Forced Giving: Does Taking Without Asking Make You a Grinch?

Are you a grinch for taking a donation without asking first?

I took the family to New York City this past weekend for some holiday fun, and ran into this cause marketing promotion at Norma’s in The Parker Meridien.

When I opened the menu this announcement fell out (focus on the bottom part):

You can read it for yourself, but the hotel is teaming up with City Harvest again this year for a gingerbread house contest. To vote you have to donate a buck to City Harvest, which I’m fine with. City Harvest is a great organization.

Here’s the wrinkle: this is an opt-out fundraiser. Unless you tell the wait staff you don’t want to participate they’ll add a buck–per person–to your bill. In addition to having to read the fine print on this fundraiser, the waitstaff didn’t say anything to me . (This isn’t uncommon with restaurant staff as they generally think fundraisers like this one hurt tips. I don’t totally disagree with them.)

One Side of the Coin

It’s nice to collect money, but the goodwill is absent as people have no clue about the fundraiser. If you’ve ever been to Norma’s, you’ll know that your eyes are pretty focused on the food and menu items such as Irresistible Banana-Macadamia Nut Flap Jacks with Whipped Banana Brown Sugar Butter . . . and little else.

So, do we agree that not asking people to donate and just taking their money–unless they notice–is a bad thing, right?

The Other Side

Let’s look at it from another perspective. It wasn’t so long ago that I was working at a nonprofit and feeling the pressure to raise money. Despite what you feel about fundraising tactic, the amount that will be raised is pretty darn good.

Yeah, some people will get upset (I asked the hostess and she said some people complained and asked for the donation to be removed from their bill). But most people will let it slide. And who really wants to look like the jerk by asking that the donation be removed!

What Do You Think?

Does the downside outweigh the upside? If anyone can get away with this it will be a charity. Adding a donation is very different than slipping in an extra fee, which really makes people angry when they find it.

Is it okay to take without asking when it’s for charity? Is this a good or bad example of cause marketing?

23 thoughts on “Forced Giving: Does Taking Without Asking Make You a Grinch?”

  1. Hrmmm….great question, Joe. I’ve got to say that there’s something just a *teeny* bit deceptive about this, particularly if you DON’T read the fine print (which, experience tells me most people won’t). What did the receipt look like? Was there a special line item that said, “$1 to City Harvest”? Most people WOULD give a dollar and probably wouldn’t MIND giving a dollar but to charge and not inform overtly? Muddy.

  2. I work for a nonprofit… so I understand the “need.” But as a consumer, I don’t want to be forced into giving. I even dislike being asked at the register if I’d like to donate a $1 or round up my purchase for some worthy cause. There are lots and lots of worthy causes. But I want to decide what cause I give to. Adding pressure doesn’t make me feel good about giving.

    1. Michelle, that’s how I felt: a bit conflicted. I know what it’s like to be on the inside of a nonprofit and feel the pressure. But I think the downside of this program, especially the long term impact, is too steep for everyone involved.

  3. This tactic would make me feel differently (as in not so great) about both the restaurant and the non-profit. Fundraising should be inspirational, motivating a donor to feel good about giving, and not by default.

  4. Joe, how did YOU feel? Did you feel it was a bit manipulative? did you let them take your money? Would it have made a difference if it were a smaller amount? Or a larger one?nnI think it’s sneaky. It’s hard enough to make money at a nonprofit, but this doesn’t create loyal donors. This creates resentment about taking without being asked.nIf the goal is to get loyal donors, then this campaign is not going to work. If the goal is to simply get as much money as possible, then I think it would work.nnnMazarinen

    1. I didn’t feel manipulative, but I try to discount my own opinion because I’m immersed in this stuff and this Joe won’t have the average-Joe response to it. But for what it’s worth, my wife thought it was crumby. 🙂

  5. What works for me, and might make me want to donate MORE than $1.n1. Server/Clerk makes a genuine ask for the donation, and explains WHY.n2. Opt-in instead of opt-out.n3. Merchant matches my gift. (Otherwise, they’re just passing my donation along, and not really adding much value).n4. Merchant stops asking, or clarifies once the limit of their matching has been met.

  6. Bad idea. It is never ok to take without asking, especially if its for charitable purposes. If it had been me, I not only would have opted out, but would have complained to the general manager, not provided the waiter with a tip (which isn;t necessary unless the service/meal is deserving) and reported them to the BBB. As professional fundraisers, it is never a good idea to require a potential donor to opt-out. “Ask and you shall receive” is how I was raised. Sure, fundraising is tough, but its never ok to steel. Finally – if the gift is coming from me, regardlessof the amount, where is my acknowledgmednt letter? The ask needs to say the gift is coming from the customer and being made on behalf of the resturant – which, I’m sure, will take a nice charitablke deducaiton on their corporate taxes the following year. I guess my comments make me the grinch!

  7. I agree with @twitter-175604547:disqus. If the restaurant had the servers engaged with this – and they explainedn the WHY and the HOW it will help – I believe we’d see more involvement nfrom the consumer (and maybe even a nice tip for the servers). Merchant nmatching would also show how much the business is committed to the cause, rathern than just asking their customers to do “the right thing” during the nholidays. nBut bottom line, I don’t feel it’s right to take without nasking. Definitely a great cause and the right time of year to bring it nup, but not the right way to make it work.

