The Campus Store at the University of Utah has been making headlines lately with their Charity Round-up Program. In the five years the bookstore has been running the program, they have raised more than $54,000 for a wide range of campus organizations — just under $24,000 was raised in 2018.
The charity round-up program is simple. When customers make a purchase in the bookstore, they are asked if they would like to round up to the nearest dollar. That money is then donated to a variety of charitable organizations that support the University of Utah campus community.
Recently we sat down with the University of Utah Campus Store Director Dan Archer to discuss the program.
How did the Charity Round-up program get started?
I have been at the University of Utah for five years. Before that, I was at the University of Southern California for around 20 years. We had done a program like this in California to raise funds for Breast Cancer Awareness. When I got here and took over as store director, I knew it was something I wanted to implement.
With the help of our IT manager, Michael Wahls, we were able to get started. MBS worked with us to make sure our registers could handle the program. They then made the necessary changes, and we were able to get the program started.
How did you spread awareness about the program?
I was able to speak about the program and spread awareness at several student senate meetings. Then organizations started coming out of the woodwork to be the recipients. There has been no shortage of people who want to be recipients of the change.
We quickly had to develop a way to sort and prioritize the people who asked to be included. Our top priority is to make sure the charities we select have the most community impact.
We turned down some great charities that had really specific interests. When you have a list like the food bank, Huntsman Cancer Institute and the general scholarship fund for students, the competition is tough. Those three hit home right away because they affect our community. We have many hungry students that go to the food pantry on campus. A lot of the donations go to that. We also have the Bennion Center which does a lot of community outreach on behalf of the university. It is an organization committed to service, civic engagement, and community outreach. That has been a strong recipient as well. The list really propagated itself.
What advice would you give stores starting a similar program?
Be prepared to do constant training on the register. You have to keep reinforcing with that they need to ask the question every time. It almost needs to be a reflex action to say, “Hey, do you want to round up the change for charity?”
Otherwise, you will get half the people asking and half not. It’s a bunch of missed opportunities. Once you get that habit established and it is in the fabric of the training, the program starts to pick up momentum. There were times when we first started that it was tough to keep people asking the question.
How do you think the program has worked?
I think it’s a great program. It has a big impact on campus. Numbers don’t lie. We raised $54,000 in change. If you think about it, that’s a lot of pennies. We want to see it grow more and will continue to market it. Stories about its success raise awareness. We’re definitely happy with it.
What was the approval process like to get the program started?
I just proposed the idea to my boss, and he was like, “Yeah, that’s a great idea.” That was really it. There wasn’t one dissenter because it is totally an opt-in program. If you don’t want to donate, don’t give the change. It isn’t mandatory.
Increasingly, programs like this are all over retail. I’m almost surprised when I go to a store and I’m not asked to donate to something. It makes you feel good about yourself in a small, small way. Rounding up the change isn’t going to hurt most people, and it really adds up for those who need it most.