They are called micro-gifts, and they add up. We had requests at Costco, PetSmart, and our local grocery in the past week to add a dollar (or five or ten) to a purchase to give to a charity. There is even “an app for that,” developed by three teens, although it isn’t clear how they vet charities to fit the marketing line that they are "carefully selected service organizations”
I asked my teens Ann, Elle, and Lia what they think about this form of giving. They all said that these gifts are a good thing for the charities because they can raise more money from lots of small donations. They liked that the amounts requested fit easily within their income or allowance.
But they also said that such giving does not teach care for others. Instead, the donors are likely already people who give (two-thirds of households in the U.S. are donors) or are literally acting on impulse, like buying a bag of chips or a candy bar at the check-out line.
Ann said it was like an electronic version of the Salvation Army bell ringers – you drop a little money in, but you don’t really think about the needs. Elle wondered how the checkout personnel feel in the campaigns where they have to ask, “Do you want to give a dollar to….?” She wants to follow-up with her friends who work in retail because she is concerned that they might develop negative attitudes to charitable giving in general through a requirement of their jobs. Lia pointed out that people who do not like this kind of request might go shop elsewhere. I suspect there are no studies about that unintended consequence.
Our daughters thought that if someone acted on impulse, that was better than not giving, but it would be even better if they acted from principle, from knowing that giving was the right thing to do. Without coaching from me, these 15- and 17-year olds differentiated giving motives identified by Rene Bekkers and Mark Wilhelm in a very well-done study of motives. Basically, empathy is good but the “principle of care” is fundamental to helping others.
As for us, we picked up the card at the market to give to the food pantry, but we did not add a dollar for the local children’s hospital or funding for homeless pets. Basically, we used micro-gifts to support causes that we already support. I wonder how many others do the same.