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Charities raised more than $358-million in 2012 from businesses that offered shoppers a chance to give at the checkout counter, according to a study released today. 

The Cause Marketing Forum ranked 63 campaigns, focusing on those that raised more than $1-million last year from point-of-sale transactions. Most of the top 10 raised money for health-related causes. Many of the checkout campaigns were run by supermarkets or chain stores like Walmart and Costco, but the one that did the best was conducted on eBay through its Giving Works program. The site raised $54-million for thousands of nonprofits in 2012 by waiving transaction fees for sellers who earmarked a portion of their online sales to charity and by encouraging buyers to make contributions from their virtual shopping carts.

Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, a national network of pediatric hospitals, received donations from the second- and fourth-largest campaigns the study identified. People who made gifts at the checkout counter were given balloon-shaped pieces of paper and urged to write their names on them so the store could post them. Over six weeks, the Miracle Balloon campaign at Walmart and Sam’s Club stores produced $41.6-million (the No. 2 campaign overall), and another paper-balloon promotion, run throughout May in Costco Wholesale stores, brought in $14.4 million.

The third most popular campaign, raising nearly $28 million last year, benefited Ronald McDonald House Charities, which places a coin-collection canister to attract donations year-round at McDonald’s restaurants nationwide.

David Hessekiel, president of the Cause Marketing Forum, says the research on the checkout-counter drives demonstrates tips for charities that solicit with help from retailers.

Select a store that will help attract lots of shoppers. When stores get lots of foot traffic, the $1 or $5 contributions add up to something significant. Teach the company’s workers about your mission. Send charity workers to speak in front of the store’s employees. Train them to speak about the cause and the organization and provide marketing materials that store managers and cashiers can easily set up in stores. “You want the employees to feel that they’re empowered, that their jobs are enhanced because they’re actually raising money for your cause,” he says.

Give customers incentives to donate. Stop & Shop and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute gave in-store customers a scratch-off card in exchange for a $1 gift. Each card is good for something equivalent to the dollar gift, like a prize (say, a can of soda) or a discount on their next purchase. “It gives people a charitable reason to give as well as a fun incentive,” Mr. Hessekiel says.

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