No!  I Will Not Round Up.

By On
• In Bellingham,

The grocery store cashier rings up the final item and provides the total to pay. Then comes the question, “Would you like to round that up for such and such charity?” or “Would you care to make a donation to such and such charity?” What is wrong with this picture? Plenty.

There is a not-so-subtle effort to shame the shopper into saying yes so as not be be embarrassed in front of the cashier-cum-fundraiser, the next person in line or the grocery bagger who has just arrived and asked you how your day has been so far or what your plans are this afternoon. After all, what kind of a person refuses to round up his or her bill for a good cause when only 20 or 30 cents is involved, or 15 or 75? Pocket change that you can do without is the message, so get with it and donate and save children, dolphins, polar bears, Civil War veterans or sociopathic billionaires - whatever charity du jour, that is, the one chosen by the grocery store, not you.

Over the past several years in Bellingham, I have encountered this charitable giving situation at Fred Meyer, Haggen Food and Whole Foods. I have not had the experience yet at Safeway because I do not shop there. My most recent experience at Whole Foods is informative.

Having been asked by the cashier if I wanted to “round up,” this time for the Whole Planet Foundation, I replied that I did not care to and that I was tired of being asked. I also told her that I had no idea what the charity was and how it operated at which point she offered to explain it to me which I am sure endeared her to the other shoppers in line. I declined her offer, thinking to myself that this young woman was going to convince me in a few minutes or less that the charity was worthwhile while her billionaire boss, Jeff Bezos, raises wages to an impoverishing $15/hour and then reduces employee hours. Does she get the irony?

So what does the Whole Planet Foundation do anyway? Doing a bit of looking, I found this on its website:

“We support tenacious, innovative, and hardworking entrepreneurs all around the globe. Most of the entrepreneurs who receive microloans are women, who traditionally have fewer resources and less access to financial services. Whole Planet Foundation identifies and partners with microfinance organizations (MFIs) who provide and administer responsible financial services to their members.”

According to the foundation’s financials for 2016 (the latest posted) the charity took in about $8 million of which about $1.8 million (22%) went for overhead and administration. I find that percentage to be a hefty chunk of a charity’s donations going to running the program rather than serving its target population. But is the giving worthwhile? Anushka Peres, a photographer and PhD Candidate in Rhetoric, Composition, and the Teaching of English at University of Arizona looked at the foundation with a critical lens and wrote a piece entitled “In Looking ‘We’ Become: Neoliberal Giving and Whole Planet Foundation’s Faces of Poverty”

“Neoliberal corporate poverty reduction programs based on microcredit and/or microloans, like WPF, unite economic systems with individual freedoms and global justice enterprises, ultimately supporting the production of a small and wealthy elite class. Christine Keating, Claire Rasmussen, and Pooja Rishi suggest that “microcredit approaches are deeply grounded in the political rationality of neoliberalism that seeks market-based solutions to a wide range of problems and deploys a justification of individual liberty and responsibility” ... In practice, however, the neoliberal logic that develops and sustains microloan solutions to poverty provides different results. According to Keating, Rasmussen, and Rishi, such programs may also cause increased debt ..., invite shifts in certain gendered dynamics while also aggravating gender norms ..., and provide too temporary a solution to a much larger problem .... These scholars also identify feminist critiques of the pervasive microcredit discourse surrounding women’s empowerment. They say, “some critiques stress the ways that microcredit is deeply imbricated in the process of neoliberal globalization and exemplifies the co-optation of feminist goals of empowerment for neoliberal ends” .... Such rhetorics reduce understandings of women’s empowerment to market based visions of racially problematic and indicative of what some would consider anti-radical uses of the term. Furthermore, microcredit programs may not meet their proposed goal of reducing poverty. Instead, they “contribute to an overall reshaping of the political and economic landscape that often deprives those most in need” ... . Microcredit appears to be a seemingly moral quick fix to world poverty and often to global gender inequalities, a perceived solution that may in fact exacerbate the situations it intends to alleviate.”

In other words, this is a “charity” I would not touch and serves as an example of what your grocery store may be proffering at the register. This particular example is all the more galling in that Bezos, a man worth $137 billion, calls on his Whole Foods customers to raise, through their nickels and dimes, a miserable $12 million dollars a year. This amount does not even achieve the level of a rounding error on his tax return. He could round up someplace in his own financials and donate $100 million to his own charity tomorrow and just GIVE the money to these “entrepreneurial women” instead of promoting this neoliberal claptrap of micro-financing that actually creates instant debt for those who accept the money.

The point of all this above is that you should not let your grocery store guide your charitable giving. Research your charities carefully using on-line resources such as Guide Star where you can find information on how your charity of choice uses the money you donate. In the meantime, politely and firmly refuse these calls to giving at the register. Talk to the store manager to let her know your concerns about blindly giving. Let’s stop these extractive practices.

About Dick Conoboy

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Member since Jan 26, 2008

Dick Conoboy is a recovering civilian federal worker and military officer who was offered and accepted an all-expense paid, one year trip to Vietnam in 1968. He is a former Army [...]

Comments by Readers

Konrad Lau

Mar 17, 2019

In life, there are two distinct ideologies regarding donations to charity.

  1. The basic Judeo/Christian philosophy says that it is our obligation to “give to the poor”. That philosophy does not prescribe how support is to be given or to whom.
  2. The basic Leftist philosophy says that if one pays taxes, that should be sufficient to take care of the poor.

Contributions to organizations to “Save the Planet”, “Whales”, “Trees” or “Tigers” are what I consider to be “above and beyond” donations. As an individual, it is up to me to decide how and when (if any) contributions are appropriate.

When faced with unsolicited begging, be it from store keepers, hobos or anyone else, I tell the folks “I give in my own way.” There is no shame in that response nor does any apology need be made. I never give cash to the folks on the corner and only occasionally in stores if I know the organization.

If pursued, I will even ask the beggar how much they gave last year to charities?

Even the poor are directed to give their share.

That usually brings an abrupt end to the conversation.

My strategy in situations like this is to never give an open-ended response that leads to more conversation (or begging).

Good Luck!


Wynne Lee

Mar 18, 2019

On the scale of Truly Important Civic/Social Things (to me), even locally, this issue ranks about -10,000. On the scale of Kinda Annoying Thingies, it’s about -1000. But to each their own.


Dick Conoboy

Mar 18, 2019

The problem, Wynne, is that this solicitation is repeated thousands of times a day across the nation which, if the Whole Planet Foundation is an example, amounts to tens of millions of dollars a year given by folks to support who knows what.  The dribble forms a torrent whose direction is controlled, observed or explained by noone.  It is a casting about for purposes that have to do with the image of a corporation that could easily lop a few million off its own profits to give.  But even then, it is the choosing of the charity by some corporate entity instead of the citizenry for the common weal.  Finally, charities exist because of government failure to provide.  That does not mean that I do not give because I do.  However,  we have not succeeded as a people to create a government that takes care of its citizens.  It is, then, much more than “annoying”.