how can I get out of running my workplace’s United Way campaign?

A reader writes:

I have a question regarding charity at work. To be more specific, this is regarding the United Way. It’s not a question about how to respond to the donation requests, but rather how to decline being asked to run this year’s workplace campaign.

Some background:
– I am currently covering for an employee who is away on leave and is set to return right after this year’s campaign would end. They have been the main driver for the United Way campaign since they started at the company a couple of years ago.
– Last year, my supervisor agreed to take on the role of our workplace chair person while the employee who was going on leave was assigned as co-chair. My supervisor “volun-told” me that I was on the United Way committee because “it is part of my job description” (which it 100% is not). I knew it was because they didn’t want to be left holding the bag if my coworker had to leave earlier than expected. My involvement was minimal. I helped decorate the lunch room for the kick off and that was about it.
– Because I shared an office with the co-chair, I knew all the stuff they had to do in order to organize the various campaign events. They also voiced their disappointment to me regarding our chair’s lack of involvement, i.e. they did very little to help organize the campaign or answer employee questions.
– Last year was my first experience with a United Way campaign. I did donate, but I thought the whole campaign thing was a little weird and it left me feeling a little bit uncomfortable.

Yesterday I was asked if I had any interest in running this year’s campaign. My first response was something like, “Not particularly. It is a huge time investment, and I will be taking on some extra responsibilities in the next month or so (which is true), so I am not sure I would have time to do it.” Their response: “Oh, well, it is great recognition if you do it.”

So I decided to come right out and say it: “I feel that charity donations are a very personal thing, and I am not comfortable calling my coworkers and asking them if they will be submitting their form and can I put you down for a donation, yes or no.” They also had an answer for that, and ended with, “Well, be prepared to be asked by the district head since you would be a logical choice to them.”

I am really worried about telling the district head that I am not interested (I know that I will be asked). They have family members who have used the services of the United Way, so of course they are very passionate about it.

Basically, my feelings are:
1. I already have charities that I am passionate about and have made a conscious decision to donate to.
2. I am not prepared to invest a bunch of my personal time into a campaign for a charity organization that I don’t really have a strong interest in. I know it will be personal time as my work days are already filled with actual work.
3. If the chair is the same as last year, I know I will be alone in the planning and communication of the campaign.
4. I find the campaigns to be aggressive and awkward. Even though we are told that donating is completely voluntary, the 100% participation drive puts pressure on people. Why do people have to return a form saying they will not be donating and why do I have to hound them to get the form in? It’s none of anyone’s business if you donated or not.
5. I have ABSOLUTELY ZERO interest in standing up in front of my coworkers and telling them why they should donate to the United Way when my heart isn’t in it. I feel dirty just thinking about having to do that.

Judging by some things I’ve read and heard, the United Way doesn’t have the greatest reputation in regards to their workplace drives and they also have a bit of a sordid past in some aspects. I am not totally opposed to donating, but I want no part of pushing my coworkers to “participate.” How do I tell the district head “no thank you” without blatantly stating my concerns above? Am I pretty much obligated to do this if asked?

A bunch of options:

* “I have some concerns about the United Way’s fundraising practices, so I wouldn’t be a good ambassador for the program.”

* “I’m not comfortable pushing people to donate their own funds, even for a good cause, and I’ve seen that people who are most successful at running these drives are pretty persistent about asking for donations. I wouldn’t want to do that, so I’m not the best choice to run this.”

* “I have strong feelings about what charities I do and don’t contribute to, and I’m not comfortable running a United Way campaign.”

* “I have philosophical disagreements with the way United Way fundraising campaigns are often run, and I think the campaign will do better with someone running it who’s truly passionate about it.”

In other words, point out that while you’re not flat-out refusing, you’re not likely to be a choice that matches up well with their goals.

If they still say they want you to do it, even after hearing the things above — well, first, that’s really bad judgment on their part, because they should know that someone with a natural aversion to this isn’t going to get them the same results as someone who’s enthusiastic about it. But if that happens, then I’d say: “I’d really prefer not to lead this. I will if it’s necessary, but are there alternatives?”

If they still push you (and I really doubt it will get to that point, but I suppose it’s possible), then yeah, you look at it as a piece of your job that you don’t much like but you carry it out. At least, that’s what I would have told you based on reasons #1-4 in your letter. But if reason #5 — moral opposition — is in play, then I do think it’s reasonable to say, “I’m sorry, but I have strong moral opposition to this, and it’s not something I’m comfortable taking on” and you hold as firm as your morals dictate.

But I’d bet they let up after your first round of “I won’t be good at this.”

{ 260 comments… read them below }

  1. Celeste*

    If none of the scripts work, I would do it, but I would give the bare minimum of effort. I’d see that they got all of their forms back, but in no way would I “work it” to fund raise to make sure anybody put down more than zero.

    I know how these things work, where it’s important to somebody to put the charity on the list of things the org will do. I would just not care if they got any money out of it.

    1. AB*

      Yes, but that could reflect poorly on the OP. If you’re going to take on a task that would be as high profile as corporate fundraising chair (and for a charity that has personal meaning for the higher ups) it would be a poor career move to then only put in minimal effort, even if you were essentially forced into the spot.

      1. Celeste*

        My point is, how can you say you’re taking it on, when it’s forced on you? And how can one person be made responsible for what others choose to give?

        It seems like if they’re committed to fundraising, they will show it by the way they allocate staff–and that includes picking somebody who is a good fit for the job, not to mention time in their work day so they don’t have to use their personal time for it.

        1. AB*

          I completely agree, but people and companies don’t always do the most logical thing. If the Op’s boss/ company leadership push her to take on the chair position, even after all her protestations, I still think it would be a poor idea to give the bare minimum. As many people have pointed out, being the chair person for this type of event can be a real boon to your career because it is a high profile position. The flip side of that is if you do a poor job, everyone will know you only put in the bare minimum of effort. Regardless of whether or not she was forced into the role, I think it would reflect very poorly on the OP. (Just like it would reflect very poorly on you if you got a project you didn’t particularly like from your boss and proceeded to do just enough to scrape by when you are obviously capable of putting forth better work)

    2. James M*

      If LW wanted to become a scapegoat for whatever “failures” the campaign suffers, this would be a good way to achieve that.

    3. Rebecca*

      That’s exactly what I did when I was “volun-told” for a co-chair position for my company’s United Way campaign. There were a few employees that I knew were actually interested (and good at) fundraisers, so I asked them to plan something. They put together a bake sale, I told other associates about it but that was the extent of my involvement.

      I passed out the contribution forms and made sure to tell everyone that it was optional. If they selected “no,” then I didn’t follow up.

      I didn’t get asked to co-chair again the next year!

      The difference in my case (I think) is that my manager was not particularly invested in United Way. I think he just assigned me and my coworker as co-chairs to get it off his own plate.

  2. Angora*

    I have never believed in “forced charity” on the job. When I was doing contract (part-time) for crappy pay I was pushed to get involved with the Angel Tree at the defense contractor.

    I informed them that Mom and I did the Angel Tree through the Salvation Army. That Mom attended that church. I sounded like a broken record because of the number of people that pushed it.

    This were big ticket items also.

  3. Muriel Heslop*

    I have used variations of “I am uncomfortable with supporting the United Way because of their financial structure” and I have offered a list of other organizations that I DO support and am happy to coordinate for them. I now run the annual canned food drive and it’s 100% optional.

    1. Celeste*

      I do like this. It’s even easier if you give people the option to contribute to a grocery store card. Then you don’t have to lift the goods.

      1. tesyaa*

        Someone will eventually have to lift the canned goods – whether it’s the people working in shelters, or single moms living in shelters with little kids in tow. If only we had drones to lift the canned goods.

      2. Callie*

        I like the gift cards. That way the charity in question can buy the items that are most needed instead of getting 394587 boxes of mac and cheese that are a week away from expiring.

    2. AcademicAnon*

      I also have issues with the United Way, and I have even bigger issues with any employer allowing that to be the ONLY charity drive allowed at work. My department even got a nasty email from HR last year about that. And the 2 charities that didn’t want anyone to fundraise for in my department were the woman’s shelter and the humane society.

