The Ethicality of Point-of-Sale Marketing Campaigns: Normative Ethics Applied to Cause-Related Checkout Charities

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“Would you like to contribute to XYZ charity by adding a dollar to your bill today?” Point-of-sale campaigns for fundraising are common to grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants and warehouse clubs. Commonly referred to as ‘checkout charity,’ these fundraisers have generated over $4.1 billion in contributions for nonprofits over the past three decades. Yet little research has focused on the ethicality of this type of campaign. To address this need, we analyze the issue using behavioral ethics (moral identity and emotional triggers of behavior) and normative theory (consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics). We consider three stakeholder perspectives, including the nonprofit initiating the campaign, the business hosting the campaign, and the donor. Often ethical theories are seen as competing for primacy rather than being complementary perspectives in choosing the best action. We demonstrate that ethical discernment results in a richer analysis when consulting multiple frameworks. The purpose of this paper is to provide a set of ethical considerations for individuals to draw upon when devising and donating to checkout charity campaigns. This analysis will serve as a conceptual resource for scholars, practitioners, and students of nonprofit and for-profit management.

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