gifts and charity at work — 3 questions

Three letters with related themes — gifts and charity in the workplace.

1. I’m in charge of coordinating collections for gifts and charities in my department

I am an admin at my job. In the past, I have sent emails to the team for collections (voluntary only) for birthdays, new babies, and sending sympathy gifts. Our department has grown, and now people are asking me to send solicitations on charities and one to help a coworker’s family friend. How do I handle this? Part of me feels this should be all or nothing. How can I send out for one but not the other? But the asking for donations other than for a life event is making me uncomfortable. I am also very concerned with everyone and their mother asking me to send out these types of things and this just becoming a slew of spam donation emails.

My brief take: Stop flooding people’s email with these requests by email, and stop spending your own time coordinating all of this. Instead, set up a bulletin board or something where people who want to post requests for contributions can. And consider ending the birthday stuff entirely; we’re all adults.

2. I don’t want to bring cake for my office nemesis

In my office, we have had this birthday tradition whereby on a person’s birthday, something edible is brought in to celebrate. Traditionally, the last person to have had a birthday is responsible for this. There are various reasons why I would rather not participate, but the person before me has been too afraid to skip me. So being caught in the cycle, and due to a desire to reciprocate, I have sucked it up and always brought something for the next person.

However, this time I am faced with having to bring something in for someone who has been freezing me out for the last year, to the point where we don’t even greet each other– and we avoid each other when not in a business situation. I have never been close to this person, so our interactions never went beyond business related things and basic politeness, though this person has, a few times, tried to shift blame onto me for their own mistakes in the past. Given that history, I honestly do not care about their silence towards me as long as it doesn’t interfere with our ability to deliver.

This year, the next birthday after mine happens to be this person’s. I am not in the least inclined to even acknowledge this coworker’s birthday, but I feel an obligation to repay the birthday food by bringing something in for someone– just not this person. Just the thought of having to bring in something nice for someone who won’t even say good morning offends my sense of self-respect, but on the other hand, a little voice tells me that the rational thing is to forget self-respect, be totally fake, and play the office politics.

Another brief take: Just bring a cake. It’s a work obligation, not a social one, so your feelings about the coworker don’t matter.

3. Dealing with with overly aggressive workplace charity drives

I work for a large nonprofit company. Every October, my company has an organization-wide campaign for employees to give to other charities. Their goal is 100% participation and they are very pushy about it. I have no problem giving to charities; however, I do it all year long and give away about 10% of my household income to my church and other organizations which are not beneficiaries of the various fundraising activities at my company.

I do not want to sign up for any donations to come out of my paycheck and since our finances are limited, I do not participate in the fundraising activities in the company such as tickets for ice cream socials or purchasing overpriced chocolate covered apples, chili, etc. My manager says they track participation and even if I do not have money taken out of my paycheck, they will scan my ID if I purchase one of the items. She is even frustrated on how pushy the company is about fundraising this year.

This company always has some type of fundraising or donation campaign from donating school supplies to canned goods. Many people overall are feeling tapped out, especially since the company delayed our merit increase by 6 months because of financial issues. The officers and directors in the company are all gung ho about it, but they make twice as much as the average employee.

How do I handle this when confronted by pushy fundraisers stationed at the table outside the cafeteria or if the issue that I did not give would come up with someone in my chain of authority other than my manager who knows about my situation? Can they keep me from moving up in the company because I do not participate?

Tell the pushy fundraisers that your household charity budget is already stretched thin for the year, and consider telling your manager that pushing employees to donate while simultaneously freezing salary increases isn’t good for morale.

If she tells you it’ll affect you professionally, donate $5, file it under “my company is annoying,” and move on.

Readers, what do you think?

{ 237 comments… read them below }

  1. sr*

    #1 at my last job, the admins would send around a folder that had a card and an envelope collecting donations to the whole team, who would do their best to keep it a secret from the birthday girl/soon-to-be parent/whatever. The folder would have a list of the team clipped to it, and people would cross themselves off once they have seen the folder. It was great, no pressure to participate, empty email inbox, and everyone was in on the scheme.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Mine did the card thing, no donations. At the quarterly meetings we’d have a big cake for all the birthdays that were in that quarter. We got fed then too, so it was a win all around.

      For the boss’s birthday, his wife (and he for her) would get pies and share them with everyone. They were pretty generous like that. Now that I don’t work for them anymore, I’m seeing a lot of things they did that I miss. :P Urgh, that hurt to admit that.

  2. Nathan*

    Re: #2 – it honestly sounds like you’re being a little petty here. So what if your ‘nemesis’ is rude to you? You can choose not to let their behavior get under your skin, and to treat them cordially anyhow. There’s no need for this to offend your sense of self-respect; that sounds like you’re giving the ‘nemesis’ too much power over you.

    1. Anonymous*

      Agree with this. You say you do not care, then why is it such a big deal to go buy a cake? It sucks to spend money on something nice for someone like that, but I would be concerned about looking petty to my other co-workers, especially if they know you aren’t buddy buddy with this person. Besides, I consider any time I get to eat cake a win in my book.

        1. Janet*

          This reminds me of a past job. If you were nice to the main receptionist, your birthday got a good cake. Those who were rude, got frozen grocery store cakes with nasty whipped cream frosting. They never connected it either. The rude folks would eat the good cake on those months and be like “Hey! Why don’t we get this kind of cake all the time? This is delicious!”

  3. Kerry*

    “consider telling your manager that pushing employees to donate while simultaneously freezing salary increases isn’t good for morale.”

    Agree one thousand percent. Honestly, they don’t even have the excuse of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing…it’s the same hand!

    However, it sounds good that your manager is frustrated as well – not “good” in the sense of, you know, it actually being good, but at least you know it’s not You vs the Out Of Control Charity Drive World.

    I agree that you should push back on this as much as you’re comfortable, but if you decide you don’t want to die on that battlefield, would it be possible to donate to one of your regular charities via the drive? Like, if you usually give to Amnesty International, could you give your usual amount to them through your workplace for a month?

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      Agree — since they are trying to railroad you into giving to other charities, rather than the one you work for, I’d see whether you can shift some of the annual giving you’re already doing so there’s no net impact on you.

    2. Just a Reader*

      Is there a way to submit anonymous feedback? This is poor form to do once, much less on a regular basis, especially when there’s a freeze in place.

      Why is it so hard for employers NOT to pull stuff like this? There is so much mind-boggling employer stupidity in this column.

      1. twentymilehike*

        Why is it so hard for employers NOT to pull stuff like this? There is so much mind-boggling employer stupidity in this column.


        I’m so peeved at my bosses right now … they go out for a nice lunch, like sushi, several times a week. Then they bring the leftovers “for the rest of us” (which usually means putting it in the fridge, not saying anything, and then eventually one of the staff gets to throw it away).

        It feels like they’re saying, “well, we can’t give you raises even though its been almost four years since anyone’s had a raise or bonus, but we can compensate by giving you leftovers from a restaurant you can’t afford to eat at.”

        (Double insult due to the fact that one manager is very clear about the fact that her family does not eat leftovers. Ever.


        1. Rana*

          That’s just gross. It’s one thing to put catering leftovers in the breakroom after an event, but personal leftovers that they’d been chewing on?


          1. twentymilehike*

            That’s just gross. It’s one thing to put catering leftovers in the breakroom after an event, but personal leftovers that they’d been chewing on?

            Yeah, I don’t think anyone has ever eaten their leftovers after years of this going on. You want to talk unsanitary? How about the time I caught my boss puring his coffee from his cup back into the coffee pot because it was “cold.” He thought it was okay because he didn’t add cream or sugar. WTH?

            Or the time he brought in leftover pizza from an event, but didn’t mention that he left it out all night un-refridgerated. My anniversary was the next day and I spend the entire night with “it” coming out both ends, thinking I was dying, instead of going out to my fancy anniversary dinner my husband had planned.

            Wow … I just realized I have WAAAAAY too many of these stories ….

    3. Anonymous*

      The problem, from what I can tell, is not the drive itself, but the fact that the OP for this question is in a tight financial situation and has already given up to his/her budgeted limit.

      This is very frustrating and wrong for the company to do this. I am in a similar financial situation, and I find it VERY annoying when I am pushed to donate. In my case, my mortgage and bills are very high, and there is usually little to nothing left after I’ve met my basic needs. Plus, when you add in that this OP’s uppers make “twice what the average worker makes,” that just makes the whole thing icky, IMO.

  4. JBowmn*

    #3 – I think on some level its best to think of this donation in the same way as #2 should just bring a cake as a professional need. Whether it’s a dollar a month our of your paycheck or a one time $5 donation (however its easiest to get your name checked off as participating), then if the amount of your donation comes up you can say your budget is stretched thin and are giving as much as you can.

