should I approach my coworkers about a charity auction?

by Alison Green on November 19, 2012

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.

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{ 79 comments… read them below or add one }

Anon November 19, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Is this an official charity, i.e. registered federally as a non-for profit? If it isn’t, I would scrap the entire thing.

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majigail November 19, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Yes, people tend to feel differently about charities that they can write their donations off on their taxes versus something that benefits an individual, regardless how tragic their circumstances maybe. I would personally invite friends in the office who you may have talked about the situation with casually about already.

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KayDay November 19, 2012 at 4:37 pm

If it’s raising money for someone you actually have a real connection to (as is the OP’s case) I think it’s still okay (as long as the OP follows AAM’s advice about how to go about the solicitation), but the OP should be clear that they are raising money to give to Tim’s family for his medical expenses and not a “charity” which implies non-profit status. The OP might also want to include a little line mention that contribution would not be tax-deductible.

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Anon November 20, 2012 at 1:35 am

Right, that’s largely what I meant. You can’t bill it as a “charity fundraiser” if that’s not really what it is. It can erode your credibility in a heartbeat.

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KarenT November 19, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Just out of curiosity, why do you ask? Because there wouldn’t be a tax write-off, because there wouldn’t be accountability (or reporting) on how the money was spent, or other reasons?

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Jamie November 19, 2012 at 5:11 pm

I’m not Anonymous, but I agree. For me it’s one thing spreading the word about an actual regulated charity and another if it’s just an informal thing which A. can’t be deducted and 2. can’t be verified.

Enough people have heard about things like this going badly, I’d want to avoid even the possibility of my new co-workers thinking I was complicit in something shady.

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fposte November 19, 2012 at 5:17 pm

I don’t know if this is true, but I have heard that it can even be a problem to use the word “charity” if you’re not a registered charity.

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JT November 19, 2012 at 5:22 pm

Problem with using “charity” for unregistered group with who?

On the registered versus non-registered. Yes, generally registered is better both for accountability and tax benefits. But if the person soliciting is someone you trust and that person has first hand knowledge of use of funds, I don’t see what’s wrong with that.

There was/still is a disaster where I live, with friends living in or helping in the damaged area, and I have given them money and goods they have used directly to help people. I’ve also given a little to a registered group one of those same friends recommended.

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Jamie November 19, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Yes, generally registered is better both for accountability and tax benefits. But if the person soliciting is someone you trust and that person has first hand knowledge of use of funds, I don’t see what’s wrong with that.

In this case though, there is no basis for trust. The OP is new to the workplace and the recipient is her mother’s friend’s son.

That’s pretty far removed and by someone you don’t know well.

Reputation at work is really important, and I do think this could run a lot of people the wrong way.

But I think it’s really great that the OP is aware of this and is asking advice and testing the waters before jumping in. A little caution saves a lot of drama at work.

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JT November 19, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Are you suggesting that the OP not even try, or warning that response may be low due to lack of trust? Or both.

She can certainly try.

“Reputation at work is really important, and I do think this could run a lot of people the wrong way.”

Personally, if someone asks me to give money to a cause they think is important to them, and the cause isn’t bogus or obviously lame, I think *more* highly of them. As long as they ask in a no-pressure way and ask me just once, or once a year. They are trying to make a better world and that’s a good thing. Even if I don’t give, it shows they are caring and trying. So that’s the upside.

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Jamie November 19, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Sure – I totally see your point of view on this, and I’m not saying you’re wrong.

I’m saying that, for better or worse, the workplace is also made up of cynical people who may let asking once color their perception of her.

I’ll be honest – if someone new to my workplace sent this email I would be wondering wtf – because to me it’s odd since it is so removed, and kind of presumptuous because she’s new.

I’m not saying that it would make me dislike her – but there would be an element of wtf there that I wouldn’t want if I were new.

And I know that isn’t the most flattering admission on my part, and perhaps I’m not a very nice person, but I can tell you for a fact that I wouldn’t be the only person in my workplace with that reaction. More people would be annoyed than not – but maybe we’re the exception.