      1. MK*

        The reason many employers “only” allow the United Way charity drive is due to United Way’s ability and willingness to pass funds through to ANY 501c3 health and human service agency. Other independent charities are only looking to raise funds for their own cause – which isn’t a knock on them, but it is what separates United Way from other non profits and why many employers only run United Way charity drives.

        1. AcademicAnon*

          I’d say that is true for some employers, but not mine (catholic university) they just run it because it looks good for them. And the United Way only passes funds through to those it approves of, that is part of my problem with them.

          1. MK*

            I can see your point then – my local UW allows me to pass money through to any 501c3, so I’ve never had an issue. Good reminder how each operates differently!

    3. Angora*

      Like your response. If they did charity runs for the local SPCA I would be all right with it. I hate dealing with the United Way. when I was in banking some years ago it was a political no-no to not donate. You were bullied into it I did one dollar per pay day to just shut them up; but I hated it. Our regional manager was a spokesperson for them in our part of the state. He did the video’s etc for them.

      I told them I wasn’t interested in it … I started out part-time but they kept coming back so I did the bare minimum $1 per pay period to shut them up. But it left a sour taste in my mouth.

      Charity at work can be a good thing. I have done the adopt the family program through TAPS (Total Action Against Poverty ) … not sure if I got it right. ….at work at Christmas for one employer. One year we collected enough for two families. I really liked that one. I like the Angel Tree .. but since I was doing it on my own; I wasn’t going do it through work.

      I really resent these goals employers have for charity drives etc at work … especially the 100% employee participation.

      1. NW Cat Lady*

        I also worked in banking and they were big on United Way. The first two years I just didn’t give the sheet back. The 3rd year, my boss told me I “had” to sign it, so I ticked the “I choose not to donate” box, signed it, and wrote, “signed under duress” on it. He actually chuckled when he saw it.

  4. CB*

    I totally understand your concerns with this as forced participation can be really awkward. However, I work in corporate philanthropy and I am wondering if you have considered the benefits of running the campaign – to be honest, it can really help advance your career. You will get a lot of face time with senior executives and they WILL notice if you do an excellent job. A strong United Way campaign reflects really well on the company so if you can do a good job with it and make the company look good, it will be remembered. And if you don’t feel comfortable necessarily making the asks, you could leverage your colleagues who enjoy that part and just serve as the project manager for the campaign. Your United Way branch should also provide you with tons of resources to support you, especially if you’re not getting much help from the chair. You’d be surprised at how much they will do for you if you just ask them to.

    1. John*

      I agree with this, and I say this as someone who is not in love with forced giving at work.

      If OP is looking for an opportunity to show some leadership skills and stand out, this is a good one.

      I would go the route of asking if they could designate co-chairs so that it won’t cut into your work, then delegate the heck out of it.

      I say this as someone who was asked to do it for my part of a company years ago and I did what AAM suggested, which was make it clear that, if they want someone who is passionate about the cause, I was not a good choice. But I did so knowing that it wouldn’t damage me because the person asking was going through the motions. This is not always a winning strategy, and can make you look like you’re not a team player. After all, even if United Way is not you’re thing, they still do a lot of good and you don’t want to fall on your sword for the purpose of withholding support for underprivileged youth and seniors in need of care.

      1. amaranth16*

        “withholding support for underprivileged youth and seniors” I work in philanthropy, and I STRONGLY disagree that declining to lead the workplace United Way drive amounts to this. If people are coerced into donating to United Way, that may crowd out donations they would otherwise have made to organizations where those dollars could do even more good.

        1. John*

          I’m talking about perception. There are lots of reasons to fall on your sword on the work world, but choose them carefully.

          1. Mike C.*

            Yes, because either you’re “falling on your sword” by “withholding support for underprivileged youth and seniors” or you’re gleefully taking on a second unpaid job where you get to apply high pressure sales tactics to your coworkers in an effort to pretend to look good to the rest of the public.

            This is nothing more than a false dichotomy. If the company truly cared, they would actually hire someone who can actually do this well.

          2. GrumpyBoss*

            I always gave the minimum at “volunteer” drives for the United Way, something like $5 a pay period. It was money well spent to stay off the “didn’t contribute” list.

      2. Celeste*

        I don’t feel that it’s fair to accuse people of withholding support. Nobody is entitled to their support–it can only be given. If the employer is essentially forcing them to donate, it’s extortion. I can’t believe a charity wants extortion done in its name.

        1. John*

          I, too, have never been comfortable with the practice; in fact, I could have written OP’s letter a number of years back. I’m just saying that giving to United Way is deeply ingrained in some cultures and identifying oneself as a non-believer and refusing to get involved is often a risky undertaking (and, no, I’m not saying OP needs to give a dime). They see the UW chair role as part of the work they do.

          You or I could argue with “forced workplace giving” until we’re blue in the face but lots of business leaders see it differently and would see the OP as declining an important assignment. OP needs to bear that in mind and make a decision from there.

          1. Celeste*

            John, you make an interesting point about being labeled as a non-believer. There is nothing fair about making belief part of somebody’s job description in a secular workplace.

          2. Mike C.*

            Screw what “business leaders” think. They don’t have a moral right to decide how employees spend their money or judge them for the decisions they do make on their own. It crosses a serious line and people should stand against that if it makes them feel uncomfortable.

        2. StevenO*

          The United Way campaigning in office is seemingly relentless. I really don’t like it, and management indeed gives perks to those who contribute (like, it’ll be a Jeans Day on a specific day but only for those that do contribute, so it’s clear who has and has not contributed). And I don’t get it — no other charity is allowed to come in (the Salvation Army can’t stand inside the office or even outside the office for weeks on end).

          1. Zoe*

            I wonder if we worked at the same place, John…we had an issue with this at my previous employer, where if we attained 100% participation for United Way, we were allowed to wear jeans on a set day. It caused a lot of ruckus, because many people didn’t want to or couldn’t donate, or felt that they contributed to charity in other ways (personal donations outside of work, tithing to their church, etc.) It went so far that our manager was emailing all of us, trying to guilt us into donating. Emails were sent saying things like “$X of money is not going to make or break any one of you, and donating is a selfless act…” etc. I wonder where the line is drawn on this, between voluntary and forced.

      3. JMegan*

        you don’t want to fall on your sword for the purpose of withholding support for underprivileged youth and seniors in need of care.

        See, I would fall on my sword for precisely this reason. Not because I am interested in “witholding support” from anyone, but because I am not interested in being pressured or guilted into making a donation. Especially when it’s coming from my workplace, this is exactly the kind of language that would make me dig in my heels and refuse.

        1. John*

          But you could make the argument that OP could perhaps change that, making it easier on people like you and I who don’t like these campaigns.

          When I was forced into the role, I just refused to coerce or guilt anyone. I simply identifed myself as the chair, made sure everyone understood what the campaign was all about, then made it clear that it was completely up to the individual whether and how much they give and that I would not be tracking them or badgering them.

          I should add that, one year at my company while we still did United Way, the chair brought in a group that was benefiting, and they had powerful stories to tell. We were able to earmark our donations for specific UW charities, so people like me actually felt motivated to participate — and felt really good about supporting that particular charity, something I’d never felt in all my years with UW campaigns.

          1. hildi*

            I think in them most recent year I specified on my form that I wanted my donation to go to a very specific program under the United Way, and I felt better about giving when it felt like I had a little more control over where the $$ went. Whether it actually happened that way or not, I don’t know, but the illusion made me feel good.

            1. money lady*

              Except that if you donated directly to that charity, they would get all of the money without United Way taking our their piece.

              1. John*

                And I agree with that. But then, I could argue that, without UW’s involvement, some of these worthy organizations wouldn’t be on our radar.

                (And, no, I’m not an apologist for UW. But over my career I’ve gone from extreme anger at these campaigns to finding a place where I feel good about the level of involvement I have.)

            2. Dan*

              I’ve only been at my current job for 6 months, but if it turns out we’re UW freaks, I’ll give the minimum and write “for administrative expenses only.”

              That way I can satisfy the requirement to “give” and still tell them I don’t actually care about their mission ;)

          2. Big Tom*

            No one is arguing that it’s not good to help people, just that being forced into it kind of defeats the purpose, and whether this particular instance of a UW drive is being run by someone with a lighter touch or not, that’s how the UW operates as a whole. And, as someone else noted below, seeing it as a career-advancing maneuver makes it seem even worse.