    I work for a nonprofit and while we do not participate in that kind of fundraising campaigning, there is definitely a value placed on employees who truly “buy in” to the organization. Beyond showing up and doing a professional job, employees who are visible in the greater theme of our work (attending events hosted by ‘sister’ organization, participating in ‘optional’ activities). The idea seems to be that because we earn less than the private sector they want indicators that our heart is truly there and not just a professional attitude (especially for promotions).

    I don’t know the exact nature or culture of your nonprofit, but I would find the cheapest nominal way to participate.

    1. class factotum*

      The idea seems to be that because we earn less than the private sector they want indicators that our heart is truly there

      This pressure to drink the Kool-Aide is very annoying. I have found it in the for-profit world, but it is very strong at my current (non-profit) job. What I think should be none of their business. Whether I do a good job or not is.

      1. Just a Reader*

        I would think that the fact that you’re making less money than you would in a for-profit company would be an indicator that your heart is truly there.

        1. JBowmn*

          One would think so, but that’s not how it often ends up. In the sector where I work, it’s very common for people to essentially view their over-time work as “volunteering” for a cause they support. Therefore 8 hours paid, 1,2,3 hours a day volunteering.

          I don’t know of any organization where this is the official policy, but it does end up being the culture where management is that personally invested and so it becomes expected.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            To be clear, if those employees are non-exempt, they’re legally entitled to be paid for any time they spend working (and paid overtime too). You can’t “volunteer” for your employer. If your employer isn’t handling it that way and these are non-exempt employees, they’re looking at a possible very costly legal action for back wages down the road.

            1. Joey*

              You’re correct in this circumstance, but im not sure too many people know that its okay for employees to volunteer in certain circumstances as a non exempt employee at a non profit or govt. If its in another capacity it won’t present wage issues as long as its clearly voluntary and the person knows its voluntary. For example if you’re in accounting you can volunteer to say pass out fliers or man a booth. It only presents problems when it’s in the same capacity as the position for which you’re paid.

              1. JBowmn*

                In my case this essentially how it reads, in the sense that we are asked if we would like to participate (on behalf of the organization) in a parade surrounding the issue we support or go on a tour to learn more about xyz issue. These events are definitely not the job I’m hired to do, but participating is a significant part of indicating to the organization that you’re committed and thus in a position to move up in the organization.

            2. Kat M*

              Just curious, does this also apply if you are not an employee, but an independent contractor? I’m contracted to do clinical work, but I volunteer for the nonprofit I work for in marketing and other areas.

  5. JT*

    Regarding #2 – would it be possible to *tell* the person before you (and whoever else is involved) to skip you? If that person is afraid to skip you, maybe telling here will give her (and you) an out.

  6. Rana*

    #2 Here’s two reasons to bring something:

    1) It makes you look like a nice person, so if that person’s been casting shade then they will look mean and petty. Refusing or asking for special treatment will make you look like the grudge-holding weirdo, not them.

    2) They will probably wonder what the heck you’re up to, and not knowing will drive them crazy.

    1. Ryan*

      HAH…no doubt…to number 2 of this comment…in that spirit…might I suggest you be extra sugary sweet when presenting it give a nice crazy smile to your nemesis and say, “MAKE SURE you eat a NICE BIG PIECE!!” and then snicker.

      I’m not saying you do anything to the cake…but that oughta be good for a laugh the rest of the day at least watching the person avoid their own birthday cake hahahahaha

        1. twentymilehike*

          be extra sugary sweet when presenting it give a nice crazy smile to your nemesis and say, “MAKE SURE you eat a NICE BIG PIECE!!” and then snicker

          I don’t know … it could break the ice. I guess it depends on just how frozen over this person it, though.

          1. Girasol*

            #2 I was imagining the OP bringing in a cake, slamming it down on the table with crumbs and frosting flying, and stalking off without a word. (Not that I mean to tease the OP. I know how it feels to work with such a character.) Seriously, though, it sounds like the cake isn’t a personal gift as much as it’s an observance of office tradition, and worth giving graciously for that reason.

            1. Anonymous*

              Yeah. Don’t think of it as honoring your nemesis. Think of it instead as bringing an awesome treat for your GOOD coworkers. ;)

  7. Rana*

    #3 – What if the charity is for something that you don’t support? That is, it’s not that it’s something you don’t normally or wouldn’t normally support, but rather it’s for a cause that you actively disapprove of?

    (Can you tell that I dislike the whole concept of forced giving?)

    1. JBowmn*

      From my experience working for a small nonprofit as well as a large (nonprofit) children’s hospital – not believing in the cause of the organization or ‘sister’ organizations would not be something that I would recommend formally announcing from a professional standpoint.

      In a range of organizations, they really do not want employees who are there to clock-in and clock-out even for positions that aren’t as mission oriented (such as in accounting/finance). While it might not impact someone’s immediate position, I could see how it would impact that person’s ability to move within the organization, if that’s a goal. In this specific case, I would treat it like a required professional fee of some sort. If the OP worked for a business and this was a charity drive, then I wouldn’t see this as so necessary. But my experience with the culture of nonprofits is that showing personal commitment and interest is part of the job.

      1. MovingRightAlong*

        Agreed, but OP3 never says the fundraising is for sister organizations. So we really have no information on whether the charity drives are for related causes or not. Even if they are for the same cause, she might not agree with the way a certain charity allocates its funds. The push to make a monetary donation is ridiculous. Some folks just can’t afford it and it discounts other types of donations such as time and materials.

    2. Carlotta*

      That’s a good point, I have ethical problems with a lot of charities. While I don’t talk about it (makes you seem crazy and mean, what a combination) I do try to avoid giving to them, but sometimes some of my best friends are doing seriously difficult things like ultramarathons for them. I also raise money for charity and try to match what they donate me but that’s a social thing, not a work thing. For work I’d probably not donate and if pressed, I’d say why – and maybe donate more for charities I do support, if that was possible? This ‘giving’ thing is more complicated than it seems!

  8. fposte*

    On #3: does your workplace do any contribution matching? That to me was always the ethical hole when my workplace got pushy–it wouldn’t actually put anything on the line itself, so I’d just tell people I’d contribute in the organization’s drive when it did.

    Now they have good options and aren’t pushy, so I’m pleased to have a pretax chance to support places I would anyway.

  9. Hate to be anon...*

    Number 3 is a HUGE deal to me. To make matters worse, I keep working at places that have been sucked in by the mother of all forced giving campaigns – United Way. Somewhere along the line, UW figured out that the best way to solicit from large companies was to get them to simply agree to pass along the solicitation to the employees. That way “the company” gives without actually giving.

    From a marketing perspective, it’s sheer genius. My bosses boss pushes his team to be 100% contributing. My boss pushes us and so on down the line. Failure to contribute identifies you BY NAME and while they say it won’t affect your standing at the firm, I know for a fact that it does.

    What truly kills me is that I’m in a position to give – and I do… on MY terms. What I really worry about are the people further down the chain, who work two jobs to make ends meet, and where I’m sure they get blasted by BOTH of their employers to contribute.

    What UW has set up, while genius, is shameful.

    1. Anonymous*

      I’m in the same boat re: UW and I’m not giving. My innate stubborness just will not allow me to. I don’t approve of the tactics and contributing would be endorsing them. I do recognize that I could just contribute a nominal amount and let it go but there are so many things one has to let go at work that every so often, I feel the need to honor my principles over expediency.

      1. kristinyc*

        I’ve worked for UW. I think it’s a great org to donate to, but I disagreed with some of the tactics my org used (like expecting 100% of employees to donate to the campaign – and having an “all or nothing” reward of jeans days if everyone participates, so if you didn’t donate, NO ONE would get to wear jeans!). We had 100% participation, and most of the people at the org were happy to do it, but based on what my salary was, I’m sure it was a struggle for a lot of people. They didn’t give us a set amount we had to contribute, so we could have done $1 for the year and have it count. There were higher level prizes (like a late arrival day) for people who donated at certain levels.

        1. Anonymous*

          I’ve also worked for the UW, and I absolutely won’t give to them now. Each UW is different, with different management and priorities, but mine was SO dysfunctional, poorly run, wasteful, etc. No chance I’d bother sending my charitable gifts through that -I’d much prefer to send directly to the organizations I plan to support.

        2. Heather*

          I also don’t support being rewarded for donating. Are you kidding me? Having to pay to wear jeans? Having to pay to come in late? What a joke.

        3. ChristineH*

          Wow…I didn’t realize UW was that aggressive. I volunteered for my local UW as a grant proposal reviewer earlier this year, and I did notice that some of the nonprofits we reviewed do conduct annual UW campaigns. So that explains that!

