A reader writes:
I know you have covered soliciting charity at work before, but I am on the other end of the posts you normally have.
Last year my mom organized a charity event to raise money for her friend’s son, who became paralyzed after a ski accident. The charity was to raise money for this family to cover medical costs. The event was a concert at a bar that had raffles and a silent auction.
I was thinking of inviting people from my office (about 30 total) to attend the event, via email. I don’t know if it’s bad to use employee email that way. But I definitely don’t want to do it in-person to each individual, because I feel like they would feel cornered, and I wouldn’t mind if they just deleted the invite email if they weren’t interested. I don’t want to pressure anyone, but I would love to invite people if I had this chance.
So that’s the first part. The second part of my query is my mom is always looking for silent auction giveaways. Her friends and coworkers were able to donate some amazing things last year, such as a weekend in their vacation home or a brand-new guitar, or other things depending on their connections. I know one person at my work is an investor in a wine store where our work regularly purchases wine for cocktail nights. I was thinking of emailing him as well to see if he could possibly have the owners donate a case of wine or something.
But, I am new to the workplace and don’t want to push boundaries. Our HR is located at our main offices in another state, nowhere near our branch. I never exactly got an employee manual. I feel like contacting HR at our main offices is a little too much for this, but maybe it’s necessary? I don’t know. Should I just forget the whole thing and solicit invitees elsewhere?
It’s probably going to turn out that it’s fine to email an invitation to the event to the people in your office, but because you’re new, I’d still check first. You don’t know what the norms there are and some offices do frown on this kind of thing. I don’t think you need to consult HR, but I’d ask someone in your office who has been there a while and who strikes you as having good judgment. Just say something like, “Hey, I was thinking of emailing this invitation to a charity event to everyone, but I didn’t know if people do that kind of thing here or not. Do you think it’s fine to do or is it a bad idea?”
But either way, don’t directly solicit people for the silent auction. If your contact encourages you to send the invitation to the event, you could include a line like “they’re also looking for silent auction giveaways,” but you shouldn’t solicit people individually because it’s too much pressure to make a direct ask. If you directly approach your coworker connected to the wine store, you’re putting him in an awkward position if he wants to say no. That’s never good to do, and it’s especially not good to do when you’re new, since people don’t know much about you yet and so every little thing weighs more heavily as they’re forming impressions of you.
After all, remember that your coworker is there to work, and its not fair to put him in a position where he now feels awkward around you because you inadvertently made him weird when he had to say no to your donation request. And not only is it not fair to him, but it’s not a smart move for you professionally either. (And sure, maybe that won’t be the result — maybe he’d be thrilled at the chance to donate — but you can’t know in advance, especially since as a new coworker you don’t know him well enough to judge with confidence … and ultimately the work relationship needs to take priority over the outside charity.)
I know it’s easy to think, “But this is so obviously a good cause, so how could anyone take offense?” And it’s great that you and your mother are working to help out this family friend. But it’s so easy for charitable solicitations in the workplace to cross the line from “here’s some helpful info about something that might interest you” to language or actions that make people feel pressured or cause discomfort or like an unwilling captive audience that it’s worth erring on the side of caution.