            I worked at a grocery store that held a huge UW drive every year and not only was the pressure to give obnoxious, for some employees it was humiliating. There were people working there who were living paycheck to paycheck and not making ends meet, and being made to feel like they were obligated to give money to people who, in some cases, were no worse off than they were clearly made them feel bad about their own situations.

            It’s obviously not the store management’s fault that those employees were in tough situations, but it sure wasn’t a secret either, and some awareness of that would have gone a long way.

            1. Dan*

              I worked for a subsidiary of Raytheon that has since been sold off, but when I was there, Raytheon was a HUGE supporter of the UW. Nevermind that my location was in Los Angeles, most of my coworkers were making under $12/hr, and a few were receiving state aid as it was. I found that hilarious.

            2. Jess*

              This reminds me of when I used to work at Borders where everybody made $8 an hour and no benefits (apart from our discount) and we were asked to contribute to an employee assistance fund for employees experiencing hardship. It was like, are you effing kidding me?

      4. LMW*

        I was going to say this. I’m not a huge fan of employers pressuring employees to give (Ironically, I’ve found it the worst/most high pressure at the companies that paid the least and best at the companies that pay well and do a lot of other charitable activities).
        But when I was added to the United Way campaign as the communications person at my last job, it was a really good boost for my profile. I worked closely with people at all levels that I might not have met in another context, and that ended up being really useful. Plus, at that point in my career, it was a good add to the resume (it’s a HUGE campaign at that company and I owned all parts of the comms strategy).
        I never had to ask anyone for money directly and personally — and I was able to guide the conversation so it wasn’t “You should donate. Here’s a form. We’re going to pester you until you donate.” but instead was more information sharing (Why and how the company supports United Way, what different groups are doing in the community, etc. Instead of a direct “Are you going to donate?” we encouraged “If you have the ability to give, please consider. You can find more information here, or ask a team member questions.”)
        So while I was initially resistant, due to my terrible experiences with the United Way campaign at a prior job, it ended up being a great career booster.

      5. LQ*

        Not everyone agrees that the UW does a lot of good. And plenty of people do a lot of good without ever giving a single penny to UW. Saying that people who don’t support UW are withholding support from the underprivileged youth and seniors in need is just factually incorrect.

        And completely ignores that plenty of the people who are harassed for money to be given to UW are those groups of people.

      6. Artemesia*

        Every year my husband and I donate significant amounts of money to a handful of carefully selected charities — ones we actually support and we have researched enough to know there is real bang for the buck. I don’t want my money going to first class travel for the board of directors of some grifter agency. It is insulting to suggest that not being bullied into corporate giving is ‘withdrawing support’ from any group. That sounds like the sort of thing whiny cult members say on your doorstep as they try to guilt you into giving to a weak cause.

      7. Callie*

        There are lots of ways to support underprivileged youth and seniors without donating to UW.

    2. JMegan*

      I’m not the OP, but I could pretty much have written that letter word for word. I’m not a fan of workplace fundraisers, for all the reasons she mentions.

      So in her place, I can pretty much guarantee that I would not be able to do a good job. Partly because I’m not a fundraiser at heart (and nor am I a project manager), and partly because I would resent being forced to do it. These things are far better left to the people who actually do enjoy them, and who would do a good job. Like you, for example!

      The world absolutely needs people in corporate philanthropy, but they definitely need to be people whose hearts are in it, and who are not just doing it because they couldn’t get out of it.

    3. AndersonDarling*

      It is amazing how much the corporate big wigs love reading about employee participation in the United Way campaigns. At old job, folks who helped with the campaigns were treated like they were personally feeding a city of homeless people. Recognition, promotions… you can’t ignore how good it looks on the resume.

      But I agree that harassing people for donations is barfy-doodle.

    4. AnotherAlison*

      Do you have data? Does UW have data? I have heard this song and dance, and I fell for it and volunteered to lead two separate things at FormerEmployer. It didn’t hurt me, but it didn’t really help me.

      I believe the UW can get you noticed, but it’s only a good way to get noticed if no other ways are available. It is a huge time suck. In my business, it just doesn’t work like this: AA did a great job on the UW campaign, so she should be project manager of this billion dollar project. It’s more like, Oh, that’s great; AA is very dedicated to our company. The end. Maybe there are businesses where this works for getting ahead, but the 10 people who excelled at something important in their job are going to the front of the line, ahead of the UW campaign manager, at my company.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        (And just to check my data, I looked at last year’s campaign mgmt team. 21 people, 80% administrative and clerical staff. The non-admin people were typically dept campain managers teamed with a receptionist or admin asst, so the pessimist in me says the admin person was doing the work and the non-admin person was a figurehead or the muscle to get people to donate. Admin people do get promoted, sure, but in my biz, you are either an engineer/PM or you are support. . .admin are not really on a managerial path where this campaign will help them a lot.)

        1. OP*

          Hello. OP here. This is how it works in my workplace as well. From what I have learned, in the past the chair position was delegated to someone in admin. They have decided to get away from this and assign the chair position to someone in a more senior role (i.e. someone who has more pull and more opportunity to network). To me this makes sense, but then there is the whole thing where the co-chair is a more junior/admin worker who is taking care of all the actual planning, organization, question answering, follow up, etc. The feeling I get from it is that the co-chair basically does all the work because the chair has more important things to do and is only supposed to act as a figurehead.

      2. Artemesia*

        In my experience people who do this sort of thing are viewed as chumps. It usually goes to officious types who can be counted on to do unimportant things because they can’t say no. Or to women who ‘are very reliable’ and thus get the thankless tasks. In my younger days, I was sometimes that person until I figured that out. I have never seen the chair of the UW in a department gain any genuine respect or career advancement. The stars never do this sort of thing (or if they do, their assistant or ‘co-chair’ does all the work.

        1. AM*

          I agree with your characterization of who gets put in charge of these types of volunteer roles entirely. the real changemakers are working on revenue-driving projects for the company.

        2. Hooptie*

          Or it is the same person who somehow ends up on every committee up to but not including holiday tree decorations, coordinating birthday and anniversary celebrations, baby and wedding showers, facility tours, etc. so they don’t have to do real work…once they get pegged as the official charity coordinator they quickly dump the grunt work off on others because ‘they just don’t have time’.

          The kind of person I run from. :)

          1. HR Business Partner*

            One of my coworkers IS this person, to a T. People in other departments are fine with her doing all the little charity drives and stuff because they know it means they’ll never get tapped to do it, but it frustrates the heck out of me to see her walking around the office with a literal collection basket [complete with curly ribbons tied onto the handle], while I’m drowning in work. Grrrr.

      3. Melissa*

        Yeah – I’m not in a workplace where this is done, but I also found it hard to believe that leading the charity campaign in your office will lead to you getting noticed and therefore getting work projects. Sure, it might increase your visibility, but I’m betting that the people who get in line for promotions and better project leads are the ones who are excelling at their work-related projects rather than this charity campaign.

      1. Mike C.*

        It’s absolutely disgusting, in the same way that having managers sleep with those they manage is disgusting.

      2. Elysian*

        I feel this same way regarding doing charity work to look good on a college application, but sadly all these things are becoming part of our culture.

        1. Stephanie*

          I think the majority of the volunteers I’m with at the science museum are high school students trying to bolster their college applications.

          It’s funny, because I remember doing barely any volunteer work (lots of extracurriculars, however) and I still got into really good schools. I want to tell the kids to go do something they’re really interested in, that that’ll look way better than half-hearted volunteer work.

          1. AnonCPA*

            You got into school in a different era than they are. Your experiences are not comparable to theirs.

            1. ADE*

              eh, “you wouldnt believe what kids these days dsto to get int college” is false hysteria perpetuated by thr new york times to get its readers to click on ads. where cnn has the kardashians we have harvard and yale.

              (I worked in admissions at a highly selective school)

              also stephanie is a not so old alumna of the harvard of its area :)

          2. Dan*

            My favorites are “voluntourism” types of things. I do *a lot* of foreign travel, and I know how to do it cheaply. Meaning, I’ve seen some of these “voluntourism” programs, and they cost a small fortune. It actually screams “trust fund baby on a vacation trying to look good,” not “do-gooder truly interested in helping the world.”