          1. class factotum*

            I had to opt out at my first job. Otherwise, they just started taking money from your check.

            When I like the person who is stuck doing UW for my group, I’ll give $5 so they can get their participation numbers. But I have my own charities that I support, thank you very much, and I don’t need to pay for an additional layer of administration with UW.

      2. 22dncr*

        I am proud to say the last time I was confronted with UW I was responsible for my company only being at 99% giving. I will NOT give $ to charities. I will buy you a computer, food, whatever but I will not give you $ that I do not know what you are spending it on. And I do not care if I am called out by name – there are just some things in this world that you have to stand up for. It goes against my core beliefs.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’m on board with knowing where your money is going, but two good ways to do that are looking at an organization’s annual report to figure out what they’ve achieved, and looking at their federally-required financial filings on so that you can see how they spend their money. (Although really, the results they’re getting are more important than the latter. You want to donate somewhere that can clearly point to what results they’ve achieved — which many charities can’t do without BSing.)

        2. LSG*

          Most nonprofits I know and have worked with also allow you to earmark your gift for something specific. I don’t recommend it — I think Alison’s suggestion to do your research and give based on results and sound practices will be much more effective in the long run — but you can do it.

          You could also give through an organization like DonorsChoose, where you’re giving a tangible gift to a specific classroom and they’re facilitating the transaction.

          Finally, there are restrictions on how nonprofits can use their money. For instance, if you’re in the U.S. and give money to a 501(c)(3), though, they aren’t allowed to participate in campaign activities. Of course, if an organization is committed to being shady they can find ways to do it (though it should throw up some red flags if you’re doing your research, reviewing their 990s, etc.).

        3. LSG*

          I know this is a bit of a side issue, but I also want to point out that one reason to give money to nonprofits is because they do things individuals can’t, or do them more efficiently than individuals can.

          For instance, one nonprofit I support provides wraparound services to survivors of rape and abuse, and another provides medical and psychological services to wounded veterans. I don’t have anything like the medical, counseling, or legal skills, the experience, or the time to do those things myself, so I give money to them and they do it.

          Another organization I give to employs teenagers to grow vegetables sustainably, and then the food is donated to local soup kitchens. Now, I COULD grow a few square feet worth of carrots and green beans and take them to a food pantry, but these people do it way more efficiently than I do — so I give them money and they do it.

          I’m sorry to harp on this, but while I really do think it’s essential to know where your money’s going, taking pride in never giving to nonprofits rubs me the wrong way.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I agree — and if everyone only donated to buy specific “things,” who would pay the (often low) salaries for the people who are actually doing the work?

          2. Forrest*

            Non-profits can also stretch a dollar better than an individual. For example, the $200 you spent on one computer could be used to pay the time of someone who’s working out a deal with Mircosoft to get five computers donated.

            That’s not to say that if you just bought a new model and wanted to donate your older model that you shouldn’t. But don’t automatically think that by donating a computer you’re by passing “corruption” in the non-profit world.

            1. KayDay*

              I’m glad you pointed this out, and I also want to add that a certain level of administrative expenses (e.g. computers, office equipment, the accounting staff) are really important to the functioning of a non-profit. An organization can’t accomplish its mission if it doesn’t have the administrative resources (and salaries for high-quality employees) to do its work.

            2. Jamie*

              Excellent point. I used to buy things for our local animal shelter until it was pointed out to me that I’m bypassing the discounts they get for being a non-profit buying in bulk – so since I have faith in how well managed they are I just give them money and know that it’s being used appropriately.

              We still donate stuff like blankets and towels from home, but don’t buy new food/litter etc. anymore.

              1. twentymilehike*

                so since I have faith in how well managed they are I just give them money and know that it’s being used appropriately.

                That’s a really, really good point.

                I don’t have a lot of extra money to spread around, but when I do make a donation to an organization, it really counts in my heart. I need to know that the organization is doing something that I would choose to do myself if only I could. If I feel that strongly about it, I’m sure I’m going to trust that they are going to use my money appropriately.

          3. Anonymous*

            I think the issue, though, is not wanting to have layer after layer after layer of administrative BS, which can eat up donations.

            I tend to favor smaller organizations, because I know that their administrative stuff will be minimal, and more money will go directly to whatever they are doing.

            That is my beef with big orgs and “middle men” like UW.

      3. Anonymous*

        I completely agree with this.

        My company makes a big deal out of this campaign every year, and I go right on ignoring it.

        I DO give, when I can. To charities and causes I support.

    2. Elizabeth*

      I gave to the UW once. They listed a local chapter of a national organization to support caretakers of those who suffer from a particular disease that has affected my family. I called up the chapter and asked how much they needed to be able to rent their weekly meeting room for the year, and a friend & I split that amount between us with directed giving. Another friend asked how much they needed to be able to provide coffee & refreshments at the meetings, and she gave that as a directed gift. I think among us we donated about $150 for the year.

      I was prepared to organize the same thing the next year, but they weren’t on the list as an option for a directed gift. So I called them and asked what was up. Because of our directed donations, the local UW had gotten upset with them for having direct contact with potential donors and struck them from the list of organizations. They hadn’t known when they talked to us that there was anything prohibiting that contact.

      I haven’t donated since & I won’t. I don’t even turn in the sheet saying I’m not donating, so that my employer can’t get the 100% participation award.

    3. Blinx*

      My ex company used to be a huge supporter of UW. But some where along the line, there was a split, and they created their own Company Giving Drive. They added many more services that UW didn’t support (like my local library), covered all administrative costs, and matched 100%. It was a no brainer to give through this drive. I got a tax break, and charities I was already supporting got twice as much. It was tracked by division, not individual. But no big chocolate bar during drive time (bummer).

    4. Ivy*

      I like the way my company does United Way. Everything donated is matched by the company, and there is no pushing going on, especially on lower earning employees. I think the higher ups might feel some pressure to donate though. A lot of the donations are anonymous, so no one knows who donated. There is also more emphasis put on having people want to donate. i.e. having fun activities to participate in, having awesome items in an auction, etc. so employees get an awesome deal for a hotel stay and they’re simultaneously donating.

      1. some1*

        I like the way my company does it, too. They encourage employees to participate as individuals and give a lot incentives to do so, but there’s no “all or nothing” kind of pressure.

    5. Girasol*

      Me too! I hate any organization that uses peer pressure like that. I used to donate to UW but when the campaigners started tracking down those who didn’t donate and telling them they’re letting their coworkers down, they lost my respect.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      At one point, I learned UW does not give monies to charities receiving monies from other sources.


      So in the end, the charity could get money from UW or be out in the cold.
      The idea being there was so much competition for funds- if a group had money coming in from else where then they were on their own.

      I probably will never donate to UW.

  10. Samantha*

    Another pet peeve is when people send their kids from office to office collecting for school fundraisers. I worked at a church, and some families would send each of their kids several times a year through the offices. I love children, but those pricey fund-raising items (you had to select from catalogs with $15-$50 gifts) added up quickly, and the kids were understandably disappointed if you couldn’t buy much! Shame on the parents!

    1. Elizabeth*

      I found a way to stop the parents (not the kids) fundraising for their kids: ask them what they are fundraising for. So far nobody has been able to tell me. Surprise! So I don’t order…

    2. KarenT*

      That’s terrible! I would be furious. I suppose that parents are thinking it’s okay because it’s a church. I know at my church growing up they eventually put a sign on the offices that said they couldn’t give to everyone’s school fundraiser, so they had to give to no one and instead donations would be made to the church or community at large.

      1. Rana*

        That would be a wrong assumption with me, honestly. If I knew it was to support a church, I’d be even more reluctant to contribute. Ditto things that benefit political causes.

        1. Rana*

          Oops. Misread that as fundraising for a church, not fundraising at a church!

          On the latter, my assumption is always that churches need money themselves, so I myself wouldn’t think of them as prime soliciting territory.

      2. Samantha*

        Your church was wise to post that notice! I was really fond of the parents that sent their kids through our offices, and I doubt they realized how many “hits” the office workers got from other kids/grandkids.

    3. Blinx*

      They sent their kids through? No, no, no, no, no! This is just awful!! Most people just pass around the catalog or tack up an order form outside their cube. Same way as the adults do, when selling Longaberger/Silpada/Pampered Chef… it’s there if you’re interested, but no hard sell.

      1. Anonymous*

        Parent here. The school fundraisers are EXHAUSTING. We just ignore all of them and purchase within the family for things we want (gift wrap) and ignore the things we don’t (chocolate). Our school is seriously running 3 separate fundraisers right now. I would never consider sending my kids to work to ask for money. That’s frankly unbelievable to me.

