoing campaign at the Panda Express in Missoula. The children’s hospital also raised a total of $110,407 in 2022 at all Panda Express franchise locations in Montana.

“Shodair has been extremely blessed over the years by the generous charitable giving of individuals as well as businesses,” said Shodair Children’s Hospital CEO Craig Aasved. “Panda Express has been one of those special businesses continually supporting Shodair and our mission; ‘To heal, help and inspire hope.’ We are very proud to be partners with such a fine company.”

The Missoula Food Bank and Community Center raised $32,000 from its campaign with Missoula Albertsons stores during the 2022 holiday season. Missoula Food Bank executive director Amy Allison Thompson told MTN store donations have played a key role in keeping the community’s needs met.

“The charitable donations that we receive are absolutely what makes this work happen,” Thompson said. “Without the support of our community, there’s no way that we could be making the impact that we’re making and really working to meet the need here.”

As for other organizations, how do you know if your dollar is going to the right place?

“If you're donating at a very popular store, they’re not going to want to risk their reputation by collecting those donations and not conveying those donations to the charities. So, most of the time, you can have some confidence that the money that’s being collected is getting to the charity.” Styron said.

With the creative scams and advanced technology making headlines these days, it may leave those willing to give a little hesitant.

CVS was at the center of a lawsuit last December, according to the Associated Press. The lawsuit alleges CVS was using donations it collected from customers to fulfill a pre-existing pledge of $10 million that the pharmacy chain had already given to the American Diabetes Association. Experts say hiccups like this aren't common.

“You don’t hear too many situations, especially of a very famous, well-known store being accused of something like this,” Styron said. “It is unusual, but it shouldn’t turn people off completely to this type of donating, but it is certainly a cautionary tale.”

If you’re not sure about what different organizations are doing with your precious donation, experts encourage you to familiarize yourself with the charity by researching.

“Instead of waiting to be asked for a donation, go out there and find the causes that are important to you and then make a gift once you have taken the time to vet a particular organization,” Styron said.

All of the non-profit organizations mentioned in this story confirmed with MTN that they receive 100% of the donations provided at grocery stores or fast-food restaurants.