            I’d have more respect for someone working for an NGO or something, that’s not a vacation, and theoretically, you’re there long enough to learn something about the local culture.

            1. Schnauz*

              Or better yet, hire local workers who could use the work. Even better, workers who are trained so that when the “volunteers” are done, no one has to re-do the work.

          3. Melissa*

            I did some volunteer work when I was in high school, but it was because I felt really passionately about it. It’s something that I continued throughout college and graduate school and still do today, and also something I could speak intelligently about on my admissions application because I chose to do it myself.

            I look at high school students these days and they’re reporting their stats, and one of the “stats” they report as part of their package is how many hours of volunteer work they’ve done. It seems so weird to me – like I would not have been able to tell you the total number of volunteer hours I did in high school, but they are counting it up for the explicit purpose of being able to say it. But if I were an admissions officer I feel like that would turn me off – especially when they sound so lackluster describing the experience.

            1. Indyjones*

              In my state (NC) performing community service hours in high school is a requirement for a high school diploma. So the kids aren’t necessarily doing it just to put on their college applications. They really have no choice. I think the requirement is 30 hours.

        2. Aunt Vixen*

          I don’t disagree, but on the other hand – hey, the charity work is getting done. When I’m sick, I don’t care (much) if my doctor went to med school because she wanted to save the world or because she thought it was the only way to get her distant parents to notice her. As long as she really is treating me, her motivation isn’t really all that interesting.

          1. Melissa*

            Mmm, I think one’s motivations to do the work can (not always) affect one’s attitudes towards the people served in the work. I’d rather the doctor who has an amazing bedside manner because medicine is her passion than the doctor who’s distant and pessimistic because she hates her career because she only went into it to get her parents to notice her. Now of course – it’s possible that the doctor was forced into it and ended up really loving it, just like it’s possible that the current volunteers will end up really enjoying their work and learning a lot from it. But still, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    5. Us, Too*

      As much as I loathe the UW (see my comments below), I actually do agree that if you work for a company that is a big UW supporter, running the UW campaign can be a serious career enhancer. You’ll get tons of face time with head honchos and your name will be in lights.

      1. LBK*

        I guess it depends where you fall in the organization and what your aspirations are. To be honest I have no idea who ran the UW campaign for our company last year. If he/she applied for a job with me now it would mean nothing to me.

        1. Us, Too*

          Agreed. But in most companies I’ve worked for that were big UW orgs, anyone at a VP or higher level would know this because they were also, typically, heavily involved.

          1. LBK*

            Which relates to my point about aspirations – I probably won’t ever go for a position that would require an interview with any of the higher ups here. In an organization of my size there are many levels and many departments.

    6. Jessa*

      Okay, I’m going to rant here. Sorry. This is one of my hot button things.

      Why would someone want to do this. I am utterly opposed to United Way, I do not like their policies, I don’t like their management or the way they spend their funds. I do not ever believe that a company has the right to expect me to give anything. And if someone tried to get me to represent the company that way, I’d try very hard to be very nice when telling them not in this lifetime will I do anything with United Way. I won’t give them a penny, I won’t sign any forms to do with them and a company that wants me to, I don’t want to work for. I don’t care if it makes the company look good. Because seriously that’s not a reason to do something charitable, that’s a bonus.

      I don’t care about the office politics. I hate United Way with a passion. I won’t support them. And I would never sign onto a job where running that campaign was a job requirement. So a company trying to make me do that? I don’t want that on my resume. I don’t want anyone to ever think I’m associated with those people. I will not give and all the we want to be 100% in this department garbage, just no.

      Even if I love the charity I won’t be a captive audience to being forced to give to anything. Surest way to make me NOT give is to tell me the company is wanting 100% and wants to make a big deal of that. I hate that as a general policy. And I hate the bullying that goes on about it, and it IS bullying. Because sure as shootin’ management will let everyone know who isn’t giving, why they’re not getting some silly reward because they’re not 100%.

      When we did St. Jude at a company I worked for (we asked customers to add onto their orders for it,) we were asked if we wanted to donate and the company facilitated that and matched it. But nobody was required to, and we weren’t required to hard sell anyone, just ask, and get on with it.

      It’s not about being BAD at it. I’ve run huge fundraisers for companies I’ve worked for and for the Eastern Star and the Masons. I did charity work at University with a bunch of kids’
      charities. I did shill for St. Jude as a customer service rep for a company that partnered with them. But United Way, never.

      1. Jay*

        Jessa, ranting is your right, but try doing it with some facts to back it up. I’m not sure what you perceive those policies and management issues to be, but you mentioned how United Way spends the funds. As someone who has run a campaign for them in the past, I can tell you that the allocations are determined, in part, by the actual donors and volunteers through a thoughtful process. I know of no other charitable organization that includes donors in the process.

        No reason to be a hater. Know your facts, and you might change your mind.

        1. Hooptie*

          Jessa’s rant sounds like it is most likely based on her own experience(s) with United Way. If this is the case, that is her reality, and in turn, her ‘facts’. I don’t think you should be condescending to someone because their ‘facts’ (which I would be more likely to believe if they are based on their personal experience) are different than your ‘facts’ (if your facts are UW talking points or verbiage from their publications or website).

  5. ThursdaysGeek*

    Alison is more optimistic than I that they will let up after the first round of being told they won’t be a good choice.

    1. The IT Manager*

      Yes, because honestly I have trouble imagining anyone wanting to do this. If forced to do this they’d get the bare minumum from me and there’s a good chance they would not get all oftheir forms back.

      1. Jamie*

        Yeah – they need to find their Dwight Schrute who wants the brownie points and let him do it.

        I applaud the OP for the integrity – and I wish businesses would stop with this crap.

        My youngest son worked in highschool and asked me to look at his first pay stub because he couldn’t believe it was right as they took so much out (remember your first check and the rude awakening that FICA is a thing and wants all your money?) and I noticed he was signed up for $1 a week for the United Way. I asked and he said the manager says everyone does that so he checked the box. They didn’t explain to him that it was optional or a charity. And before people think he was ignorant – he was 16 and it was his first job – the whole process was new.

        He asked about getting it removed when he’d been there a while, but they made such a fuss he let it go.

        Now, if I were one of those pushy parents I’d have had a manager a manager talk with the person who hoodwinked my kid – but lesson learned and I stay out of their work stuff. As much as I would sometimes like to go in and start firing people.

        My daughter works in food service and called up crying the other day because she was throwing up and the manager wouldn’t let her go home. She’s been working at the same fast food place for 2.5 years and has missed exactly one shift due to a car accident a year ago. She comes to cover when called, comes in on a moments notice, and doesn’t complain as much as she should when she’s scheduled to close and comes home at 2:00 am and has to be there at 7:00 the next morning.

        She came home and was vomiting all night – I stayed up with her because it broke my heart and yes I want this woman fired.

        I don’t even know where I was going with this – but good for the OP for not wanting to strongarm her coworkers into this.

        1. Jen RO*

          How do people like that become managers?! Also, employee who is throwing up + food is *such* a good idea!

          1. Jaime L.*

            I worked for many years as a line cook and and as a head chef/kitchen manager in the hospitality industry before moving onto the nonprofit industry. Most line cooks/shift workers are hourly, make minimum wage or slightly higher and do not get paid sick time. Many workers choose to suck it up and work sick because going home means losing a day’s wages. When you are so close to the poverty line, many cannot afford this. It is rather disturbing that someone vomiting would not be told to just go home while the manager tries to get the shift covered, but it is unfortunately not out of the norm for this industry.

            Jamie–sorry for your daughter. I’ve been there and feel sympathy. It’s a harsh industry.

            Jen RO–you would be amazed. If people knew what went on “back of the house”, they would probably eat out less often and be more discriminating when choosing their restaurants.

            On topic–I work for a charity that is a UW member. We do the drive every year with our staff members. One staff member chooses not to donate each year because his does not agree with another nonprofit organization that is a beneficiary of UW funds. He feels he cannot guarantee his money won’t go to that org. Everyone knows this and it has not hurt his career at our own org. I think Alison’s suggestions are the best way to handle this. Be honest and concise–you don’t have to go into detail and don’t feel the need to justify yourself. I have a tendency to let myself feel guilty so try not to do that either. You are entitled to express discomfort in something you are opposed to.