        1. Jamie*

          Me too. When my kids were younger and did these things we’d write a check for a reasonable amount and throw the catalogs in the trash.

          I wasn’t trying to raise the next generation of hawkers and the thought of them irritating our neighbors, family, and co-workers was unconscionable to me.

        2. Samantha*

          Anonymous parents, that must be so frustrating for you to want to support your kids’ school and activities but to be bombarded by so many fundraisers. The kids from my church represented many schools, and they felt obligated to collect for everything: new cheerleader outfits, the gynastics team, their after-school club, missionaries who visited the Christian schools – as well as the general school fundraisers.

      2. Sharon*

        I’m clearly in the minority here, since I’d never even consider donating to a school fundraiser unless the kid came in and made a good sales pitch in person, WITHOUT Mom or Dad feeding Junior lines.

        I think teaching your kid how to say something like “Hi, my name is Soandso and I’m selling Chocolate Teapots to raise money for Name Of School’s Goal. I have a catalog, would you like to buy one?” and then graciously accepting a yes OR a no is a more valuable life skill than Just Letting Mommy And Daddy Handle It.

        1. Anon*

          That’s what my parents made my sister and I do. In high school, marching band required you either give a specific amount of money per kid or sell subs(which rocked) or pizza. Or do a combo.

          The subs always went over well with our church members and we never did the pizzas. But we were the ones calling and walking, never our parents. And then once another girl from band was selling at church the three of us worked out a deal, so we all could sell but not bombard people. Cooperation and compromise at 15.

        2. Samantha*

          Hi Sharon, the kids at my church did do the selling (usually while mom was involved in a committee meeting), but the stream of kids coming door-to-door through our offices became time-consuming – and costly! Choosing a catalog item, filling out the order forms, and writing a check often involved 15 minutes. The workers cared about the kids, so we didn’t dare play favorites, and we felt obligated to buy from everyone.

        3. KellyK*

          I think it’s a question of whether you consider the fundraiser primarily a request for a favor or primarily a learning experience for the kid.

          Looking at it as a request for a favor from your coworkers, it makes sense to keep it as low-key, low-pressure, and non-disruptive as possible. (And that doesn’t preclude the learning experience of sitting at a table selling Girl Scout cookies, or going door to door with your magazine order forms.)

          1. Jamie*

            Right – and what you think of the concept overall.

            I personally find few things more annoying than other people’s children badgering me for money so I was going to be darned if I was going to let my kids be in the position of becoming tiny pariahs.

            I can respect that other people see it as a learning experience – I just felt the negatives far out weighed any positive for us.

      3. Samantha*

        Blinx, I agree! One coworker posted notices for her kids’ fundraisers, and I really appreciated her sensitivity, but several other parents from the staff or congregation would send their kids door-to-door through the office (often while mom was in a meeting on campus).

    4. LSG*

      Poor form — though I admit that I’m really disappointed I don’t work with any parents of Girl Scouts. It’s way less irritating when there are thin mints involved. :)

      1. Samantha*

        LSG, I admit that the Girl Scout cookies were welcome, especially the original peanut-butter cookies (Samoas?)! Those mint cookies were great, too!

    5. SJ*

      I used to work with a lady who would send her son around and he would give us a spiel of “My name is Coworker’s Son, I’m a boy scout in troop whatever and we’re selling trash bags as a fundraiser. Would you be interested in buying some?” and then he would either transact with us or thank us for our time if we declined. I like that much better than the lady here who left the girl scout cookie sheet in our breakroom and then brought her daughter to help deliver the cookies but daughter “was feeling shy so she’s reading in the corner” and then mom does all the work. I think the kid doing the fundraising should at least thank you for buying. It’s not like they’re doing it for the actual fundraising, it’s for the piddly toys they get for selling X amount of stuff.

      1. RJ*

        I completely agree. One of my big pet peeves is the high school kids standing outside the grocery store to “collect” donations for band camp or soccer or whatever. Back in my day, when we had to walk uphill in the snow to school both ways, we attempted to” earn” donations. Have a car wash, a bake sale, a raffle, or at least show me some tricks with that soccer ball to provide some sort of value for my donation.

          1. Xay*

            Unfortunately, every school/sport/activity fundraiser we have done has given specific instructions not to go door to door. I think the only door to door type thing we have done is the UNICEF trick or treat for change.

            Personally, I hate selling things (especially overpriced wrapping paper) so we just buy a small amount and call it a day. The only exception was the two years that we had cookie dough to sell – and it basically sold itself.

        1. Samantha*

          RJ, what a great idea! (Of course, the parents would probably have to oversee those activities, so maybe most adults feel it’s too time-consuming to get the kids involved in a real hands-on effort.) But that certainly sounds better than just having kids hand you a catalog.

        2. The Snarky B*

          Ehhh… I’m inclined to agree with you RJ, but the problem I see is that the kind of fundraising where you pitch in and make/do something to turn a profit on it can be really tough for the people involved. I remember when I was in a private school, we had bake sales left and because most of the families were extremely wealthy, they paid for the supplies, extravagant decoration kits for 60+ cupcakes, the kids made them with the nanny and it was no problem. But then when I was at my public or Montessori schools, it was always a question of, “Do we let the parents subtract the cost of supplies? Or do we ask them to spend that money each time and let it add up while they get fed up?”

  11. Tiff*

    #2 – Just give the person a small cake….and cut a slice for yourself before you give it to him. I kid, I kid. Mostly. Or you could use the cake as an ice breaker. Either way, just not worth it. Witholding the cake would be satisfying but it’s immature.

    #3 – I agree with your frustration, the folks who are on the charity committee can get a little aggressive. But I contribute a small something. When money was really tight I volunteered to cut fruit at the ice cream social. Fortunately the managers in my department don’t push it too hard.

  12. Anonymous*

    #3- I work at a nonprofit— we have had a salary freeze since 2008 due to budget cuts… but we are constantly bombarded with donation requests for our own agency, as well as other requests. I honestly think the employees are donating their time day-in and day-out by sticking around so long despite the increase in the cost of living and no increase in pay for almost 5 years!!! Most people here are working for lower than average wages, and many have been scheduled for less than full-time hours too… people really have nothing left to give. It has gotten to the point where I really don’t care if it reflects poorly on me, because seriously— I have bills to pay and need to put food on MY OWN table.

  13. Hugo*

    For #1, don’t must companies have a small expense budget that allows for new baby and sympathy flowers / gifts? Those events should happen rarely enough that a couple hundred dollars per year should suffice (and might not even be used every year). Then there should just be a set standard amount to be spent on these gifts – new baby always gets “X” gift and a sympathy flower basket will always be “Y” amount, for example. If anybody wants to go above and beyond, or wants to give gifts for weddings or other circumstances, then they can spearhead the efforts on their own. I wouldn’t get involved.

    The birthday gift-giving at work is ridiculous…a “Happy Birthday” should be enough…leave the gifts to family and friends.

    1. Anonymous*

      I completely agree with this.

      Also, I hate baby showers. HATE them. Last week, our receptionist pressured me SO HARD about whether I was giving a gift or a donation for someone I DON’T REALLY EVEN KNOW that I took the day of the shower OFF. (I did sign the cards, though, because the new mom is a very nice girl–just not someone I know that well.)

      It’s obnoxious, and I honestly don’t participate in most office parties like this (birthdays, too.)

      I’m sorry if this makes me sound like a sour puss, but I don’t appreciate forced gifting or forced socializing. I’m very generous–on my own terms.

  14. Carolyn*

    #2 – Buy the cake you’ve been craving from the grocery store and enjoy a piece of it while everyone else celebrates. (You can celebrate because you got the exact cake you wanted.)

    1. LSG*

      Yep — I’d take this as an opportunity to get whatever kind of dessert I find most delicious, and soothe my irritation that way.

    2. Jamie*

      Like when Michael Scott made the party planning committee get ice cream cake for Meredith’s birthday – even though she was lactose intolerant?

      “It’s not just about Meredith.”

      Excellent plan.

      1. Esra*

        Haha I’ve totally had this happen! I can’t eat nuts and have had cake crusted in and baked with nuts served. It’s always so awkward.

    3. MovingRightAlong*

      I was thinking the same thing. It’s a bring-cake-to-work day. Who is the cake for? Whoever gets to eat it.

  15. BHB*

    #2 – As an extra-nice gift, give the birthday person a copy of the film “The Help” on DVD. Then chuckle slightly as they bite into the first piece of the large, sticky, gooey chocolate cake you’ve brought in :-D

    1. BHB*

      (I jest, of course – just buy a cake and grit your teeth and get through it. Whilst technically you’re buying the cake ‘for’ this one person’s birthday, I imagine the whole office/department gets to share it so think of it as treating the office and this person’s birthday is just incidental.)