Now you’re saying that it wouldn’t bother you if were asked once or twice a year. That’s really nice of you, and I’m not being sarcastic. My mother was a very kind person, so I’m familiar with people who are genuinely decent. But she said she has 30 co-workers. Taking an average of everyone doing this 1.5 times a year and that’s being hit up 45 time annually at work for personal causes.

45 times a year – heck 30 times a year – and I’d be in meeting with HR about why the heck we don’t have a policy against this kind of thing.

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JT November 19, 2012 at 7:32 pm

45 times a year. 5 to 15 seconds each if they have clear subject lines. Maybe 30 seconds to a minute if the subject lines are unclear and/or the recipients don’t read that fast.

I don’t see that as a big deal, though I guess if you multiply it by all the readers in the organization it’s more time.

I guess I’m pretty good at “cognitive load management” and have no problem ignoring things I don’t want to pay attention to.

Anna November 20, 2012 at 7:40 am

I personally wouldn’t want 45 emails a year cluttering up my mailbox, either, regardless of how clear the subject lines are. Even for a registered charity. It just doesn’t belong in the workplace, and most of us likely already donate to the charities we care about.

fposte November 19, 2012 at 6:17 pm

What I’m remembering is a problem with the law, wherein you had to be a registered charity to use the term, but I can’t remember if it’s in the US or elsewhere.

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Anonymous_J January 8, 2013 at 3:00 pm

I agree. I find it offensive when I’m asked to donate money for an individual vs an organization or a disadvantaged GROUP. To me, it just feels like a money grab.

I’ve always felt that way.

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Josh S November 19, 2012 at 3:42 pm

I had a long comment, but decided to scrap it because I had a thought right at the end.

This is the sort of event information/solicitation that would be good on a flyer/poster and hung in the break room/office kitchen. You can put all the information out there for anyone who might be interested, and those who aren’t can easily ignore it without any pressure. And that way, there’s no inter-personal pressure to behave a certain way.

That said, an email isn’t inappropriate (assuming you ask around and there isn’t a prohibition on such things). But keep it the same tone as the flyer/poster would be–information for those who are interested, and free-to-ignore for those who aren’t.

Something like:
“Hey! A relative of mine is hosting a charity auction event to raise money for the medical costs of a kid who got hurt in a skiing accident. It will be at Time and Place and Cost $X. Activities (booze, food, fun, whatever) will be going on.
“It’s totally no pressure, but if anyone is looking for a good time for a good cause, I’d be glad to see you there. Also, the hosts are looking for charity auction items, so if you (or a business you love) would be interested in making a donation, let me know.
“Thanks for your time!”

And thanks for your thoughtfulness in considering your co-workers before just sending off an email or cornering them one-on-one to ‘let them know’. Some of us appreciate that!

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Bridgette November 19, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Yes. A flyer is a great idea. You could print a few, leave them in the break room, and if you feel like it’s necessary to send an email, have the email say, “Hi everyone, a relative of mine is hosting a charity auction, if you’re interested, flyers are in the break room.” This is how my office typically does it and I think it’s a good method.

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Jamie November 19, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Yes – I really like the flyer idea.

And for your own sake before sending an email be super really sure it will either be well or neutrally received.

If this sort of thing isn’t done in your workplace and you do it, being so new, it will color people’s opinions of you.

I personally would do the flyer – if that. I’m assuming this isn’t a certified non-profit thing, but more informal and a lot of people are cynical about that kind of thing. And – not to be the resident Scrooge – but many of us really dislike solicitations of any kind coming through email.

I’d tread very carefully.

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Bridgette November 19, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Yes, tread very carefully with the email. In the method I mentioned above, some people do it gracefully and others do not. If you choose to send an email, keep it short and sweet with no implications of expected donations AT ALL. One person in my office who leaves stuff in the break room sends us emails and she goes overboard on the “it’s such a great cause, and you’ll feel great about doing it, and blah blah blah.” I know it’s a good cause but her enthusiasm feels like pressure to me, even in an email.

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some1 November 19, 2012 at 4:27 pm

My office does this, too, and it works out really well.

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AnotherAlison November 19, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Posting your own flyers is prohibited at my office, so you need to check before doing that just like you do with sending out an email.