            1. hildi*

              “If people knew what went on “back of the house”, they would probably eat out less often and be more discriminating when choosing their restaurants”

              I think I need to know more about this so that maybe it will help me change some bad habits, maybe lose weight!! I’m actually kind of serious about that, but not trying to downplay how tough the conditions are for employees in those jobs.

              1. Red Librarian*

                I came here to suggest Anthony Bourdain’s books but Celeste is one step ahead of me!

                1. hildi*

                  Oh, I will check into those, thanks guys! I knew he was a food guy with a show, but thought maybe it was just a cooking show. Didn’t realize it maybe went deeper.

              2. Jaime L.*

                Kitchen Confidential is a good book of his to start with. To start with, employees often handle food while sick!

                Some of my experiences (Do not read if you get grossed out easily):

                Stuff seemingly small like not washing hands after smoking or washing hands but wearing their apron outside while smoking. Not wearing gloves or using tongs when handling ready-to-eat foods. Wearing a glove and then taking it off after handling raw meat instead of washing hands every time.

                Up to stuff like one time a quarter of a case of raw burgers fell behind the “line” (the kitchen equipment), which in most places standard practice is to clean behind the line every night. In this particular kitchen, the night crew must have been slacking because I found it at least a week later, after the meat had rotted enough that I smelled it. Also, workers digging through clamshells of berries that were half to three-quarters molded to find the few that were not molded that they could salvage as a garnish. Roach and other pest infestations. Bread/rolls being reused from table to table if not eaten. Not throwing food out past 7 days opened/prepared or not tracking how long something has been in fridge. Refrigerated food being left out all day, not in a cooler and then placed back in fridge at night. Raw meat stored above or next to veggies.

                None of this is fast food. These are all examples from restaurants, and many quite popular. A mix of chains and not chains. All had regular health inspections and received an A-grade. These are just a few examples off the top of my head of what I’ve witnessed. Not every place is that bad (some of those were the “worst offenders”) but there’s not a real way to discern that from the front of the house as a diner. And that’s not even getting into what an awful environment it often is for the workers.

                1. Artemesia*

                  I worked in a restaurant the summer after I graduated from high school. One thing I learned is to only order high traffic items in small restaurants/cafes. It is an invitation to food poisoning to order a side that is not standard — that potato salad has been in the back of the fridge for a week or more.

                  In Rome I stood next to where plates returned or were sent out in a popular restaurant waiting for a table. I watched them take bowls of olives that had returned from a table, flick the chewed pits from the bowl and then pour the remaining olives back into the common bowl. I watched pieces of prosciutto be stripped from dirty plates coming back from tables and be placed on fresh plates of prosciutto melone heading out to new tables. Recycling bread is pretty ubiquitous in Italy; I have observed it a dozen times and assume it is the norm.

                2. Hooptie*

                  My first job other than babysitting was bussing tables at a supper club. The owner would re-use uneaten fish and rolls off of plates too. The best thing she ever did? She pulled a pan of jello out of the cooler and it was covered with mold. Instead of throwing it out, she took it over to the dish station, sprayed hot water on it to wash off the mold and took it out to the salad bar.

          2. AB*

            Welcome to the land of minimum wage service sector jobs. I once worked for a large home improvement store. I tried to call in sick, they told me I had to come in because too many people had already called out that day. I get there, and almost immediately head to the bathroom. The manager was so angry, she stormed in to the bath to demand to know what I was doing which I would have thought was rather evident. She then proceeded to tell me that since I decided to waste all of my time in the bathroom, I could go ahead and clean them all.

        2. Rindle*

          I vividly remember my first such paycheck in high school. I went on a typically dramatic rant to my father. I could tell he was experiencing a little schadenfreude, so to entertain him I built to a crescendo of, “And just who the hell is FICA, anyway?!”

          Thanks for that memory, Jamie.

        3. Jenna*

          The manager probably won’t be fired. There are a lot of jobs in food service that don’t have sick days. Some server jobs don’t even pay the minimum wage(some states, not where I live in CA though, thankfully), because tips are supposed to make up for it. Some places tips are pooled to split with the back of the house staff, but, not so that they get more. No. It’s to lump them under the people getting tips so that they don’t have to pay the minimum to them either.
          When I splurge on eating out, I tend to eat in more upscale places, OR, tiny hole in the wall places where I can know the owners and staff. My reason is actually self preservation, as I have food allergies and I NEED to know what’s in my food. I am aware that not all upscale places are “safe,” but, you can more often either see the kitchen or talk to the chef, and the people you ask about ingredients will either know, or go check.
          I know what it’s like to work for $12 an hour in the Southern California area, and know that your corporate bosses regard everyone at your level as completely interchangeable and replacable cogs. The management at our local office was fine, but, EVERY time corporate poked it’s nose into our office I felt like a little replaceable bolt from the hardware store, available in bulk and anonymous. The pennies are pinched till they scream, but, somewhere up at the top, someone is getting enough of a bonus to go buy a third house.
          No, I’m not cynical at all. Why do you ask?

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      I worded that poorly. I meant that I suspect they will keep badgering her and won’t give up so easily. So if she really doesn’t want to do it, it will take a lot of persuasion to successfully get that point across.

      1. The IT Manager*

        Oh no, I was agreeing with you. Few people want to do this or have the time in their work day to do a good job at it. Probably some higher ups want to particpate, but they certainly aren’t going to do the work so they need a junior person to do. I doubt there are any volunteers so LW way continue to get pushed into it.

    3. StevenO*

      Yep, they’ve flat-out said it’s part of the job description. Even if it’s technically not, they’re treating it that way, and OP might really not have much say — I mean, in a situation like that, wouldn’t NOT doing what they’re saying is part of the job description possibly get OP fired?

      1. Jennifer*

        Yeah, I think OP is not allowed to refuse this offer. Likewise, the employees are not allowed to refuse donating.

  6. Katie the Fed*

    Oh god, we go through this with the Combined Federal Campaign. From September to February (Seriously, nearly half the year) people are being strong-armed into “volunteering” as office coordinators, who then have to go around and make sure everyone has the form, offices get in stupid competitions with each other. ICK.

    Besides, I have about 20 friends who do various fundraisiner marathons, triathlons, etc and hit me up for money throughout the year. It’s spoken for.

    1. NavyLT*

      Hahaha, the CFC. In the past, we’ve had competitions to find the sketchiest organization listed. There are always some interesting ones. I keep waiting for The Human Fund to show up in there.

      1. De Minimis*

        I always liked the one for Restless Leg Syndrome.

        Our workplace apparently just doesn’t do the CFC at all. No one here has any interest in it, and I guess there is no pressure from higher-ups to be involved in it.

        1. Stephanie*

          Ok, I almost spit out my water at the mention of a Restless Leg Syndrome charity. What?

          (Admittedly, I thought it was a Big Pharma-created condition until a friend undergoing chemo confirmed it is real.)

          1. MJH*

            Definitely real. I have it to an extent, but not so badly that I can’t function or need charitable help.

            1. misspiggy*

              I’d support a charity which got the word out that magnesium supplements are, in many cases, all you need to defeat restless leg syndrome. Makes a huge difference.

      2. majigail*

        It amazes me so many orgs get on that list because it’s a tree’s worth of paperwork to get listed.

      3. Katie the Fed*

        I defintiely don’t have upper management potential because I really don’t ever want to be in a position to promote CFC at work. It’s so bothersome. My first year here I thought it was a great idea – now I just want to be left the eff alone at work. The taxpayers are paying us to work, not attend dance offs or whatever other stupid fundraisers are being held.

        Last year coincided with the shutdown so I was feeling especially grinch-like.

        1. De Minimis*

          The Post Office was really nuts about the CFC when I was there—and it seems like a lot of other federal workplaces are too. Glad we aren’t into it here–I think some of it is that our agency’s mission is already similar to a non-profit, so people probably feel that their jobs already contribute a great deal to the community.

        2. NavyLT*

          I’ve been fortunate enough to weasel out of being voluntold to be the command rep for CFC. So far. If I can get through this year without having to do it, I’ll almost certainly be too senior to be at risk for such assignments.

