Making A Donation? Ask For Details First

This is the time of year when retailers like to give back to the community by getting you to do it for them when you’re buying stuff. It might feel nice to help out a good cause, but make sure you know exactly what you’re paying for before you hand over any cash. Dominick, for example, just bought a Jack in the Box antenna ball when he thought he was straight-up donating to a non-Jack charity.

From his email to us yesterday:

This morning, I purchased breakfast at the Jack in the Box drive through. They asked if I wanted to donate $1 to Big Brothers, and (feeling generous) I agreed. When I picked up my order, they gave me a cute little antenna ball for making a donation. Later, looking at my receipt, I noticed that my “donation” was listed as the purchase of an antenna ball, and that I’d been charged tax.

I thought I was donating money, not buying a trinket, and I didn’t expect to pay sales tax on a donation. So, does the charity get any money from this transaction or not?

Today he wrote back and said Jack in the Box responded to his complaint:

After I wrote to you and to Jack in the Box, they called me. Apparently, they consider this not to be a donation, but a purchase of an antenna ball, with 70% of the purchase price (not including tax) going to charity.

I checked and signs at the store do say that this is a purchase, but you can’t see those signs from the drive through, so when I was asked if I wanted to donate, I had no way to know this wasn’t a straight donation.

Maybe donating at the drive-through window isn’t a good idea in general, since it’s not the best place to see things like fine print.

(Photo: steevithak)


Edit Your Comment

  1. shepd says:

    I don’t donate unless I intend to. I never intend to make a donation when I am buying something, and that means I instantly say “no” whenever asked. This also applies to the telephone, door-to-door, at the grocery store in-doors and other similar situations.

    It’s an easy life rule to make.

  2. morganlh85 says:

    Well clearly the antenna balls aren’t free…No matter what charity you donate to, not all your money is going to help people/animals/aliens directly…some of it goes to overhead. Consider the antenna ball “overhead.”

    • RPHP says:

      @morganlh85: Yea but if you make a donation you do not pay tax on that donation no matter what the overhead is. In fact you get a tax deduction on donations.

      There is definitely a way to make a donation and receive some sort of thank you “gift”. Usually if the gift is significant they tell you how much of the “donation” can be deducted from taxes. However, I do not believe you pay any sales tax on the transaction.

    • Scoobatz says:

      @morganlh85: No, that’s not overhead. Jack in the Box took 30%, and 70% went to Big Brothers. Of that 70%, there could be as much as 25% overhead. So, in the end, the $1 donation contributed probably no more than 50 cents.

      • temporaryerror says:

        That’s better than some. I got cold called by some “donate to cancer research” outfit and the guy hung up on me when I asked what percentage actually went to the charity. I looked it up… turns out that it was less than 10%.

  3. RalphyNader says:

    When you get asked at the grocery store if you would like to donate to whatevercharity…does the store collect the money and write it off in there books as a donation in the stores name? Can you write those kind of donations off on your taxes?

    • greeneyedguru says:


      I’m no tax lawyer, but I believe you can write off any donation to a tax exempt entity, and you don’t even need a receipt for donations under $250.

      That’s assuming you itemize deductions in the first place.

  4. jacques says:

    Best advice it to donate directly to charities you want to donate to. Don’t do it just because you’re asked at work, at stores, from other groups passing by, etc.
    1) You control how much the charity gets (as opposed to United Way)
    2) You can keep track of it for tax reasons

    • gStein_*|bringing starpipe back|* says:

      @jacques: 3. the charity you want to donate to gets the money – in Charlotte, United Way went through a scandal over the past year or so when it was revealed that the CEO was making an inordinate amount of money ($600k/year, iirc)

  5. diasdiem says:

    Sneaky bastards get $.30 for probably $.05 of foam rubber, and get to write off the other $.70 as their own donation.

  6. Bob Lu says:

    Considering many professional fundraiser only give 10% or less to the charity, 70% is not too bad.

    However if you really want to make best use your your money, donate the money directly to the charity.

    If you want to donate item, only donate what you already have. Don’t buy things for donation.

  7. Laura Northrup says:

    An antenna ball? What cars even have antennae anymore?

  8. Outrun1986 says:

    I always wonder how much is going into the managers pockets when asked to donate at a store. How much is the charity getting, and how much is the store in question getting as a bonus if they reach a certain donation goal? Might explain why they are extra pushy about donating that dollar.

    Frankly since I get asked at every store I go into these days, and since I go into multiple stores a week, I would be very broke if I donated a dollar every time I was asked.

  9. lauraloops says:

    I work part-time at a major sporting goods retailer.

    Two comments:
    1. We have a yearly fundraiser at the cash register’s for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Surely a worthy cause, but we are pushed pushed pushed to ask and get a donation at every transaction. I’m also pressured as an employee to make a donation every time I buy something (like a soda, snack, etc). It’s frustrating to me, and I’m sure every customer, because I make my own contributions to charities each year, too.

    2. Similar to the OP, we were pushed one week to sell the yellow LiveStrong bracelets- they were our “item of the week” and needed to sell a lot, apparently. Many cashiers asked customers to make a $1 donation to the LiveStrong Foundation, and instead were sold a bracelet. With tax. This came from individual cashiers who took it upon themselves to sell some bracelets, not from corporate. So maybe Jack-in-the-Box cashiers were going rogue with their own script?

  10. dangerp says:

    My favorite line at a grocery store:

    Clerk: “Would you like to donate a dollar to Breast Cancer?”
    Me: “ABSOLUTELY NOT! I hate Breast Cancer!”

    Followed by a puzzled expression on the clerk’s face.

  11. Tim says:

    So isn’t it misleading, and possibly illegal, for the drive-thru attendant to call it a donation?