Personally, I think it’s a bad idea to bring this into your new office in any shape or form. I’d wait until you’ve been there longer and understand the norms first (like next year). If you directly knew the person the event was for, maybe, but at my office, these types of things are generally for when employees are directly affected, not a new person’s mom’s friend’s son.

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khilde November 19, 2012 at 4:42 pm

“…not a new person’s mom’s friend’s son.”

Uh, that’s a good point, too. Most flyers I see are for an employee or an employee’s first-degree relation (child, mother, etc.). I didn’t read the details carefully enough in the question but if it’s several relationships removed from you, this may not be received as well by others.

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OP November 19, 2012 at 6:03 pm

It’s not that far removed…my mom is throwing the event herself. This is the 2nd year she’s doing it as well.

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fposte November 19, 2012 at 6:19 pm

But they don’t know your mom, let alone the person the money’s for. Generally workplace efforts like this are to help the burden on a fellow employee, whom they know and work with. This is to help the burden on a fellow employee’s mom’s friend–that’s pretty removed.

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JT November 19, 2012 at 9:20 pm

It’s it’s pretty far removed does that bother you if someone asks? Or are you just saying you’re less likely to give?

I’m less likely to give, for sure.

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Laura L November 20, 2012 at 9:06 am

I’m not fposte, but it’s more annoying if someone asks me to informally donate to someone I’m very far removed from (and don’t know) than if someone asks me to donate to an established 501(c)(3) charity.

If I’m going to give money to an individual person, I’m going to give money to someone I already have a relationship, even if their situation isn’t that bad.

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Kathryn November 20, 2012 at 8:37 am

Exactly. The only time we’ve ever done anything like this was for an employee or for an employee’s direct relative. Not for an employee’s relative’s friend’s son. That’s just way too removed. I would feel put off by that. But maybe I’m just a little more cynical. We get so many requests for money and such, that for something that doesn’t even affect someone we work with would be a stretch.

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The gold digger November 19, 2012 at 7:02 pm

I think it’s a bad idea to bring this into your new office in any shape or form.

I would maybe wait as well. I got crap for trying to institute bagel Fridays at a new workplace once. I’m still scarred.

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khilde November 19, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Ditto on the flyer idea. I see flyers on our communal bulletin board so often, but have never received an email about them. I’m the type that’s pretty understanding, pretty open about stuff like this but now that I think about it, if I had received an email about those flyers I may have been a little jolted. I would have deleted it and moved on and not had any ill will…..but the email thing takes it to a slightly more personal level (it’s irrational, but even though I know I’m just on a mass mailing list, getting something in your email inbox still feels personal in some way).

For most of the benefits flyers I see I am not connected to the people or have any interest in participating. But for the one that I did, the man who was coordinating the benefit was a closer acquaintance and through conversation around the watercooler, so to speak, he brought it up and mentioned what they were doing. He didn’t go into too many details, but that brief mention prompted me to pay attention to the flyer in closer detail to determine what I was willing to donate.

So……I really am a fan of the flyer deal, it’s a great way to get the message out without making it overly personal.

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OP November 19, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Unfortunately, there is no “break room” or anywhere like a bulletin board or somewhere to post it. It would be even more conspicuous if I were to post it somewhere like that, I think.

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M-C November 20, 2012 at 6:28 am

Then I’d abstain, this year at least. A flyer is really the only appropriate venue for this kind of thing. If this is a yearly event, you’ll have had time by the next iteration to figure out whether other people use work email for this type of thing and it’s OK. You’re new, don’t step into something unhappy just to please your mother.
I’d also second the caution about the difference between a registered charity and an event to benefit a single person, not even related to you.

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Andy Lester November 19, 2012 at 3:44 pm

I feel like contacting HR at our main offices is a little too much for this, but maybe it’s necessary?

I see the potential repercussions as huge. Don’t mess around. My HR dept has very specific rules about these sorts of things. They can be very touchy.

I don’t see any reason NOT to talk to HR first.

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Ask a Manager November 19, 2012 at 3:46 pm

I wouldn’t bother with HR because even if they say there’s no rule against it, they can’t tell her what the customs or sensitivities in her office might be. And if it’s an HR hang-up, then it should be in the handbook and she could find it there. (I’m assuming she’s checked there; if not, she should.)