  16. Dawn (#3 OP)*

    My company is a large educational nonprofit and truly has a mission I can believe in. We are not solicited to contribute here (except for the scholarship fund). Also, I do not like contributing with the payroll deduction because (1) they only disburse the money quarterly and those I give to really need it monthly and (2) if my finances blow up, it is much easier to stop giving when I am doing so directly.

    We received an impassioned plea from our division’s VP asking for participation, no matter how small, just to show we participated. Apparently they are just tracking participation, not dollar amounts. I bought a $1 soft pretzel yesterday and they scanned my badge so that they can count me as participating.

    We can look up the division standing for participation and company-wide participation is below 60%. So there are many other people who agree with me.

    In every other way, the company is great: decent salary, great benefits, tuition reimbursement, great time off, etc. I suppose this is something I’ll just have to deal with because I plan to stay here (moving up in the company) for the balance of my career.

    1. JBowmn*

      I agree that’s completely the right approach. In my nonprofit the issue isn’t about financially donating, but rather attending certain off-hour “optional” activities. They happen about 3-4 times a year and basically take around 6-8 hours on a weekend day, and while you don’t need to attend all of them – attending none of them will basically just ensure you don’t get to move up in the organization.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If they’re exempt employees, it’s not working for free because exempt employees aren’t paid by the hour. If they’re non-exempt, they actually should be paid for that time, “optional” or not.

          1. JBowmn*

            I work overseas – so US employment law isn’t at play and the way hiring practices are where I work (and most NGOs in my area) it’s not quite the same as exempt/not exempt.

            Either way, these optional events are optional in the sense that no one has ever gotten fired for not participating but more so that never participating ensures that you will never be considered for a promotion/management.

    2. Jessica*

      The funny part about that (the participation rate) is that the lowest-paid employees (support staff) at my educational non-profit have 100% participation rate (and have for the eight years I’ve worked there), while all the other constituencies (faculty, administration, parents, alums) have always had dismal percentages (a low of 2% for alums and a “high” of 59% for faculty). There are fewer administrators than support staff, so it’s not because we are the smallest constituency.

    1. Blinx*

      No, no. Bring a spectacularly awesome cake. That way YOU will be the star of the day, not your nemesis!

      1. fposte*

        I like the way you’re thinking. Like maybe make a Bundt castle cake, and then do a whole battlement storming with figurines. (Birthday girl? What birthday girl?)

    2. Another Jamie*

      I assume the birthday person isn’t going to eat the cake all by herself. Don’t inflict crappy cake on the whole office!

  17. Melissa*

    Re letter #3–I’m in a similar situation here. We are ‘encouraged’ to donate to the United Way each October and the college’s annual fundraiser in August. Dollar amounts don’t really matter – as long as you give $5 or more.

    I split the difference. I don’t donate to the UW. I tell my boss I prefer to give to charity directly rather than through a middleman. But I suck it up and donate a token amount to the college in August. I used to give generously, but thanks to slashed budgets, raise freezes, hiring freezes and a new administration that doesn’t seem to care about the rank and file I don’t really feel obliged to give more than $5. That way my name gets checked off the list (and yes, they DO note who does/doesn’t donate) and I’m not broke for the week.

    1. Rana*

      Ugh, college fundraising drives. It’s one thing when you’re alumni, but another thing entirely when you’re an employee.

      When I was working as an adjunct professor, particularly, these demands made me angry. “Gee, you’re unwilling to pay me enough to live on, or give me benefits, and you want me to donate money to you? To the very employer who can’t be bothered to pay me a living wage? No. No friggin’ way.”

  18. Dawn (#3 OP)*

    #2 Have you ever heard of this Proverb? “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.” (Prov 25:21-22). Bring the cake, heap the burning coals. :-)

    Take the high road and do the right thing even if the other person is a complete jerk. People will respect you for it.

    1. Mike C.*

      Or consider the fact that you’re socially forcing this person to acknowledge and thank you for the cake. :D

    2. BadMovieLover*

      What makes this course of action the ‘right thing’? What is the moral imperative behind doing something nice for someone who does not even afford the OP basic civility?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s not about doing something nice for the coworker. It’s about appearing professional and not petty; it’s an action in the OP’s best interests, not the coworker’s. It’s not about the cake — it’s about how you look.

        1. BadMovieLover*

          Would holding something like not wanting to eat or bring cake against someone be petty? Wouldn’t it actually be more grown up and professional if professionals actually focused on actual work that needs to be done?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think they should kill the tradition altogether, but since since it’s alive and well, yeah, the OP will look petty if she refuses to participate the one time that she doesn’t like the person the cake would be for.

          2. Jamie*

            Yes it’s about the work – but people ignore the social aspect of the workplace at their own peril.

            It’s like going on Survivor and being really good at challenges. That’s great and will help you go further – but if you don’t play the social game you’re out the first vote after the merge.

            Life is easier if people like you.

            Besides – it’s cake. Cake is almost always on the side of good.

          3. Colette*

            Keep in mind that it’s her turn to bring the case because someone else brought one for her. If she didn’t want to participate, that should have been sorted out before she got cake on her birthday.

            Not bringing a cake will look petty, and potentially brand her as someone who takes advantage of other people’s generosity.

            1. OP#2 again*

              Hey you’re stereotyping women. Guys can be petty too, and I’m a guy. :-p

              I have tried to get out of the birthday thing for more than two years now, but people are too afraid to skip me, or just outright refuse to let me out. It’s kinda like being Michael Corleone, if you think about it.

              1. Colette*

                I wondered about the pronouns, but I was too lazy to figure out whether we had a gender, so I just picked one. :)

                I totally agree that participation should be optional, but since it’s not, the implications of not participating are higher than I’d be comfortable with. I’m in the “suck it up and bring a cake” camp. :)

    3. Heather*

      Ha! I am totally non-religious, but I am going to keep this one in mind. It’s so much more memorable than “kill them with kindness.” Plus, picturing a pile of burning coals on the head of someone I can’t stand is entertaining :)

  19. Victoria*

    I don’t understand people who are all rawr against their own birthday being celebrated at work. What’s wrong with smiling and saying “thanks” when someone brings in a cake and says “Happy birthday!” to you? Why does it have to be all “rawr I hate my birthday argh” ? People are doing a nice thing for you. Accept it and move on.

    1. BadMovieLover*

      If you are expected to then ‘pay it forward’ the way #2 has to do, it’s an imposition. Whatever happened to live and let live?

    2. Lisa*

      As a 32 year old woman that isn’t married with no kids, a birthday party at work becomes a “when are you going to hit those milestones” conversation. People mean well, but I don’t need the conversations that come with a simple cake. I am not talking about internally worrying about those milestones, I have them but more the outright statements of “You need to start thinking about kids cause you are not getting any younger” and “its only going to get harder to get pregnant as you get older”. Its all sanctioned by the boss since its his friend (she works here) that makes these comments to everyone.

      1. Heather*

        Tell them to mind their own business. Problem solved. I’m 47 not married with no kids. No one asks me these things. Either they don’t care (which is possible) or they know I’ll politely shut them down.

        1. fposte*

          Yes, when I hear stuff like this I really appreciate my workplace and family. Nobody bugs people about this kind of thing. They’re just happy to have cake.

      2. KellyK*

        Wow, that’s incredibly personal and inappropriate. I don’t know how good the friend is at backing off when she’s bothering people (I’m guessing not very) or how reasonable the boss can be about that, but I’d be inclined to point out that it does bother you.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Agreed — and a lot of times when people talk about situations like this, they haven’t actually directly addressed it with the person. It should be the first step — even if it’s just saying “wow” and turning away.

          1. Lisa*

            At the Christmas party, I got excited talking about something and this woman asked if I was drunk because “she’s never seen me so animated before and asked how much I had to drink”. Its well known that I refuse to drink in front of co-workers, so everyone at the table did the “wow” thing. I have told her privately that I don’t appreciate her questions, comments, snide remarks, and it turned into a thing where she went crying to the boss. (tears streaming down her face) Then my boss was like, why did you make her cry, and I looked like a b-tch. I can’t be seen by the boss as not being a team-player so I have not said anything since I “made her cry”. His opinion of me matters more than pointing it out to her who only does it more since its clear that the boss just wants peace and sees me as the protagonist for making her cry.

