5 On Your Side

Customer Questions Company's Donation Process

Posted September 18, 2007 5:29 p.m. EDT
Updated September 18, 2007 7:54 p.m. EDT

— 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.