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KarenT November 19, 2012 at 3:50 pm

It sounds like she never received one.
I would agree with not contacting HR—they will be familiar with the letter of the law, not the spirit

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Andy Lester November 19, 2012 at 3:52 pm

My concern is that it’s the letter of the law that will be on her write-up for disciplinary action, not the spirit.

AAM, it sounds like there’s no handbook: “I never exactly got an employee manual.”

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Ask a Manager November 19, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Whoops, forgot that part. If they’re not handing out handbooks, they can’t exactly discipline her for not knowing the rule. (I mean, they could, but it would be ridiculous.) I maintain she’s better off asking a coworker with good judgment, who could presumably advise her on either a rule or a custom.

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Bridgette November 19, 2012 at 4:16 pm

An option – see if the company has an HR website and if they put their information there. I work for a large university and they don’t give us physical handbooks, but all the info is accessible online.

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Andy Lester November 19, 2012 at 4:17 pm

What do you see as the downside of asking HR, other than adding a delay of a day or two to distribution of this email? I’m not seeing one, so that’s why I suggest erring on the side of caution.

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Ask a Manager November 19, 2012 at 4:20 pm

They may say it’s fine, when in fact it’s still not a good idea.

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Andy Lester November 19, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Oh, agreed! I’m not saying that one should *only* go to HR. I think she should ask *both* the trusted cow-orker and HR.

Ask a Manager November 19, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Could certainly do that, although at that point she’s bordering on spending a lot of time asking people about this rather than focusing on her new job. (And I know it only takes a minute or two, but the perception is potentially different.)

-X- November 19, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Downside to asking HR is they’ll say “no” because they are risk averse and don’t want to think about it. Or they may say “yes” without thinking how staff feel.

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KayDay November 19, 2012 at 4:31 pm

The type of place that doesn’t give out handbooks probably isn’t the type of place where HR actual writes people up for little policy infractions.

But yes, Andy is right that HR does tend to play by the letter of the law, which means that Alison is right that they might say ‘yes’ when the answer really should be ‘no’. But I still don’t think there is any harm in asking them. If this situation hasn’t come up before, an employee might think it’s fine because they personally don’t mind, but HR might have a problem with it.

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Lexy November 19, 2012 at 3:47 pm

So I am very involved in planning a gala fundraiser that brings in half of my favorite charity’s budget each year. We work on it for about nine months of the year and it’s my favorite hobby.

I never send out a blanket invite to people at work, and I never solicit auction items from coworkers (although, granted, other people on the planning committee have better connections than me in that way any way).

This year I specifically invited two coworkers… well one coworker and a manager. Because they have both independently approached me and asked me to keep them updated on events for the non-profit. If you’re really involved in this it will come up in conversation and people will know what to do if they want more info.

I don’t think it’s BAD to send out ONE (only one) email announcing the event and telling people to get in touch if they want to go. But I think it has the risk of putting off people who are put off by this sort of stuff… and especially as a new employee without a lot of capital to spend yet… it might be more of a risk to put people off than you are comfortable with. I know it would be for me.

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fposte November 19, 2012 at 3:54 pm

You’re being very thoughtful about your approach, which is great. I’ll add a point of perspective, too: remember that you’re doing this because you love your mom, and she’s doing this because she loves her friend. You’re asking people who don’t love anybody in this chain and don’t know anybody beyond you (and barely know you, it sounds like). So for you it’s really personal and different from, say, UNICEF, but it’s pretty much just as distant as that for the people at your office, and some of them almost certainly do personally know people with just as great a need.

That’s not a reason not to tell anybody about the fundraiser, but it is a reason not to ask people for donations, and it’s something to keep in mind when you’re handling the fundraiser announcements. If you haven’t seen people emailing around for non-work stuff, then it’s not something you should be the first at. Even if HR isn’t there, there’s likely a workplace veteran who could at least tell you whether people have posted such things in the past and where they’d have done it.

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Anonymous November 19, 2012 at 4:12 pm

I agree with the flyer option. My office has bulletin boards set up for fundraisers and other event notices. I volunteer for a local animal rescue and we are currently having a silent auction, so I printed off a few of our posters for it, posted them on the boards and just let people tear off the little informational tabs at the bottom. I did write my name on the top of the poster and said if anyone had any questions they could come ask me, but there’s no pressure on them to take a tab or do anything. Just put the info out there and let people come to you.