              1. Lisa*

                Yeah, but I chose to make the best of it and treat it with a new outlook. If I have to ride a unicorn over rainbows and be mary sunshine in order to get a raise / promotion, I am prepared to put the effort. I will be positive to the point of nausea, and treat it as the game of office politics. I have def been doing it well, and drop my little nuggets around to various loud-mouths and my “positiveness” is getting back to the boss. So I play, and she looks worse when her comments add up and I have no negativity associated with me. :)

                1. twentymilehike*

                  If I have to ride a unicorn over rainbows and be mary sunshine in order to get a raise / promotion, I am prepared to put the effort.

                  Riding a unicorn over rainbows happens to be a personal goal of mine ….

                2. Diane*

                  Crap. You have inspired me. I’m meeting with my boss in a few minutes, and will aspire to do some unicorn ridin’, despite my natural inclinations otherwise. I will envision my unicorn farting rainbows. Makes me happier.

                3. twentymilehike*

                  Diane, I wish I could show you this picture I have hanging in my bathroom. It is beautiful drawing of a unicorn pooping cupcakes.

                  I would LOVE to have a matching piece with unicorn farting rainbows!

      3. -X-*

        Birthdays: yet another milestone in the inexorable march toward death.

        A useful reminder of the ephemeral nature of human existence.

        The fragility of this mortal coil.

        That life is but dross, a thin veneer of order, hiding the entropy that is the fundamental nature of the universe.

        Happy Birthday!

            1. perrik*

              Nonsense, you simply need rectangular cookies. Extra-tart lemon bars would be particularly appropriate.

      4. Anonymous*

        That is infuriating.

        I usually just say “We are happy together, and we don’t plan to have kids.” Usually shuts people right down.

        Where I work, I don’t get this kind of thing. At our group admin birthdays, we just talk shop or chit chat about whatever.

    3. Anonymous*

      I don’t get upset by it, I just think it is entirely unnecessary and would strongly prefer it not be done. It also leads to pressure to do similar events for other people, etc. Everyone has a birthday, why do we need a cake every time one comes up…..

      I feel the same way about gifting. I have people at work who buy me Christmas gifts, which results in me being guilted into buying them a gift, when I’d just rather skip the gifting altogether.

      1. Jamie*

        Yes! With the exception of my kids I hate the whole holiday/birthday giving thing. If it needs to happen why can’t we just exchange cash and be done with it. Then – as Sheldon Cooper says – the one who dies first comes out ahead.

        I like sincere gifts, like if I run across something that I know my sister will just love I’ll pick it up and send it to her – my mom called those “for nothing presents” and they are the best kind. “Hey – saw this and thought of you” is a much nicer sentiment than “it’s December and I’m obligated to try to find something that indicates care and effort and is appropriate for the nature of our relationship.”

        1. 22dncr*

          Jamie – my Momma calls them a “Happy” as in “I got you a Happy” but it’s not Happy anything – just a Happy.

      2. Heather*

        You are guilting yourself into buying a present. The point of a present isn’t to give one in order to get one – it’s for the joy of giving. If you don’t want to/can’t then don’t. If they have an issue with it then that’s their problem. And clearly they didn’t give the gift with good intentions in the first place.

        1. Anonymous*


          *has visions of Sheldon Cooper dumping a half dozen bath baskets on Penny after The Napkin Situation*


    4. some1*

      Some people get weird about their birthday. As Lisa mentioned, they may not like to be reminded that they have not achieved certain milestones (or other people comment about that), they may have had life changes happen (divorce, death) and this is their first birthday without their mom or spouse. Some people don’t like to be reminded they are getting older. Some people hate being the center of attention.

      1. Jamie*

        I took mine off the birthday calendar on the shared computer screensavers – IT has it’s privileges.

        One of my bosses always remembers though and gets this amazing plum tart that I love – because my mom used to make me pflamenkuchen (plum cake) when I was a kid for my birthday and the recipe died with her. I mentioned that as an aside years ago, and she does it every year because my mom is gone and isn’t here to do it for me.

        So it’s really hard to complain about someone being so sweet. And she’s the boss so she buys it – doesn’t shake down my co-workers to kick in.

        1. Anonymous*

          That’s really sweet.

          My grandma and then my mom always used to make me a red velvet cake. Now that Mom is older and I’m vegan, that no longer happens, but I think I know a vegan bakery that can do it for me. :)

      1. Xay*

        This is exactly how I feel. When I had a job that included a floating holiday, I always used it on my birthday because the last place that I want to celebrate my brithday is at work.

    5. Anonymous*

      I have no problem with my own birthday being celebrated. We admins in my group do birthdays quarterly, so it’s usually 2-4 of us being honored at the same time. The thing is, I LIKE my fellow admins. It’s my other coworkers with whom I have no interest in socializing.

      Besides that, most years I take my birthday off, you know–so I can do something I ENJOY! ;)

  20. Laura*

    I really like what my company does. We have a set of email groups that people can opt into. One is for volunteer/charity (my sister is in this bike ride please donate money or volunteer, etc), one if for industry news (sending around newspaper articles)…you get the idea. Also, anyone can send it out, not just you, and it just goes to the small group that wanted to get those emails.

    I think it would be a very innovative suggestion for you to make to your manager. That way, you can spend less time worrying about it, and the only people who receive the emails are those that wanted it.

  21. Mike C.*

    I really like the way my company deals with these issues.

    We have an organization known as the “Company-name Employee’s Fund”. Once a year we all hear a 15 minute talk and are given forms if we want to sign up or donate. The company pays for the overhead of the organization but the employees run the fund. But! No one keeps track of who donates! It’s totally anonymous unless you work in payroll and even then it’s mostly computers doing the work.

    This is in addition to a more typical matching program.

  22. KarenT*


    I would get the best damn cake I could buy/make. And not because I’m nice, but what better way to stick it to someone you dislike? Any time your nemesis talks about you behind your back, people will remind said person about the beautiful and lovely cake you got for their birthday. IMO it’s okay to take the high road for the wrong reasons.

  23. Jamie*

    I want to send a thank you note to my employer for not only enforcing the no shilling on the premises part of the handbook, but for not quilting me into reaching into my own pocketbook.

    #2 is weird to me. Is this something unofficial started by co-workers or something the company supports. If it’s company supported they should be paying. That’s what petty cash is for.

    That said, I’d just buy a cake and not plant my flag over this. I would buy something I liked that was popular with most of the office and just think of it as bringing cake into work rather than a tribute to your nemesis.

    Although this did make me realize that what my office is missing is a nemesis – I don’t have one. Perhaps I’ll try to cultivate one, or at least an arch-enemy. Could liven things up. :)

      1. Jamie*

        Good point! I take it back – I’ll settle for my current band of co-horts who are pretty awesome – no reason to tempt fate.

  24. EngineerGirl*

    #2 I’m sorry you don’t work with adults. Be the adult and bring the cake.

    #3 Working on the company’s pet fundraising project does help with promotions. If it is a 100% participation thing then just buy the $5 thing once a year. If they ask for more just say “oh, I donate quite a bit to other causes too.” Also- you say that you tithe – are you praying about this?

  25. Meg Murry*

    #2 – if you really don’t want to be part of it, and the person before you didn’t either but brought the cake out of social pressure, bring the cake this time. Talk to a few other people and find out if there are other people who also want to opt-out. If so, sometime toward the end of the year, suggest that in 2013 and going forward, you and people A, B & C are opting out of the birthday celebrations and therefore you don’t want to be in the rotation and people can buy smaller cakes from now on. Suggest they start a “birthday club” for people that WANT to participate, or just do a once a month rotation of someone bringing in treats. If there are other people like you that don’t want to participate, get together and make it known. Just make sure that you stand firm on it – if you’re out of the group, you don’t eat ANYONE’s treats, this isn’t something you get to pick & choose about.

    1. Jamie*

      I can’t tell from the letter if she decided to do the birthday, etc. collections on her own or if this is part of her job. Often times an admin is tasked with doing this kind of thing.

      As for the extraneous pleas – my response would be total befuddlement if someone asked me to solicit for a pet charity or cause. I don’t understand the all or nothing comment – is the OP saying that if she alerts people about a collection for a co-worker’s baby shower this somehow obligates her to do the same for non-work related things?

      I agree 100% that putting up a bulletin board where people can post their pleas for money and people can contribute or ignore as they wish.

      Personally, I think bombarding people with emails about babies and birthdays is irritating – I sure as heck don’t want to get emails asking me to help a co-workers half cousin raise money for a mission trip, Bigfoot expedition, or whatever.

      I would just stop all of it – but as some companies have the cultural thing of the birthdays/milestones at the very least disregard the rest.

    2. Heather*

      Flowers for sympathy reasons – yes (although really the company should pay for it). Non-mandatory collection for big milestones – maybe. Collection for birthday gifts? – Absolutely NOT. If you want to celebrate staff’s birthdays circulate a card and have a cake. No presents.