        3. Stephanie*

          My former agency was really big on CFC. Constant fundraisers. Competitions between divisions about who could get the most participants. Direct emails from your manager. I was very glad to see that my next job just did a canned food drive around the holidays.

        4. Another Kate*

          “The taxpayers are paying us to work, not attend dance offs or whatever other stupid fundraisers are being held.”

          This! I am not based in the US but work in the public sector in another country. We don’t have a specific philanthropic program like the CFC, but I am constantly amazed by the willingness of senior management to allow people to run charitable drives during work time.

          For example, one senior manager recently authorised a bake sale to raise funds for the humanitarian crisis in Syria. This involved pulling people off their normal duties to work exclusively on planning the event. This was in addition to pressuring employees to bake goods, make financial donations (tin rattling and peer pressure in the office) and give up a couple of hours of work time to attend various speeches.

          It scared the bejeezus out of me that a department had just diverted public resources (salary costs of a large number of staff) to put on a charity event for a cause that it’s already officially providing aid funding for!

          I suspect that the amount raised (only a few thousand) far outweighed the lost productivity that taxpayers had paid for.

          I have no objections to workplace giving in government departments *if* it is carried on with minimal or no disruption to the work we’re there to do. But this really took the cake (pun intended)!

    2. Xay*

      The best thing about being a contractor is getting to delete those emails. When I worked in state government, there was a similar campaign that ran September through December with office competitions and whatnot.

      My current employer picks a few local charities that we have the option to support through money or goods donations and that is it.

      1. BRC*

        Yep, us contractors will actually get the CFC emails, then usually minutes later follow up emails from our corporate office telling up explicitly we are not allowed to participate in the activities or fundraising. The CFC is a major production here too. It literally becomes the full time job of the volunteer coordinator to run the campaign and about half time jobs for 2-3 other assistants. If they just saved that money and donated those employees’ salaries over that period they would probably be better off.

    3. Stephanie*

      Oh Katie. Oh Katie. You’re giving me horrible flashbacks to CFC time. It felt interminable. And then I’d leave work to see the Metro plastered with CFC ads: “Federal Employees! Don’t forget Chocolate Teapots for Disadvantaged Youth, Inc! Designate us on your CFC form! #19891.”

    4. Gene*

      I remember the CFC or UW dirve, or whatever it was in the mid-70s when I was in Navy Boot Camp. Want to talk about pressure? If a Company had (IIRC) 80% participation, they got a diamond on the top of the hoist of their guidon; 100% got two diamonds. When the DI, who pretty much is your owner when you are there, tells you, a wet behind the ears 17 or 18 year old, to donate or be on toilet duty for the next 8 weeks, you can pretty much guarantee you’ll make the “voluntary” contribution. I don’t remember seeing more than one or two guidons without two diamonds when I was there.

      1. MK*

        If you were in Navy Boot Camp – it was the CFC “Combined Federal Campaign”, which is much different than United Way.

        1. NavyLT*

          Or the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society. There has always been more pressure to give to NMCRS at every command I’ve been to. CFC tends to be more “hey, please just fill out the form; no one cares if you donate.”

  7. Clever Name*

    I missed a meeting at my first job and was nominated to run the campaign for my department in absentia. It sucked. There were a lot of lower income maintenance and housekeeping workers (many of whom only spoke Spanish), and I hated asking them to donate. I’m sure I did a less than stellar job.

  8. majigail*

    To anyone who ends up doing this, take the time to go to an Employee Campaign Coordinator training if your local United Way has one. You’ll get to see what happens with the funds raised. It will help you come up with ways to do it that aren’t cheesy or infantilizing to your coworkers.

    CB is right, a campaign done well looks good on the company and gives the execs a lot of time with you.

    As a director of an agency that receives UW funds, I HATE when I hear a company is pushing 100% participation or a “fair share” or any other way that makes employees’ arms feel twisted. We want donors to feel good about their giving, not forced!

    1. CAA*

      Maybe you can clarify something for me … years ago, I was told that my earmarked donation would only be given to my agency of choice if the agency was able to demonstrate sufficient support from its members. If they didn’t have enough direct donations to qualify for the UW money, then my donation would go into the UW general fund. Since then, I’ve always just given directly to the organization so they not only get money to support their mission but they get more direct donations, making them eligible for more UW funds.

      I’ve never really known if that was true or not. Is it?

      1. majigail*

        Ew, I don’t know but that’s NOT cool to take your money and not give it back if they couldn’t do what you asked. I think you’re doing the right thing, just giving it straight to the organization.

      2. Garrett*

        My understanding as a volunteer at a charity that got UW funds, there are “designated” charities that get promoted (and they have a general UW fund) but you can donate to any charity. However, they take a much bigger slice of the money, so it really was better to just donate directly to the charity in that case.

        This may have changed in the past few years so sorry if I’m wrong.

        1. Anon scientist*

          Eh, my company does a 100% match of all UW contributions we do through our paycheck. I’m ok with UW getting a cut of those directed funds if the total amount given is twice as high.

          1. Al Lo*

            My company is a charity, and we encourage people to give to us via UW for that reason — many workplaces will match UW donations, but not others, so we actually come out ahead if they donate that way than if they give the donation directly to us.

      3. LMW*

        That might be a local thing. In our area, if you designate a specific charity, it goes to the charity (with a little cut). They don’t discourage that, but they prefer and encourage giving to the United Way instead of a specific partner charity because they can put the money where it’s most needed, hold their partners accountable, etc.

  9. Robin*

    The bottom line is, if this is really important to the company, they are going to have to make it part of someone’s job. It sounds like they have been coasting for a while on enthusiastic “volunteers.” I think what is happening to the OP is that the company is a little bit in denial about this reality. If the OP’s job is currently related to corporate philanthropy or community outreach, this might be an opportunity for her to help the company think through whether United Way is the best way to do build up the company’s image as a good corporate citizen, or if there is a better way (some have been mentioned above — food drive, volunteering, habitat for humanity). Bonus points if this alternative is something she can get enthusiastic about.

      1. Us, Too*

        This sends me WAAAY back. I worked for one of the Big 5 consulting firms (back when there was a Big 5) and I am STILL traumatized by the “charitable contributions and volunteering” that were part of the organization. It all looked great from the outside, but on the inside there really was no practical way to opt out of these things.

        For example, I was a peon at the time and when I declined to donate to the UW, I was called into a Sr. Partner’s office and shown the matrix of what people at what level of the organization were expected to give in order to make our organizational giving goals for UW. Sure enough, there it was in black and white: I was expected to give 2-3% of my before tax income to the UW. I declined again. I was “counseled” for the next 30 minutes on how important “being a team player”, “being community-minded”, etc etc were. And after I continued to refuse I had at least 3 other partners AND my boss AND my boss’s boss inflict similar sessions on me.

        Then there was the volunteering. Even though I worked 60+ hours/week to meet billable client targets, I still had to “volunteer” to do Habitat for Humanity. I can still remember posing for the pictures that we’d circulate in our marketing materials.

        I’m not saying Deloitte is this way at all, but I can tell you I haven’t donated or volunteered with or for the UW or HFH since. And I never will.

        1. MK*

          Just keep in mind, you’re punishing UW and HFH for something your employer pushed upon you. Neither organization believes in those tactics; they are looking out for the needy. It’s always sad to hear when people have experiences like yours; it hurts those in need more than anyone else.

          1. Esra*

            I don’t think it’s really punishing those charities. Charities aren’t entitled to money.

            1. KellyK*


              And charities that focus on workplace giving drives, the way UW does, are either naive or willfully ignorant if they don’t realize that there’s going to be career-related pressure involved in many workplaces.

            2. MK*

              Let me reword that – you’re punishing those that benefit from the work of the agencies. I’m making the assumption you (the poster of the comment I was referring to) quit giving because of the employer pressure, not because of the work of the agency. My point is: don’t punish someone for damages inflicted by another.

