The180

Is checkout charity un-Canadian?

Last week, we heard from one Canadian who is sick of retailers asking for charitable donations at the checkout. Samantha Kemp-Jackson says she feels ambushed when she's asked to give at the check-out. She called the process "sneaky, underhanded and kind of un-Canadian." It turned out, she's not alone. We heard from our listeners on all sides of the...

Last week, we heard from one Canadian who is sick of retailers asking for charitable donations at the checkout. Samantha Kemp-Jackson says she feels ambushed when she's asked to give at the check-out. She called the process "sneaky, underhanded and kind of un-Canadian." It turned out, she's not alone. We heard from our listeners on all sides of the issue, but the most prevalent reaction was "leave me alone." This week, we dig deeper and find out why our discomfort with checkout charity is so very Canadian.

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Paul Estey is Chief Innovation Officer and Co-Founder of Public Inc. That's a marketing company that works primarily with charities and fundraisers. They recently worked with Ipsos Reid to find out how many Canadians are being asked to give at the checkout counter, and how they feel about it. They found out that the practice is becoming more common, but that the responses match what we heard from 180 listeners.

What we heard was more than three-quarters of [Canadians surveyed] tend to have some form of negative reaction to being asked. That can range from irritated, to embarassed, to in some cases even angry. And 54 percent of them feel pressured to give, which we would say from a customer service perspective is not what the retailer had in mind.Paul Estey, Public Inc.

But Seanna Dempsey says it still works. She's the Vice President of Sick Kids Foundation, in Toronto. Her charity is one of several that benefit from checkout charity campaigns at Ontario liquor stores (LCBO) each December. And they benefit a lot.

Last year actually raised almost 1.2 million dollars for Sick Kids...the cumulative total since LCBO started this amazing campaign is almost 4.8 million dollars in support of sick Kids.Seanna Dempsey, Sick Kids Foundation

Nonetheless, Dempsey says Sick Kids works with retailers to make sure cashiers can explain to customers how their donation might make a difference.

But let's get back to Samantha Kemp-Jackson, and many of our listeners. They say this isn't just about whether or not to give, it's about feeling pressured, about being put on the spot in public. Remember, Kemp-Jackson called this whole process "un-Canadian." And since we often think of politeness as a key Canadian trait, we thought we'd check in with an etiquette expert.

Ottawa etiquette consultant Julie Blais-Comeau says the checkout charity process can be uncomfortable for everyone: "The awkwardness...could be coming from the person asking. And because we are put on the spot, it's almost contagious. But she says Canadians just need to learn an important word.

"There is no faux-pas, no breach of etiquette, you have my word, by simply saying no.Julie Blais-Comeau, etiquette consultant

So as Christmas approaches, and the fundraising campaigns ramp up, either get ready to give...or practice a very un-Canadian word: N-O.

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