      Solicitations for charities and someone’s friend? absolutely not. Either create an actual bulletin board where people can post notices or a virtual bulletin board that people can check. If it’s chocolates and so on leave them in the lunch room with a sign and people can buy them if they want or not. Email solicitations are tacky and inappropriate.

    3. KayDay*

      Employees’ birthdays have always been part of the admin’s job at places where I have worked, so I don’t think she can do much about that. However, for things that aren’t directly for an employee (charities and/or friends and family of a coworker) the OP should just advise the requester to post the sign up form (or donation jar or whatever) outside their cubical or in a common area.

      1. Anonymous*

        There is ALWAYS something an admin can do about it. You can have a talk with the boss.

        I am not expected to handle these things where I work. None of us admins are. The people who are FRIENDS with the person in question coordinate it all.

        IMO, there is always a choice. If it’s REQUIRED of the admin, no question, then I know that is not the right workplace for me.

    4. Anonymous*

      I used to be #1, and I used my executive powers to rewrite the rules. I actually *wrote* the rules down, so it was clear to everyone. No exceptions, and everyone was very happy about it. We did hire a new person who is very into collecting for various charities. She approached me about it, I pointed the rules. She wanted to change them, so I told her if she was in charge of this, she could change the rules however she liked. I’m now happily retired from this thankless task.

    5. Ellie H.*

      I thought your advice was perfect. Given that there seems to be a significant amount of interest in this kind of thing (even though undoubtedly, many people aren’t interested at all) a bulletin board for charity solicitations seems like a great solution to “contain” the requests.

      If it is a well-established tradition to do birthday, sympathy, new baby gifts, and people willingly pay up for these with no complaints, then I think it would be better to have one kitty a few times a year that everyone pays $20 into sporadically. Then there would only be three or four solicitation emails a year. Like, the email could read, “It’s time to contribute for employee gifts this season – the following coworkers have birthdays or are expecting a baby in the next few months.” That would cut down on email frequency and the LW’s time spent coordinating the contributions. But, I think that would only be a better solution if the vast majority of people seem enthusiastic and willing participants in contributing to these gifts. The tradition at the bookstore I worked at was to pass around a card to sign and you got a gift certificate to the store for the amount of your age – I think the managers paid for it. Very, very infrequently we collected money for a going away gift or baby shower present.

    6. some1*

      I like your bulletin board idea, to be honest. We have one and it’s for employees who sell Mary Kay & that stuff on the side, as well as outside fundraisers (employee’s brother-in-law has cancer and they are holding a chicken dinner fundraiser at the VFW to help pay medical bills). This way all the employees can see it, but no one feels any pressure.

    7. fposte*

      I’m too dumbstruck by the notion that there was a solicitation for donations to somebody who wasn’t employed there or related to anybody who was.

      The great thing about the bulletin board approach is that it removes any implications about compliance. There will definitely be fewer donations as a result, and that’s just fine. Work isn’t an opportunity to guilt people into giving to your individual cause–as this thread demonstrates, we have enough problems with the company itself doing that.

    8. Anonymous*

      I would go to the boss and have a talk about it. Don’t frame it as “I don’t want to do this,” but rather as, “It’s all becoming a bit much, I feel people’s inboxes are probably becoming overloaded with spam, and I’m not sure where the line is between ‘OK for work’ and ‘not OK for work.’ Do you have any thoughts?” MAYBE you can get a policy put in place limiting what is allowed to be blasted like that. I know that I get very irritated by being notified of every baby, retirement, resignation, charity drive, etc. I don’t KNOW the majority of the people involved!

      I also agree with the bulletin board idea. When you talk to the boss, suggest this as an alternative. Where I work, we have a bulletin board in our kitchen, and our building coordinator has to approve every posting. It really keeps people from being bombarded with–pardon the term–random crap.

      After you’ve had the talk with your boss and (maybe) won support, whenever someone comes to you with “random crap”, bounce them to the bulletin board, reminding them of the policy. (Once the policy’s been revised and made known, that is.)

      Good luck with this! I’d be really irritated if I were asked to do this kind of thing.

  26. Dan*

    Oh this is funny. For most of my career, I’ve been able to avoid the whole “charity at work” thing. Except for one job, and that one was the most ironic.

    Back in the day, I worked for a subsidiary of Raytheon Corporation. Our parent business unit manufactured corporate jets, and our sub-unit provided the ground handling and fuel servicing. Most of the guys in my sub-unit made less than $15/hr — closer to $10. This was in Los Angeles, where the cost of living is *really* high.

    The kicker was that Raytheon is a huge supported of the United Way. We all got sheets asking us to donate. I chose not to. I got a note from HR asking where my sheet was — I was really aghast when they wanted me to sign a form saying I wasn’t donating anything. Wasn’t the lack of a contribution enough of a clue?

    The best part was that some of my co-workers actually participated in state aid programs. I know for a fact that one guy had his kids enrolled in some sort of health insurance program for kids. (And Raytheon actually gave us decent insurance.) I was highly amused that the same people who benefited form charity and/or state aid were also being asked to contribute. What cluelessness.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      When I start the Chocolate Teapot Company, all new employees will be assigned a nemesis, in the way that some employers assign new employees a mentor.

      1. Anonymous*

        Re the nemesis thing…I keep thinking about how Cora fails to react to the Countess’s little tirades in Downton Abbey. She would have been a nemesis if Cora had been less patient and non reactive.

      2. Chinook*

        Only if you can promise that they won’t take up much of our time, like Will Wheaton told Brent Spiner when SHeldon added him to the list.

      3. Rana*

        Do we get a choice in type of nemesis? Some folks might prefer to be irritated by the Loud Person With Gross Personal Habits, but others may relish matching wits with the Sneaky Backstabber or psyching out the Silent Passive-Aggressive.

      4. Samantha*

        Love the “nemesis” comments! How did the “Chocolate Teapot” thing get started? I’ve seen references to that in other posts.

      1. perrik*

        I can haz cheezecake?

        (darn it, why hasn’t anyone ever brought in birthday cheesecake at any of my employers?)

  27. KayDay*

    Related birthday question, as the only charity related problem I have had has been not getting the opportunity to buy girl scout cookies. (thanks for letting us know about the cookie apps on the open thread!!!)

    At the 3 non-profits I have worked where we have acknowledged employee birthdays/departures/babies/marriages, the organization has always covered the cost of the acknowledgement–be it a card, cookies, or lunch. Granted, all the places I have worked have been quite small, so there have never been more than 2 “events” per month. And the amount of celebration was inversely correlated with organization size (e.g. 5 employees = lunch; 15 employees = cake; 24 employees = a card).

    Is it normal for companies to make employees pay for these things? Is my situation way out of the ordinary, or do people just not complain about being given free food by their employer?

    1. Blinx*

      I worked in one department where once a month everyone went out to lunch. If your birthday fell in that month, you didn’t have to pay – it was split among all attendees. Until you got to my birthday month – there were too many people born that month, so everyone just paid their own. Really irked me that I never got a free lunch! Later it was changed, so once a month everyone brought in treats to celebrate birthdays.

    2. Diane*

      I worked in a small-ish office (about 7 of us) full of bakers. We took turns baking the birthday gal’s choice dessert, and would go to lunch. The boss paid for the birthday person’s lunch.

      1. Laura L*

        Was anyone not a baker? I can just imagine myself in that situation-as the only person who hates baking and cooking.

    3. Jen in RO*

      In my company, everything is organized by the other employees. Someone coordinates the effort, emails the birthday boy/girl’s friends, gathers up the money and buys a present. It would be very weird to me if the company bought me a gift OR if the company made the other people pay for my gift.

  28. littlemoose*

    Re #1 – when somebody in the office has a life event (baby, death of immediate family member), we send around a card and an envelope to collect donations for a gift, like sr said above. It alleviates the frequent emails and does let you skip contributing money if you wish. There is also a universally understood rule in the office that such collections are only for the coworker him/herself (e.g., recuperating from surgery) or death of immediate family members. That keeps the frequency of requests low, and doesn’t require anybody to evaluate the merit of a gift or request.

    As for birthdays, I agree that presents are silly for coworkers. We have 65+ people in my office, and we have a monthly “birthday celebration” honoring that month’s birthday celebrants. Everybody takes turns bringing snacks, and brings twice per year. It’s really just an excuse to have food for everyone, although we do sing a truly terrible rendition of “Happy Birthday.” I’m not sure if anybody has declined to participate, but if they did, I doubt it would be noticed, due to the rotating schedule.

    And as for people soliciting for their kids’ fundraisers – usually that just goes in our breakroom with a note. Nobody walks around actively soliciting; it’s very low-key.

