358 Million Reasons to Love Checkout Programs

358 million. That's how many dollars were collected with checkout programs in 2012.

Checkout programs are what I call point-of-sale programs, but I kind of like David Hessekiel's term better. As founder and president of Cause Marketing Forum, he's the one who released a study on these programs at last week's Cause Marketing Forum's conference in Chicago.

These programs are so successful, David only focused on programs that raised a million dollars or more. He found 63 of them. You can read the full report here, and it really is worth the read.

Here's what businesses and nonprofits need to know about checkout programs.

These programs really work. And when I mean work they can raise a lot of money. The proof is in these 63 programs. But think of all the programs that raise less than a million. As a local cause marketer here in Boston, I never raised more than $300,000 with a checkout program. Add these smaller programs in and you're talking tens of millions of dollars more raised with checkout programs.

Emotion wins at the register. Maybe that's why 47 percent of the dollars raised went to children's causes, such as Children's Miracle Network and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. You only have a second or two to win over customers with your ask, lead with a strong emotional message.

Businesses with lots of foot traffic, locations do best. Most of the dollars raised from checkout programs come from chains of department stores, restaurants and supermarkets. David's report features big companies like Walmart and Sam's Club, but chains of any size are good candidates. You just need to be realistic on how much you will raise when a chain has six or sixty locations instead of 600 or 6,000!

Checkout programs can take several forms. Pinups, register programs, donation boxes and round-up programs. You can find examples of all of these on this blog and on my Pinterest boards.

Incentives work at checkout. Coupons, discounts and free items are always popular with consumers. But don't forget incentives for employees. Small thank yous from t-shirts to pizza parties to gift cards will keep employees asking that all-important question: "Would you like to donate a dollar to ___________?".

Checkout programs need company. I've concluded after many years of running checkout programs that businesses asking consumers for money at checkout isn't enough. I've made the argument elsewhere that it is, but ultimately it doesn't pass the smell test with consumers. Companies need to combine asking with giving. That means dipping into their own pockets to support their favorite causes AND tapping their customer base for gifts.

What are your favorite checkout programs? I'm always looking for good local programs to write about!

Photo: Walmart Corporate via Flickr