KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Your wallet is already out, so what better time to ask for a donation?

More and more, retailers are making it easy for you to support your favorite causes — and theirs — by asking for contributions at the cash register. Charities find it an effective way to raise money, and retailers use it partly to burnish their image.

With the touch of the pen on the credit card machine, tearing off a coupon, or by rounding your bill up to the nearest dollar, consumers are giving money for free vision care, eyeglasses and food for the poor; care for homeless pets; children’s health and wellness; even literacy.

“It’s good business to give back,” said Mike Swenson, president of PR/causes at Barkley, a Kansas City-based marketing communications company that helps firms with their cause marketing promotions. “The 20-somethings and 30-somethings expect corporate USA and corporate global to be part of making society better, and they will reward those corporations with their pocketbook.”

Although many companies take up collections for a few weeks throughout the year to support a food drive or a community walk, the “point-of-sale” contributions can extend that fundraising over many months or year-round.

Customers might choose to tack on a dollar during an occasional stop at a specialty store, such as Sunglass Hut or PetSmart. Or they could be like one woman who has included a $25 donation to a fundraiser for Harvesters-the Community Food Network every week at Price Chopper since the campaign started in June. The campaign, “No School=No Lunch,” focuses on childhood hunger. From May 27 to June 30 (the halfway point) the program has raised more than $25,000.

Paula Pratt, director of community outreach for Harvesters, said point-of-purchase donations were low-maintenance for the grocery stores and the charity. They also make it easy for consumers to give, and they serve as an ongoing reminder of community needs.

“We can provide five meals with every dollar donated,” Pratt said.

Consumers also want something in return — for their favorite company to be just as generous.

In a November 2009 survey by Barkley and PRWeek magazine, 91 percent of 530 women polled said it was important for companies to support a cause, up from 86 percent in 2008. Moreover, 64 percent of consumers polled expect companies to align themselves with a cause.

Even in the recession, corporations tended to keep up their fundraising efforts, Swenson said. Anything less might have shown a lack of commitment and led to a distrust of the brand itself. It is also critical for corporations to pick the “right” charity to support.

“Maybe it will tie back into the core business,” Swenson said. “But if it is centered (on) the CEO’s pet project, the CEO could leave. So it wouldn’t be good for the company in the long-term.”

Several companies that offer checkout donation programs in the Kansas City area declined to specify how much they take in or whether they match their customers’ donations. Some simply add these dollars to the millions they give through their corporate foundations.

At Build-A-Bear Workshop, customers have been swiping in donations to benefit children’s health and wellness, literacy, endangered animals and pet programs for about a year.

Petco allows its customers to “round up” their purchases to the nearest dollar, donating the change to its foundation that benefits animal welfare groups. Customers also can ask cashiers to add a specific amount.

But next month, the pet retailer’s credit card terminal will include a prompt asking customers if they want to make a donation.

Competitor PetSmart’s “point-of-sale” donation has been so popular it has gone from a $1 prompt five years ago to multiple prompts today — $1, $2, $5, $10.

Laura McKnight, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, which manages more than 3,000 charitable funds for individuals and corporations, said: “It’s another way people can give back. It’s not one-size-fits-all.”