In fundraising development for charities, she said, it is important to build a relationship with a donor – something that doesn't happen in these transactions.
So, how can you make your shopping turn into giving while keeping in mind how much you're really giving to charity?
Direct donations at merchants are one of the biggest cash generators. For instance, St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital's holiday season has a "Thanks and Giving" campaign that collects dollars at cash registers – and is now its single largest fundraiser.
More than 60 companies, mostly retailers, participate in the two-month drive that raised nearly $65 million for St. Jude's last year – up from $8.4 million in 2004, when the program started.
Rick Shadyac, CEO of ALSAC/St. Jude, the fundraising organization of the hospital, said connecting with consumers when they're shopping has been extremely successful, both in terms of dollars raised and awareness. The ease of making a contribution while a transaction is already under way is likely why it has worked, he said.
"It is a very easy thing to do when you're going through that process anyway," Mr. Shadyac said. Generous consumers should remember that they can take a charitable deduction for their at-register contributions if they remember to get a receipt that details the gift.
One step removed from this are consumer products that give a portion of profits to specific charities. This is soaring – from pink ribbons during Breast Cancer Awareness Month to campaigns that donate loyalty rewards from companies like Amazon.com Inc and airlines.