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I assume most of us do not choose to round up our purchases for charity at supermarkets, pharmacies, and fast food restaurants when prompted to do so at checkout. Besides the less-than-highly-effective charities the extra change usually goes to, there could be philosophical or practical debate about the effectiveness of the practice itself as a format for giving.

However, surely there's a significant amount of money each year being diverted to various charities through this practice, most of which is counterfactual by most definitions. (The rounded-up change probably wouldn't have gone to any charity otherwise, much less an effective charity).

I wonder how supermarkets select charities for the round up. What approach could be taken to change these to highly-effective charities? Which industries, companies, or executives would be open to conversation and how could they be approached?  Is it worth the effort?




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When I started Yale's student EA group in 2014, we tried a bit of this (albeit with pharmacies, not grocery stores). IIRC, we got as far as a meeting with CVS's head of corporate social responsibility (CSR), plus a few other conversations.

The companies we spoke to were choosing large, well-known charities. This was partly because of their branding (easier to pick up positive associations from charities people have actually heard of), partly because big charities tend to have highly appealing missions (e.g. St. Jude's, which has used its "free care for children with cancer" pitch to become America's fourth-largest charity), and partly (I'd guess) because the charities were easy to work with thanks to their size and staff capacity. 

I also suspect, from these and other CSR-related interactions I've had, that changing a charity choice is hard once it's been made. The professionals I meet tend to form relationships with the charities and staffers they work with, and it's hard to tell someone you've fired them for a more effective charity (forgive the link, it was too easy a joke to make).

I think this would be challenging, but might be worth pursuing, or at least trying, for the learning value. It involves the project of social change, changing attitudes and engaging the non-EA community, learning about their attitudes towards widening moral circles, the ways they are misinformed about the effectiveness of GH&D charities in LMICs (and maybe about farmed animals, etc.; although that could be a stretch) and whether this drives their attitudes or the other way around (see my project here on 'barriers to effective giving'.

This sort of project that could be attempted by students/student groups or part-time volunteers, and it might be motivating and fun.  E.g., I thought, "in UK university towns, where students often come from around the world, why do the local coops almost always only have a box for 'local charities'"

Ideally, they would do so in a coordinated to  organize and their efforts, collect and share their insights, etc.

Somewhat relevant to the EA Market Testing project, which is not currently very active. (However, Lucas Moore at GWWC is coordinating some efforts and collaboration and this might be relevant to him/them.)

Happy to help if I can! Here's some more info on me and my role as Effective Giving Global Coordinator and Incubator :) 

Danny Lipsitz
Thanks, Luke. When I have some more time I might brainstorm next steps on this including how to put together a team. If so, I'll reach out!

Thanks for the feedback. The way I envision it, it wouldn't require any profound change of anyone's attitude. There are so many businesses doing round-up for charity around the world. If someone were to sleuth around and put in the time, surely they could identify the low-hanging-fruit of businesses that are happy to change their round-up charity at the credit card reader without much convincing. 

Of all the people in the position to change the setting on the credit card reader at their small business (if that's even how it works) some of them may be r... (read more)

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