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Meg Murry November 19, 2012 at 4:22 pm

I think the suggestions others have mentioned are good ones, but I would ask – how long have you worked there? Have you ever gotten an email about a charity event or seen any flyers or handouts about them? If so, follow the lead of those emails/flyers/handouts. If not, I wouldn’t put up anything, even in the breakroom, without asking your boss or a fellow coworker – my last company had very strict policies about this, with it being absolutely not allowed, even for charity (or girl scout cookies). Do you have a cubicle or office? I would start with posting the flyer their, then asking your boss or mentor if it would be ok to post in the breakroom, etc.

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Joey November 19, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Whether You do an email or flyer at minimum ask your boss if its cool to do it. You don’t want to chance there being a policy you didn’t know about. HR would probably say no even if there was no policy just because they’re like that.

Its frequently okay to do absent a policy. It’s only when someone complains about being bombarded or starts talking about unions is it a problem.

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some1 November 19, 2012 at 4:33 pm

As for soliciting your employer to donate something to the auction, I would ask your supervisor in person if your company does this and if so who to direct your request to (after briefly describing the cause). I agree with Allison that directly emailing your co-worker with the wine store could be awkward for the co-worker.

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OP November 19, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Askamanager–I appreciate the advice. I completely understand when you say that people don’t want to be cornered with this sort of thing. I have always disliked when people try to guilt me into donations or try to force me into something like this.

I don’t want people to be forced. I wanted to invite people almost like it’s a family friend’s concert (it is, it’s my dad’s buddy playing in a cover band) that happens to have the proceeds go to this kid’s medical costs. Like “Hey, it’s a concert, come if you want!” I don’t want to be like “You’ll feel so much better donating money to this family with unfortunate circumstances.” I would definitely want to keep it in the vibe of “hey there’s beer, food, music and raffles, join if you can!”

To those talking about “charity”–I never even thought of the issue of calling it a charity. After reading those comments, I think I’d just say “it raises money for his medical costs.”

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JT November 19, 2012 at 7:07 pm

The vibe you are going for is exactly right. “Here is something I care about, it’s an opportunity to help someone. If you’d like to do so, you can do it this way….”

That’s it. An offer of an opportunity.

No suggestion that you’ll follow-up directly (pressure) or that the recipient is not a good person if they don’t give, or that they should feel guilty if they don’t give or even don’t care.

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Rob November 19, 2012 at 6:22 pm

No. Put the flyer on the cork board in the break room or something similar to that. Let them decide on their own if they want to read/learn about this event and if they want to participate. Your co-workers thank you in advance for doing this.

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OP November 19, 2012 at 6:39 pm

I think you missed my comment about the corkboard: we don’t have one. If I were to just post it on a random wall somewhere, it would be more obvious than anything, since we don’t hang stuff on our walls like that.

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Anonymous November 22, 2012 at 7:19 pm

No corkboard for community postings –> the company does not want you guys soliciting each other for stuff. Take the hint.

If you are determined to ignore this hint, ask someone who’s been around what’s normal. If you want a bullet-proof, always-acceptable way to ask about the company culture of such things, use this handy phrase:
“So does anyone do girl-scout cookie drives around here?”

The response should tell you most of what you need to know. And you might end up with thin mints as a bonus.

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just visiting November 19, 2012 at 6:29 pm

After reading all the comments, I just say no to sending the email. If you are having a casual conversation with your co-workers, bring it up in the conversation but leave it at that. Nobody wants to feel extra pressure, esp this time of year.

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Anonymous November 19, 2012 at 6:52 pm

I hardly think a casual e-mail is pressure. Going from person to person would be high-pressure.

It’s the same with Girl Scout Cookies. I send an e-mail saying that the daughter of my friend is selling them and people come to me, which is much better than ambushing people in the lunch room and asking how many I can put them down for.

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JT November 19, 2012 at 6:54 pm

“I hardly think a casual e-mail is pressure.”

This.

