Prepare Yourself: In Retail Fundraising, The Cashier is in Charge

The conundrum of retail fundraising is that you can raise millions at checkout. But your success hinges on the support of an underpaid and uncertain ally: cashiers. Fortunately, your friend is their friend. Jennifer Askjaer and Sally George of Swell Giving Explain how social impact can soothe the savage beast.

We've all stood in a checkout line and been asked: ”Would you like to donate a $1 to this worthy cause?”  

Most of us have said yes on some occasion, either motivated by the public shaming or a true desire to help. Whatever the reasons, there are plenty of donors out there keeping checkout fundraising alive.  In fact, these campaigns raised $358 million in 2014. That's a dollar from every man, woman and child in America!

The true power of these campaigns isn’t the customer’s open wallet, but the "ask" from the cashier. The person ringing up your groceries is also bagging millions for causes. 

Cashiers as Cause Ambassadors 

Cashiers are cause ambassadors. You may think of the term “ambassador” in connection with diplomats and celebrities. But gone are the days when only a notable VIP has dibs on this title. Your employees from the C-suite to the cash register can earn it by playing a powerful role in furthering charitable work.

The ambassador principle is a simple one: people do things for people. When someone enthusiastically asks you to give, you do it! But don't believe us. This Yale research study proves it!   

Cashiers are the backbone of a successful retail fundraiser. An ambassador program can make all the difference. If done right, you’ll see a surge in fundraising. We saw this firsthand in our work with a global quick-service restaurant chain. When we launched their ambassador program across its 6,000 stores, fundraising revenue nearly doubled.  

Social Impact = Happy Cashiers

A retail ambassador program can give a boost to your workplace morale. Research shows that employees want to work for companies that involve them in causes. 

And 53% of workers say a job where they can make an impact is very important or essential to their happiness.  

One retail ambassador told us: “I’m proud to be selected as an ambassador. It is the chance to motivate my team about the difference each of us can make.”

Ambassadors Aren't Just for Countries

So how do you turn employees into ambassadors to support your retail fundraiser? Here are a few best practices Swell Giving has learned along the way:

1.     Create a Cause Connection: Employees want to know why they should care about the cause you’re asking them to pitch to shoppers. Does it help their community? Is it an issue they personally care about? Your job is to make the cause relevant and believable so they are engaged. This could mean sharing stories or an explanation of how the money makes a difference. For example, a back-to-school fundraiser may state that every $5 buys a box of school supplies for needy kids. If the money is staying local, consider inviting local organizations to speak at the store or providing paid time off for volunteer opportunities.  

2.     Build Prestige Around the Program: Create cache by asking store managers and owners to nominate 1-2 people to serve as lead ambassadors. Identify people who are not in management positions and give them an opportunity to lead, and reward them with recognition. This could be as simple as a branded hat or a phone call from the president of your organization.

3.     Incentivize for Results : A fundraising program can often run for several weeks and incentives are crucial in keeping employees motivated and results-focused. Create a healthy competition among your locations and share results. Prizes like pizza parties, gift cards or even a trip to the company headquarters can keep your troops engaged. Your top ambassadors can also become an advisory team to shape and grow your fundraising program. 

4.     Embrace Creativity: Limit your requirements and let employees be creative. Why not encourage a more organic ask, or recognize generous customers who frequent the store and donate often? We enjoyed watching a video of a restaurant team doing a branded cheer for every donation.

5.     Foster a Community: Give all employees a vehicle for sharing successes across the organization. You may try a Facebook group page for best-practice sharing and photos or recognize accomplishments through internal communications vehicles. 

6.  Create Comfort in The Ask: Asking customers for money can be uncomfortable, even for experienced employees. Help employees be successful by giving them a message script with sample questions and answers that customers may ask. Use team meetings to run through different scenarios. In our campaign, we provided a coupon for a free item and found no impact on restaurant profits but a positive impact on dollars raised. You'll be surprised how such a simple gesture makes all the difference in your employees’ comfort level in asking for the gift.

7.     Walk the Talk:  Leader led fundraising creates a sense of community and priority within an organization.  Give your company leadership ways to lend their support.  We saw a increase in results when we issued a leadership challenge asking all franchisees to commit to 100% restaurant participation.

Not only can Ambassador program increase the dollars you raise for a cause, it can be a great way to create a sense of pride and community within your organization.

Cashiers have a tough job. Make it easier and more enjoyable by supporting the causes they love.


Jennifer Askjaer and Sally George are co-founders of Swelll Giving, a cause marketing group focused on helping retail companies use insights and influence to develop brand-building programs with local impact