    1. littlemoose*

      I also think the admin in #1 can politely defer the charity requests with a response like, “I do not send out mass e-mails for requests for charitable donations.” Whoever is requesting such donations can take it upon themselves to ask their coworkers, if they really want to (or, consider discussing an office-wide policy with your supervisor to discourage or prohibit such requests in general).

  29. KarenT*


    I would go to my supervisor and ask for their opinion. Tell them that you are being asked frequently, and don’t want to be spamming your co-workers. I would do this in the hopes your boss would support you telling people you won’t be soliciting and that they either need to not solicit at work or that they need to do it themselves.
    If your boss supports you soliciting, I’d do Alison’s bulletin board idea or send one weekly email with all the information digested. Something like a bulleted list: 1. Bob is raising money for diabetes 2. Joe is selling wrapping paper. 3. Jane is running in a cancer-awareness marathon and collecting donations. Please see the individuals mentioned if you want to contribute.

    1. twentymilehike*

      send one weekly email with all the information digested. Something like a bulleted list: 1. Bob is raising money for diabetes 2. Joe is selling wrapping paper. 3. Jane is running in a cancer-awareness marathon and collecting donations. Please see the individuals mentioned if you want to contribute

      I think that’s a great a great idea! That way it is up to the employees to make sure they get you the info by a deadline to include in the email. I think having clear “rules” is what is going to make it fair to all, and summarizing it in a monthly/weekly/whatever email will make it less time consuming for the OP.

      1. Jamie*

        This would be awful as I would spend copious amounts of time trying to find the most bizarre causes in which to engage just to amuse myself.

        Bob – diabetes
        Joe – school fundraiser
        Jane – cancer
        Jamie – Research on sea monsters of the North American waterways and fundraiser for a bronze statue of Sesame’s Street’s the Count for Navy Pier to encourage people to love math.

        1. Ellie H.*

          I love your Count statue idea. It would really class up Navy Pier. (I hate Navy Pier and dreaded the two occasions I had to go there with relatives who visited me at college.)

          1. Jamie*

            Cool. We’ll have to find jobs at a place that allows solicitations – then we can come up with them together and split the money.

            Some of which I want to spend on a piece of cheesecake since Perrik put the thought in my head.

  30. OP#2*

    OP #2 here. :)

    To all the ‘Birthday (Ribbon) Bullies’:

    Just kidding, of course. I appreciate all the responses, from Allison, and all the readers. The advice is sound, and I think I’ll just play realpolitik on this one. Maybe I’ll take one of the suggestions to an extreme and have a singing telegram delivered with the cake. :)

    On a more serious note, some background:

    A relatively pushy party posse has developed in the last few years at my office. Half the group just puts up with the funtivities, or makes some excuse not to attend if it’s after hours. However, if it’s at lunch time, there is unspoken pressure to participate in order to be a ‘team player’.

    Lately, as well, morale has gotten worse and worse due to various factors– to the point where there has been noticeable turnover. Management’s remedy has been to reward us for our hard work with lunches, often consisting of junk food, that we have to eat in a conference room. Those of us who hate this type of thing just suck it up, listen to the bland conversation veer either into sports or…work!!! :(

    However, the party posse will not be outdone and has stepped up its efforts to try and monopolize our free time as well. You can’t really bow out of the ones management sets up, but I have never felt like co-workers can dictate what I can do with my own time— and, quite honestly, I don’t feel like giving up that time in order to appease people who feel entitled to it.

    Now don’t get me wrong: I do get along with most of my co-workers, and am in fact very close to some of them. It’s only a couple of members of the ‘party posse’ who seem to have taken my lack of participation personally—and my ‘nemesis’ seems to be the most extreme of them.

    As for the birthday cycle itself, I have asked numerous times to be left out of it, but I’m always told, “I can’t do that” …and it has meant both “I’m afraid of doing that” or “*You can’t* do that” depending on who was answering my request, haha (both super nice people that I’m very friendly with, by the way). I actually like most people, but I find the cavalier way in which they assume they can impose these things on you ‘hella’ annoying. ;)

    1. BW*

      While I enjoy the “party posse” myself (except when I am nose to the computer screen in deadlines), I believe anyone should be able to opt out, but since your co-workers don’t seem to get it, make the most of your burden, whether that’s bringing in something that is so absolutely disgusting that no one will ever want you to bring another cake to work ever, or something so wonderfully delightful and tasty you’ll be so happy you just won’t care.

  31. OP#2*

    Oh, I just wanted to add that my resistance to do this birthday thing, is in large part to the fact that it feels like one more burden– the fact that it’d be for my nemesis is just the final ‘insult’. :-p

    1. Anon*

      I’d see it as cake for your co-workers rather than cake for your unliked colleague.

      At my current and last place, the culture is to bring cake on your own birthday for staff (the males at my last place tended to bring in savoury snacks as well, eg cocktail sausages and veg and dips as cakes were seen as “girly” or “unhealthy”. Directors would buy lunch for all staff – and probably expense it!).

      This works out well: those who don’t want to draw attention to their birthday don’t have to bring anything, leaving social akwardness away.

  32. BW*

    #2 – Just buy a cake, and make it something you will really really enjoy, so at least you can get some pleasure out of it. We’re all about the cake in our office, but we all like different things, and being the cake bringer means you have the power to choose the type of cake everyone else will eat. So treat yourself!

    We had a similar arrangement in my group where the last person to have a birthday brought the cake for the next birthday, but it was easy to forget or get mixed up, and then what if someone leaves. So our solution was that the birthday person brings the cake. This actually allows people who don’t want to participate an easy way to opt out.

    Disclaimer: I personally NEVER say no to cake. Ever. My opinion is probably at high risk of being biased in favor of all cake in any context.

    1. Blinx*

      A small company I worked for had something like that — you brought in a treat (usually baked goods) and left it in the common area on your birthday. No celebration, so it wasn’t awkward. But all day long, many people would make it a point to stop by your desk, thank you for the treat, and wish you a happy birthday. It was actually kind of nice.

  33. Elizabeth West*

    We never did donations at Exjob, although the lady with two Girl Scout children did the cookie thing. Various other employees would make their kids’ school things available if you wanted it. You weren’t obligated by any means to participate. The only time anyone solicited directly was when a coworker had a huge medical issue and was out for a long time, and we all kicked in so his kids would not have to go without Christmas presents.

    After the Joplin tornado (we’re not far from there), a couple of people in the company also let everyone know their church or whatever was taking donations for disaster relief and if they wanted to contribute money or goods, to see them. But it was also voluntary. That one was definitely an OMG moment; if that tornado had not veered south after it hit Joplin, it would have hit us. 0_0

    (BTW I did donate a bunch of goods but through a non-work friend’s church.)

  34. A question*

    OP #3, curious –

    Because you work for a non-profit, do you get any reward for the staff reaching 100% participation? I know of a non-profit who all give back to the organization (even VERY small amounts) to United Way, and as a result, they are granted half day on the Fridays before a Monday holiday.

    That would be the only reason I’d agree to incorporate charity with work. Otherwise, I keep that to myself, donating to my schools and to certain non-profits I believe in for personal reasons.

    If 100% participation is SO important to a manager, I’d give a minimal $5 gift, just to appease.

  35. Unna*

    #2. Yeah, just bring a cake. Like the premade kind from the grociery store. Also, resist throwing said cake at nemisis. Or deliberatly picking out a cake to which the person has an allergy.

  36. Anony*

    #1 I agree with the “we are all adults” regarding the bday thing. In my old team, we would celebrate everyone’s bday’s individually and we had a team of 20, which equates to about 2 bdays a month. How annoying was it to get a donation e-mail every 2-3 weeks.

    #2. I don’t want to bring cake for my office nemesis – I was in a similar situation, except it was for Secret Santa and guess who’s name I picked? Yep, the person I liked the least. I sucked it up. It would be unprofessional to say, No I’m not doing it b/c I don’t like this person. I suggest the OP do the same.

    #3 Do you work for a non-profit company? I’ve been in non-profit employers before and if it’s a large company, you can get away with donating even just $1.

  37. Anon*

    God, I don’t know how people put up with all this peer pressure. You’re supposed to be working with adults, yet so many people are still stuck in High School.

  38. The Borg Too*

    OP#2 again October 24, 2012 at 2:02 pm
    By the way, I am serious about having a singing telegram delivered. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be this dancing gorilla in a tutu:

    Maybe this will put an end to all the birthday stuff, even if it’s by getting fired! j/k. :)

    LOL Hilarious, but it might get you into trouble with management.

  39. Anonymous*

    OP #2 should just skip this person and bring a cake for the person in line after that. Problem solved. If anybody raises a fuss about it, just say you forgot.

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