5 On Your Side

Customer Questions Company's Donation Process

Posted September 18, 2007

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— Most people like to give at least a little something to charity. And it's probably fair to say the easier it is to give, the more likely people are to do that.

A charity effort that makes it easier to give seems to be growing in popularity. Companies round up your bill and then donate the difference.

The idea is that small change that probably doesn't impact you so much can add up to a big difference for a charity.

But some question first, why don't the companies just donate their own money? And in this case, why don't they at least let their 38,000 customers decide up front about whether they even want to participate?

Donnie Beard was one of those questioning his power company.

“They do a really good job, but I don't think they should take from anybody without their permission,” he said.

Beard was talking about a new initiative from South River Electric Membership Corporation called Operation Round Up. Starting in November, the company will automatically round up customer bills to the next dollar.

The difference will be donated to local charities through grants. Beard found out about the program through South River's member magazine. He said he doesn't like that customers will be charged the difference unless they they "opt-out."

“It surprised me when I seen it. It really did,” Beard said.

Beard said he feels the program should instead be "opt-in." He said the amount of money, at most $11.88 per year, is not a big deal. He said it's the principle.

“Giving to the charities, the fire departments and things like that, that's good. But as far as the way they're doing it, I don't agree with," he said.

“We don't want anybody to participate that they don't want to” said Catherine O’ Dell, spokeswoman for South River Electric.

South River Electric spokeswoman Catherine O'Dell said South River researched similar programs throughout the country.

“We did look at the Opt In versus Opt out. The programs that have an opt in have about 17 percent participation. The programs with opt out have about 20 percent participation or higher,” O’Dell said.

“You’re telling your customers how they’re going to spend their money,” WRAL’s Monica Laliberte questioned.

“Not necessarily. We're giving them the option to say no. And so we want, we're giving them the option to help in a much bigger way than they possibly could do on our own” O’Dell said.

She said they're doing everything they can to get the word out, and so is Beard.

“It's just not having control. That's the main thing. Let me donate what I want to donate," he said.

O’Dell said at any point if a customer decides they do not want to participate in the Round Up program, the company will refund their money.

Wake Electric Member Cooperative has a similar program. Although it is "opt out" for established customers and now "opt in" for new customers.

The bottom line, we all just want to get the word out so that consumers can decide for themselves whether they want to participate.


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  • aquamama Sep 20, 2007

    This program should definitely be opt-in. How many people read their bills? There are plenty of times when I simply read the amount due and write out a check. People are busy and distracted and should not be automatically enrolled in some program which costs them money, even if it is going to charity.

  • CestLaVie Sep 20, 2007

    NeverSurrender: I'm not sure NC SECC will refuse to provide this information to me, but they may just ignore it too.

    I guess 20% of millions could pay their high-dollar rent, but just the fact that they are THERE seems greedy & excessive.

    I will check out the website info you provided.

  • NeverSurrender Sep 20, 2007

    "So I decided to email the Exec Dir & ask him what admin fees they charge for their services. That was on 9/17; haven't had a reply yet (and don't expect to, frankly)!!!"


    A reputable charity will volunteer the charitable efficiency rate (i.e. what percentage of a donated dollar actually goes to the intended recipient) upon request. If they refuse to provide that information, do not donate to them.

    They are also obligated to disclose a copy of their Form 990 upon request (they may charge a reasonable fee for copying the 990 provided they disclose the fee up front).

    In the case of the NC SECC, the answer to your question is available on their website with their copy of the regulations governing the campaign under the NC Administrative Code.


    The regulations require that the costs of the campaign (i.e. administrative overhead, salaries, advertising, etc.) cannot exceed 20% of the gross receipts/contributions.

  • CestLaVie Sep 20, 2007

    Zman: Your comment about high admin fees & the admin living high-on-the-hog reminds me of something I ran into recently.

    As a State employee, we are being asked to give to the Combined Campaign at this time of year. There are hundreds of charities under this umbrella, including various co. United Ways. I have given in the past, but this year decided to try & find out how much of an admin fee this Campaign charges. I went to their website, & was immediately surprised. It seems their hdqtrs is in downtown Raleigh in the very high, plush, high-rent district of Hannover Square. So I decided to email the Exec Dir & ask him what admin fees they charge for their services. That was on 9/17; haven't had a reply yet (and don't expect to, frankly)!!! I also told him that I knew the Exec Dir of the United Way of Johnston Co. & their hdqtrs is in very humble, small, unpretentious digs. Difference in attitudes - admin fees? I've changed my mind about any giving at all now.

  • Z Man Sep 20, 2007

    Hey steelersfan, it doesn't state anything in the artical about the company reaping the interest. That idea cam from a previous post which you obviously did not take the time to read. This forum is about discussion, not just your opinion.

    The round down idea is the best one I've seen in this forum.

  • NeverSurrender Sep 19, 2007

    "I don't care if it's the price of penny candy, "neversurrender." You don't overcharge people and then say it's going for a good cause and if you don't want to, you have to make an effort to stop it."


    I wholeheartedly agree...I think the "opt-out" requirement stinks (and I'm sure their customer service people will as well when they have to field a few hundred calls!).

    It was a nice idea...but the unintended consequences will kill you every time. And I'm quite sure that the company would be quite ticked if the rounding-down were put into play...however, you'll find they will have the law on their side when they disconnect service for non-payment.

    Personally, I think the rounding-up is inconsequential compared to the reaming you're getting in the rest of the bill and at least the rounded-up bit goes to help other people who need help rather than get put straight into the pockets of people who are probably obscenely rich to begin with. But that doesn't make "opt-out" right...

  • mrtwinturbo Sep 19, 2007

    I didn't read all of the posts, but what charity? Theirs? Who then? It really does not sound legal to me.........

  • Korthal Sep 19, 2007

    I don't care if it's the price of penny candy, "neversurrender." You don't overcharge people and then say it's going for a good cause and if you don't want to, you have to make an effort to stop it.

    I would suggest that instead of going through the hassle of opting out, these customers instead round down their bill payments and tell the electric company that you've donated the difference to a charity of your choice. If they don't want you doing this, they must send their request in writing to you, indicating they wish to receive the full amount of the bill.

    It's the same result in the end...but lets see how they like the same treatment.

  • NeverSurrender Sep 19, 2007

    "Now this makes me wonder about something. For example, when WRAL does a drive to raise money and they want people to send them money for a Red Cross donation due to a disaster, etc. When WRAL gives that donation over to the charity, do they as a company take the tax break from that total amount? Just curious."


    They're entitled to a deduction only for donations WRAL/Capital Broadcasting actually made (if any) as part of the funds turned over to the charity.

    It's not uncommon for fund-raising efforts for a charity to involve a "we'll match your donation up to $X" component to spur giving. Their matching funds would be deductible...the rest of the funds would be deductible to the individuals for the amount they contributed.

    Where it gets a little dicey is that the IRS is getting more insistent on documentation from the charity that they received the donation. If you can't substantiate the donation (canceled check, fund-raiser flyer, etc.), the IRS may disallow it.

  • baracus Sep 19, 2007

    jonesextra, when did Mr. Beard purport (proport? pot meet kettle) to be a spokesman? He is just a guy voicing his concerns.