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More than half of Americans give to charity at checkout, survey shows

British runner Russ Cook celebrates with supporters after arriving to the finish line in Ras Angela, the most northern point of the African continent, in Tunis, Tunisia.
British runner Russ Cook celebrates with supporters after arriving to the finish line in Ras Angela, the most northern point of the African continent, in Tunis, Tunisia. (CREDIT: AP Photo/The Snapshot People LTD)

A recent survey conducted by Binghamton University, State University of New York, reveals that 53% of Americans engage in impulsive charitable giving at store checkouts. This study, led by Assistant Professor Lauren Dula and Ruth Hansen from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, sheds light on the demographics and behaviors of these donors, contrasting them with traditional charitable givers.

From supermarkets to online retail platforms, Americans are frequently prompted to donate at checkout, whether by rounding up their total, adding a set amount, or purchasing tokens.


Checkout charity campaigns raised nearly $750 million in 2022, with major contributions from Walgreens, PetSmart, and eBay. However, detailed profiles of these impulsive donors had been lacking until now.

“There are always marketing reports that talk about how many people gave and the total amount raised, but no one was focusing on who to target for these checkout donation requests,” Dula explained. “The old-school donor profile of a wealthy, educated, older individual doesn't apply here. Young and diverse people are more likely to contribute a little extra.”


The survey involved nearly 1,400 Americans, who reported whether they had donated money at a store checkout in the past year. Those who had donated answered additional questions about their donation methods and familiarity with the charities they supported. Over half (53%) of the respondents indicated they had given to charity in this manner, with an average annual donation of about $50.


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Survey questions included:

  • Did you round up your total charge?

  • Did you add an additional amount, such as $1 or $5?

  • Did you purchase a small token that would be displayed within the store?

  • Thinking of the last time you donated this way, how familiar were you with the charity?

  • How much money do you think you have donated in this way over the past year?

“Among those who donate, the most common method is rounding up their total to the nearest dollar,” Dula noted. “Adding a set amount, such as $1, is also popular, while purchasing tokens for in-store display is less common.”


Demographic analysis revealed that women and Black respondents are the most likely to participate in checkout charity. Middle-class individuals under 50 without college degrees are also more inclined to donate at the register. These findings differ from traditional donors, who are typically older, higher-earning college graduates.

“The total raised from checkout campaigns has increased yearly since 2012, but the frequent donation requests might lead to donor fatigue or annoyance,” Dula cautioned. “Impulse giving could decline if it becomes too routine, making ‘no thanks’ easier to say.”

The researchers plan to secure funding to repeat their survey in a post-COVID context. The initial survey was conducted in 2021, when many people were still avoiding in-person shopping.


Dula emphasized the importance of understanding how often respondents encounter donation requests in a typical week and their overall perception of these appeals.

“We are just beginning to explore the motivations behind impulse giving,” Dula said. “Having a donor profile helps retailers and charities understand their audience better. While well-known charities benefit from name recognition, these campaigns can also boost local organizations doing valuable work in the community.”

The survey results highlight a shift in charitable giving patterns, with younger and more diverse populations stepping up to contribute at checkout. This information can guide retailers and charities in tailoring their campaigns to engage these donors effectively, ensuring continued support for important causes.


The paper, “Who Will Spare a Dime? Impulse Giving Decisions at the Checkout,” was published in the Journal of Public and Nonprofit Affairs.

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