          2. Jessa*

            Honestly, I don’t like UW. I have no problem punishing them. I give through other sources. And if UW seriously did not believe in those tactics they would make it clear that they’d stop doing business with companies that use them. Sorry, I don’t buy it. UW totally wants companies to do what they’re doing, and they can quietly behind their hands say they have no control of that. But it’s been going on all my working life and I’m now over 50. UW knows how it gets it’s money and they encourage it. UW reps would be in the office, explicitly condoning the “everyone really needs to be on this thing,” routine.

            1. MK*

              If you don’t like UW, or any other charity for that matter, I wouldn’t expect you to give to them. The point I was trying to make is you shouldn’t quit giving to a charity because someone unrelated to the charity (this persons employer) had unethical practices. If the UW was doing something unethical in the community I lived in, I highly doubt I’d keep giving to them (I’m a 25 year donor).

          3. Us, Too*

            You are mistaken about UW. UW absolutely believes in the concept of top down fundraising. It’s one of the foundational pillars of their organization’s fundraising arm. (When was the last time you were solicited by UW outside of a workplace environment?). The entire concept of top down fundraising is that people with some sort of social, political professional, etc influence/authority exert that influence to get you to donate money or volunteer. The only thing that they may take exception with is the degree to which my org executed upon this strategy.

            AHA’s Heart Walk follows a similar strategy. I know this from doing consulting work with them – very big on top down.

            H4H – I think they are a fine organization. They just fell in with mixed company, apparently. LOL.

            Giving to charity is a moral obligation, IMO. However, I am under no obligation to give to these particular charities and, in fact, I believe it to be absolutely IMMORAL to give to these orgs when they employ and partner with organizations that use these types of power-imbalanced campaign strategies. I give to many other organizations that, I believe, do equal or greater good in the community without the need to engage in any sort of corporate bullying.

            1. MK*

              I’m not mistaken, from my experience – but keep in mind there are UW’s in every community in the US, so perhaps you are basing this on one of the many I’ve had no dealings with (as stated in a previous post – I’ve been involved with four, and can speak to what they do or do not do). The UW’s I’ve worked with HATE the idea of forced giving!! Why??
              1. Message boards like this where people bad-mouth them for something an employer did.
              2. This hurts UW with a lack of sustained funding. Donors forced to give will not give again when given the opportunity not to give (see the many posts on this thread to prove that point).
              3. UW has had their share of bad press – and no, not all press is good press!!

    1. Scott M*

      I like this response, because it addresses the OP’s question. Some good points here!

  10. Otter box*

    My workplace runs a huge United Way campaign every year and although participation is technically voluntary, management is under huge pressure to generate 100% participation at their stores. It was so bad last year my manager was paying each employee who balked at it $1 so that they would make a one-time $1 donation and count toward 100% participation. I figured out last year that I can change what charities I am enrolled in to donate to, so although I’m not sure our store gets credit for my non-United Way donations, I feel a lot better about it.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Our donations were down last year, and mgmt solicited employees to donate their year-end corporate gift cards that we receive from the company. Yep, people were lined up for that one, lol.

      1. Paddlebug*

        Our donations went down as well last year, which was definitely made a point of. They conveniently forgot to mention of course they had laid off a couple hundred people near the beginning of the campaign.

  11. Lizabeth*

    Never underestimate someone who’s sipped the United Way KoolAid to take “no, I don’t want to run the campaign because…” as the final answer.

    I’ve flat out refused to donate at one job because I didn’t agree agree with the charities they supported. Guess what? They donated “in my name” so they would have 100% participation and tried to get the money from me after the fact. That didn’t happen…

    1. ExceptionToTheRule*

      Thank god my company feels that simply returning the form constitutes participation. If you don’t want to donate, you simply put “not donating” or “$0” on the form and give it back to your manager.

      1. Kelly L.*

        This happened at my old work too. They didn’t push 100% donation, just 100% response rate. They just wanted you to at least turn in the form.

      2. Jennifer*

        Hah, maybe people should be donating one red penny. Then you technically got 100%….

    2. CH*

      Same happened to me, although they didn’t try to recoup the donation–I imagine someone higher up put in a couple of bucks for me, because they announced we had the magic 100% participation even though I had refused.

      I do donate regularly to charities I choose to support. To me, there is something squicky about those in a position of authority (employers) telling me which charities I should give to. If the company wishes to “look good” it should donate its own money, in my opinion, not harass its employees.

  12. Kentucky Proud*

    I’ve worked for a couple of companies that fundraising for UW. I donated the first year (mostly because I felt pressured) and after that, I opted out. One of my close friends worked for UW and after finding out a lot of info on the org, I chose not to donate because I didn’t believe in their mission (to put it nicely).

    I personally really like taking that angle that “charity is personal.” This is the approach I’ve taken and it seems to work well. Or – “I plan my giving at the beginning of each calendar year and this doesn’t fit in with my charitable contributions for this year.” This works too.

    To the OP, utilize the “broken record” technique. It totally works!

  13. CanadianDot*

    Oh man, I used to go through this every year. I started as a receptionist, and got assigned organizing all the charity stuff for the office. Then, as I got promoted, it followed me. I didn’t mind fundraising for the cancer society, but the United Way always seemed so pushy.

    1. MK*

      United Way was pushy? Or your employers’ expectations were pushy? There is a BIG difference!

      1. Artemesia*

        I remember my parents anger when my Dad would receive paperwork with a figure on it and ‘your fair share’ beside it. There was tremendous pressure to give your ‘fair share’ calculated by them to the charity. There is nothing voluntary about giving under these circumstances when your official payroll paperwork has this already filled in and you have to cross it out or something to reneg.

      2. CanadianDot*

        I guess it’s more that I find the United Way’s fundraising techniques really pushy, honestly.

        1. Daria*

          The United Way will never see a DIME of my money. I hate how pushy they are. They must be, because every single workplace I’ve ever been at that did the United Way drive used the same tactics, so I have to assume there’s an outline or something that they pass out.

  14. grasshopper*

    A bit tangential, but the “support other charities” argument isn’t always a good one for United Way. In Canada, most United Ways should be able to direct your donation through to any other registered charity, regardless of whether or not it is a United Way agency. The United Way will take an admin fee (each one is different – some charge a percentage and others a flat fee) that they should be able to disclose to you.

    This is a good option for people who are pressured in the 100% participation offices to have some say in directing their funds towards the charity of their choice. Your charity of choice receives some funds and your office gets 100% participation.

    1. BRR*

      That was my plan but my local united way has a minimum required donation to do that.

      I just sucked it up and gave $20 because my employer would match it.

    2. AML*

      This is precisely the reason why I don’t give to my organization’s UW effort. If I want to give $100 to the local food bank, I’ll give them $100. Why should I funnel it through UW so they can siphon off a portion for the privilege of handling my money?

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        I cannot agree with this point enough.

        My charity dollars are pretty slim to begin with. Why would I funnel them through UW so they can skim a percentage off the top when I can give all of those dollars directly to the organizations I support?

        1. MK*

          Can’t answer that question for you – but I will say most people don’t give to charities unless they are asked. United Way provides a forum to give to any charity – the “skimmed” dollars save the other nonprofits from using that money to send staff our to do what United Way is doing. It’s not skimming, it’s saving other nonprofits money for doing the fundraising for them.

    3. IndieGir*

      This is a bad approach — if I’m already giving $100 or whatever to my favorite charity, why should I give it through UW and have my charity take a haircut? What has UW added to the process? Nothing!

      I hate the UW with a purple passion, b/c at one time I was giving monthly to my favorite charity via auto-deduct from my bank account. We had a drive at my office, and they flat-out lied to me and told me that my charity wouldn’t take a haircut, and would get a corporate match that was higher then the match allowed to us on our direct gifts. I called my charity to find out if this was OK, and they gave a cagey answer “Of course it’s OK for you to give to us through the United Way.” The next year, my company equalized the corporate match program, so I went back to giving directly. I found out from the charity at this time that UW blackmails the charities into not talking about the haircut — if they say to their donors that UW will take a haircut and its better to give direct, then UW will drop them from the list of potential UW charities.


      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yep. And recipients can’t raise funds on their own because that diverts funds away from UW.

        My solution is to give $50 to someone who lost their home in a fire. (Or similar giving to individuals.) At least, I can figure it went right to the person who would use it. It’s up to them to figure out what is the best way to spend the money.