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moss November 20, 2012 at 10:36 am

It’s not pressure, but it will make her remembered as That Person. If I got an email asking me to go to a concert to raise money for someone’s skiing accident, I would roll my eyes, delete, and remember that person’s name as someone sending me an email that wasted my time. Sure, 5 seconds of time. But if that’s the first contact I have with her? Now she’s in the category of someone who tried to get money out of me.

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JT November 19, 2012 at 7:39 pm

One comment on reading all of this. In terms of advising the OP to be wary of even low-key asks being perceived as pressure – that’s a fair warning.

But to the rest of us as recipients of asks like this – I think we need to step back and be willing to ignore requests we don’t care about, rather than project onto ourselves that it is pressure, or even that we have to read such requests fully. I have no problem getting requests like this because I have no hesitation to ignore them or to say no. That’s a good thing. Get a thick skin and be willing to ignore things that aren’t important to you. I think being tough that way is better than being tough in terms of trying to get people to not raise money for things they care about, as long as they do it respectfully.

Pressure is a boss asking you to give, or someone asking you repeatedly, or putting you on the spot in public, or saying you don’t care if you don’t give. A request to “give if you like to” is not pressure. It’s a question that can be ignored or given an honest “no” if you prefer.

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fposte November 19, 2012 at 9:03 pm

The problem–and why a workplace will care–is that it’s not simply this one email, it’s the school fundraisers and run sponsorships and bake sales and wrapping paper that accumulates every single week and therefore clogs up the company email stream and leads to people paying less attention to what’s in their inbox. Workplaces don’t want you to get into the habit of ignoring messages in your work email.

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JT November 19, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Are you speaking as a manager who thinks workers are distracted by a volume of such messages? Or as a recipient who doesn’t like them and is looking for a reason they should be banned?

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Ask a Manager November 19, 2012 at 9:19 pm

I realize this was directed to fposte, but for what it’s worth, she doesn’t need to be speaking as either; her observation is a accurate explanation of why many companies ban these messages.

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JT November 19, 2012 at 9:33 pm

That’s a good reason for the OP to be wary. But if we take it from the perspective of those of us here trying to be good “managers” – that is, to encourage our workplaces to have reasonable policies, or implementing good policies if we are in positions of power ourselves now or in the future, do you think that concern is typically justified?

I don’t know – my organization is small so I only get requests like this a few times a month, though with the recent hurricane disaster near us it’s been a few times a week recently. And while email overload is surely real where I work, non-work messages are not part of the problem. But that’s just one perspective.

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Ask a Manager November 19, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Depends on the particular workplace — size, how many they’re getting, culture, concerns like the ones Jamie mentioned below, etc. Some workplaces will also ban these types of messages so that they can ban union stuff on their email network as well (since they can’t ban just that, but can do an overall ban).

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JT November 19, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Also, half the recent requests/emails in the last month where I work have come from one of our newest employees who is actively helping people hurt by the hurricane. She was reticent to ask but I urged her to because the cause was clearly important to her and she could get good directly to a devastated community.

So in a way her situation was very similar to the OP’s.

I think she got about donations from 1 in 6 or 1 in 5 people, including our CEO. I don’t know if people who didn’t want to give were annoyed.

Though our work culture is very giving – we work in philanthropy ourselves and believe it is a good thing for society if done right so that may be part of it.

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Jamie November 19, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Another reason they are a pandoras box is that when you open the door to charitable solicitations you will get some hat people find objectionable in the workplace.

Maybe people are okay with this situation, or shilling for a kids school. What about Jane’s church fundraiser which upsets Bob because he finds their beliefs morally objectionable. Or someone is emailing about a pro-choice fundraiser and now Mary is upset about personal and political issues hitting her inbox at work.

Not to mention that in a perfect world people wouldn’t feel pressure, but some people will do a harder sell behind the scenes and some people will feel strong armed into giving.

So now you have HR and management trying to vet what can and can’t be solicited, and who can and can’t solicit. I can’t ask my direct reports, but can I solicit to people below me on the org chart if they aren’t in my department? Will they give because they think I can influence their manager for something?

It seems simple, just delete some emails, but this is fraught with politics and can quickly turn into a management nightmare.