  8. To echo @twitter-91012317:disqus a donation match proving the business is committed to the cause is better for everyone. I think the real trouble is that wording + auto-adding a donation to each check discourages the consumer from donating more than $1 – there’s actually a barrier to giving more. If the card said “*check off the donation amount you’d like us to match. Give this card to your server with your check.” with a nice pen and clear boxes for 5,10,15,other and the nefarious “0”, I think at least 1/10 of the customers would be willing to at least check 5. That, in addition to the restaurant match would get the charity the same amount of money as ticking everyone off by making auto-donations. Most likely it would generate more… and more good will to boot.

  9. During the holiday season people are in a charitable mood. Utilize it but in an inspirational way. Agree with Andrew! I work in NFP if the customer knows that they are part of the change, I think it’s ok to ask but make it inspiring.

  10. Catherine Chapman, CFRE

    Forcing someone to opt-out is not philanthropy, which is defined as voluntary action for the common good. In this scenario, there is nothing that is voluntary.nnThis promotion could actually do more harm than good. With no information about the cause other than small print about an opt-out, there is no opportunity for a donor to learn more or make a larger gift. In addition, with a forced donation, this may leave a bad feeling among the donor that he or she was forced or pressured to give resulting in bad feelings towards the charity and/or the restaurant.nnRaising funds is always challenging and even more so in a down economy, but forcing gifts or tricking people into making them contradicts the spirit and meaning of philanthropy. If this is your best means of raising funds, then simply lobby your legislators for a tax item line. This is at least more transparent and produces better results.

  11. I can make my own donations thank you. I don’t need someone doing it for me. They should worry about doing their business the best way possible: treating workers fairly, using quality products, conserving energy, etc.. (sometimes its easier to throw money at other problems, in this case other people’s money, than deal with your own.)

  12. The problem with this is that the company gets the tax write off. Make your own donations, and make companies make their own donations. I am not into being a part of any tax write off

  13. The problem with this, and all other donation marketings at your local convenience shop etc. is that the corporation uses everyone elses’ money for their corporate tax write off. My suggestion is to donate yourself and ask for a receipt to use it for your tax write off. If corporations want the tax write off, they can donate themselves. Just another way for corporations to get tax relief without earning it.nnnI am all for donating to charity. Just do it yourself

  14. Opt-In but give me some details and make it easy! An extra line on the receipt, a QR code to scan/# to text at the table, something but don’t require the server to ask for the donation. Have them equipped with speaking points should the customers have questions but their job is not to ask for donations. If the business is really committed to the organization, have the leaders of that restaurant (owner/manager) go table to table….and have them explain the $1 for $1 match (if there is one.

  15. my dear brothers I want donations for implantations of industrial teeth all my teeth upper and lower am suffering from cute and chronic pain results from gum abscess and pus cells did not afford any person where there is only one teeth or two in the lower and upper jaw I do not know to eat not chew, and required me $ 20,000 I ask you help to the Holy Face of God for the implantations of artificial teethnn account number 25832087597 nswift code BMISEGCX140 nEgypt / al-Buhhayrah / Etay el Barood branchnnbank telephone number : 0453430317 EgyptnnE.mail me

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  17. Absolutely unacceptable, In my country India some cafe’s started it now Mc donalds has started this Scam.Legally this is wrong I need to know in advance what is the amount being added Why and how is it going to be used.nyou cannot take my silence as an affirmation.

  18. I feel that it is a poor practice for merchants to ask customers to make a donation to X Charity. Lately, I have come across more and more places who are doing this from fast food chains to grocery stores and general merchandise stores. Where does it end? I have given in the past, but I do have a limit. So, if I gave at one place, I should not feel compelled to give at the next place I shop. I don’t like feeling pressured into giving, nor feeling like a scrooge if I say “No”. Just the other day I was at the grocery store, the cashier asks me if I am interested in donating a $1.00; I said no, then he asked if I would be interested donating .36 to round it up. I said no, not today.

    After having the read the article on why merchants are doing this, mostly to get donations for their charity and get a tax write-off. I feel that if the merchant wants a tax write-off for charity, then it is THEIR responsibility to donate, NOT the consumers’. If I choose to give, I would rather give to the charity of my choice on my terms, and also get the receipts for my tax deductions, instead of letting someone else get the deduction. I do feel that it is wrong for a restaurant to “sneak” a donation from customers by presuming that the customer even wants to give in the first place, and pretty much forcing the customer to say no, if they really don’t want to give. That’s kind of like another form of invasion of privacy. Lastly, if any merchant does want to use a method to get customers to donate, I think that it should be that the customer checks off the box to donate. If left blank, then take it as a “NO” answer; the customer should always have the right to get a receipt for deduction purposes. If I gave every time I made a purchase, that would be a lot of money not accounted for when filing my taxes. If any business tries to make me feel guilty about not giving, they just lost me as a customer.

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