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JT November 19, 2012 at 9:46 pm

I am realizing I live a sheltered/fortunate like to have not seen problems like this : )

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JT November 19, 2012 at 9:51 pm

sheltered/fortunate *life*

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fposte November 19, 2012 at 10:43 pm

And if it’s working in your office the way you’re doing it, that’s great–I don’t think people insisting that no one anywhere can do it. But there’s a reason why this comes up as a problem with some frequency at AAM-it’s really easy for it to become one.

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fposte November 19, 2012 at 11:03 pm

For what it’s worth, I’m kind of both. We struggle mightily with the signal to noise problem, and many of us are indeed distracted by the volume of messages as is, so I’m thrilled that individual charitable solicitations don’t generally make it past the approval filters of mailings. This approach has trickled down enough that within my department, we tend to go with flyers or their equivalents, and that’s my preference–it’s functionally opt in for attention (you choose *to* read it), whereas email is opt out (you choose *not* to read it).

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JT November 20, 2012 at 8:37 am

Yeah.

We need better alternatives for email in work environments. For me, it’s not about charity stuff but everything, with ideally one or two media (perhaps email) used only for “action required/attention required” and other media (probably some “social” system) for low-priority, interesting stuff that people can take or leave.

And/or better message discipline in terms of subject lines so filtering (automatic or by eye) is easier.

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fposte November 20, 2012 at 9:12 am

Don’t even go there to the “better message discipline” place. You’re still thinking in terms of a small organization; there are close to 800 people in my *department* alone. The problem with getting charitable email solicitations from all of them isn’t that we lack sufficient message discipline, and you really don’t want to get into the habit of blaming employees for wanting their work email to contain work information.

A virtual bulletin board, sure; that’s a place you don’t have to look and that doesn’t take up space devoted to other stuff.

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djx November 20, 2012 at 7:10 pm

But if employees can email 800 people and don’t have the skills to make their messages clear, then charity emails are the only symptom of the problem. You’ll have email overload just with work stuff messages that isn’t done correctly.

The charity stuff is just a symptom of a much larger problem which can either be addressed by behavior/training/discipline, or technology with limits and/or approvals of all-staff emails. Or both. Policies banning non-work email surely will help, but it’s that’s probably on the edges.

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fposte November 20, 2012 at 10:00 pm

As I said above, we do have approval required, and the signal to noise issue really isn’t one of clarity, just the importance of keeping email signal when so many people are affected . My point was that JT was approaching the question from being in a small office, and the treatment s/he suggested isn’t scalable.

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EAST November 19, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Personally I would just delete the email, and would not appreciate a first hand solicitation. It’s not that I don’t like to donate to charity, I just get approached at work too much. I would prefer to allocate the few dollars to charities that I support instead of being strong armed into anothers choice.

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Anony November 19, 2012 at 9:39 pm

I’ve received an e-mail from my manager who sent this to the team about fundriasing for a cousin of hers who past away from cancer. I think that 1 e-mail, not solicitaing people is okay. And as far as donating items, wouldn’t approach people about it due to pressure but include a line at the bottom saying donations are welcomed.

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BW November 19, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Some workplaces have physical or electronic bulletin board s for this sort of thing. My employer has a weekly newsletter that’s exist for this purpose, for employees to advertise non-work related events or post ads. Maybe the OP’S work has something similar. I wouldn’t email people without checking the policy first. Some places have written policies about exactly this type of thing and redirect employees to specific outlets set up for non-company endorsed or non-work related solicitations.

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Wayne Schofield November 20, 2012 at 5:24 pm

No corkboard? Maybe tape something on the fridge or leave it by the coffee pot?

You really need to be committed to something to ask co-workers to attend, but most will be receptive and some might just make a donation or know someone who wants to donate.

Matter of fact. I like to donate wherever and whenever I can because it helps to promote good will and my business and offer a nice deal on something someone will need.

OP – Email me so we coordinate getting this to you.

Best,
Wayne
Co-Founder
Night and Day Resume

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Anonymous November 22, 2012 at 7:10 pm

If your place of employment has a public posting board, this is the kind of thing that should go there. This is the kind of thing where I wouldn’t think twice about it on a poster in the break room, but I would be annoyed to get a charity solicitation in my work email.

If I got a charity solicitation from a very new employee in my work email, I would think very badly of it.

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