      2. MK*

        I’ve worked in four cities – been involved with four United Ways – never heard of them asking agencies to lie. They were always upfront about costs taken, in fact, all four had it written on their pledge cards where EVERYONE would see the costs. You had one bad experience with one United Way (if you are being honest), and are now assuming ALL United Ways run the same way.

        1. CA Anon*

          Hey now, let’s not imply that IndieGir is lying when she says that she had a bad experience with United Way. We try to take other commenters at their word unless there’s a pretty serious reason not to.

          There are enough people on this site who’ve had bad experiences with United Way that I’m inclined to believe it’s not just one-offs or isolated incidents. Just because you’ve had good experiences doesn’t make it true for everyone. Based on the numbers here, I’m inclined to believe that you’re the one who’s had the atypical experience, not IndieGir or the rest of the commenters who’ve had trouble.

          1. ExceptionToTheRule*

            I think this is the perfect illustration of why “encouraged” giving in the workplace is problematic.

            Charitable giving is a very personal thing for most of us and bringing that into the workplace very easily creates hard feelings when someone’s charity of choice doesn’t measure up to other people’s opinions.

          2. MK*

            You’re right, I probably crossed a line on the “honesty” remark. I just find it incredibly hard to believe an organization could make another organizations lie to their donors and have that not make front page news. Seems a pretty big issue that would have been picked up somewhere. Hopefully IndieGir wasn’t offended – if so, my apologies.

        2. MJ*

          MK, your responses in this thread come off to me as if you are sticking your fingers in your ears and saying “la-la-la-la” about the negative experiences so many of us have had with United Way campaigns at work. It isn’t just one person with one bad experience. There are several of us. Please recognize that it is likely that YOUR experience is the unusual one.

          1. MJ*

            By the time I posted that, MK, others had said the same thing…sorry if that came across as a pile-on.

            1. MK*

              Nah, not a pile-on. I actually got to feeling really bad that others have had such negative experiences. Admittedly, it’s foreign to me the concept of “forced” giving, so I am struggling with that as none of my previous employers did that. I’m sure it happens, but from UW board involvement, it’s seems to be more company driven than UW driven – but we’ll all have our own opinions about that, which I’ll accept. :)

    4. Jessa*

      I don’t want my money to ever go through UW’s coffers. My point about direct donation is that I don’t ever want to be associated with UW. I don’t want them to get that admin fee, even if the charity I’m donating to has a higher % rate on admin costs. I do not believe in UW, don’t like their mission, don’t like their policies, the argument from me at least is I’d rather give to no one than give to or through UW. I don’t want my money directed THROUGH them.

      1. Laura Palmer*

        You don’t believe in Education, Financial Stability and Better Health for all the people in your community? You must be a blast at parties.

        Most of the comments on this thread come from a place of ignorance, and many others are just plain untrue. Sounds like some of you got your information from the Blaze or some equally illegitimate source.

  15. Mike C.*

    AmA, could you clarify something here?

    The OP wrote the following:

    2. I am not prepared to invest a bunch of my personal time into a campaign for a charity organization that I don’t really have a strong interest in. I know it will be personal time as my work days are already filled with actual work.

    Later in your answer you say:

    If they still push you (and I really doubt it will get to that point, but I suppose it’s possible), then yeah, you look at it as a piece of your job that you don’t much like but you carry it out.

    So if someone is being forced to be a coordinator, but has to do a bunch of the work outside of work, how does that, well, work? Is it all unpaid because it’s “charity work” even though you’re being forced to do it, or does it still count as paid time within federal/local laws and company policies?

    1. LBK*

      I think the idea is that the OP can push it until they force her to consider it a term of her employment, at which point it gets factored into work tasks like anything else. By which I mean she has the ability to say “UW deadline for X is this week, therefore project Y is not being handled this week.” (subtext: you made me do this, so actual business-related tasks may fall by the wayside, maybe rethink your plan)

      1. Mike C.*

        That’s what I’m thinking as well, but it will be interesting to see how the company actually does this.

      2. BRC*

        Right, in that case I would suggest non-confrontationally bringing up that since this is a work appointed task, it will need to be done on company time. Since your plate is already full, which tasks would they like you to put on hold so you can run this campaign and what do you want me to prioritize? You may still have to do it, but it will be less pressure when you have time allotted to the task and you don’t feel like you have to volunteer personal time for it.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m assuming she’s exempt, and so this is like anything else that might get added to her plate. If she’s non-exempt, though, she does need to be paid for any extra time it adds.

    3. OP*

      In my case I am exempt so I would be working unpaid overtime one way or another. Even if I did the charity stuff during work hours, I would be coming in early/staying late to catch up on my other work.

    4. KellyK*

      I think it falls under the magic of “salaried exempt” where as long as you’re exempt from overtime rules, companies can make whatever nonsense they like part of your job description and hold you accountable for results without actually paying you for it.

  16. Erica B*

    Maybe is she is stuck doing this drive even if she really doesn’t want to, she can try the non-chalant approach “Look, it’s this time of year, so the company is doing this thing. If you want to particpate- great, but if you can’t that’s fine too”. I don’t like that her company insist that people send back a card if they can’t donate. We do a United Way thing at my work too. Most of the time I can’t participate and it goes in the trash- There isn’t much pressure but they do send out emails encouraging us to donate.

    Sometimes When I chat (casually) with my boss about things that are going on and he makes a suggestion of “just do it, it’s only $X” or “it’s not that expensive” or whatever, I usually follow up with, “oh! you’re going to give me a raise?!” and that usually gives him pause. I think he forgets what it’s like to not have spare money flying around.

    I keep thinking I should get him a Nike hat because of his “just do it” mentality

  17. MaryMary*

    Could one of the anti-United Way folks provide some background on what you don’t you care for in regards to their philosophy, financial structure, etc? I’ve never had direct interaction with them, so I’m just vaguely aware of the UW as a Nice Charity. A quick google search returned pages from the United Way website (or its various branches).

    1. Celeste*

      For a long time, they would give to Boy Scouts, but never Girl Scouts. That has finally improved.

      My other issue is that you make this donation, and they keep part of it for their admin costs. I would rather donate the full amount directly, so I do. I realize that some people think a middleman is a valuable service, but I personally do not, so I don’t want to fund it.

    2. Anonfornow*

      For me, it’s about some of the local organizations that they support that I find offensive. Oh and the fact that the local council went so far as to pass a resolution that they would not support any organization that provides abortion services.

      1. Chinook*

        I am another one who won’t support United Way because they support organizations I don’t morally agree with. This point was driven home to me when some local Catholic charities publicly pulled out from the United Way umbrella and, with the help of the local diocese, created their own umbrella organization (and the Edmonton Catholic Social Services organization now does an annual campaign that is a lot less in your face). Ironically, that organization supports charities attached to various religious organizations who also have a moral problem with other UW charities but are too small to do large scale fundraising on their own.

        1. Chinook*

          What confirmed my anti-UW convictions, though, was a bus ad I saw for their services recommending people go to their website to see how much they “deserve to receive.” Every time I saw that ad, I couldn’t help thinking that nobody deserves this money (as in, they aren’t entitled to it) but that it is there for those who need it. It is a subtle difference but one that turned my stomach.

    3. Andrea*

      I second this request. I have no experience with them, and I am curious as to what a UW campaign would entail. The OP mentions after-hours work—does that mean there are events to run or something?

    4. BRR*

      I think in addition to above a lot of organizations do UW drives and people feel strong armed into participating. Which isn’t technically their fault but people have the mindset, “Ugh it’s the UW drive.”

        1. ArtsNerd*

          FWIW, I know someone who works in fundraising at a charity who receives UW funds, and she hates the way they work on the charity side, too.

    5. LBK*

      They’re very, very big on the “100% participation” thing, to the point that even if you refuse to donate, they harass you to go to their site or fill out a form that says you aren’t donating. It’s just obnoxious and makes the “100% participant” thing meaningless.

      They also serve as a middle man for other charities, ie they take your money, deduct a fee, and then send it to another charity. Why wouldn’t you just donate directly to the other charity?

      1. Andrea*

        Oh, I totally get why they’re obnoxious, I’m just not clear on what a UW campaign involves in a workplace. Are there events? Mandatory presentations/meetings during work hours or after? Or is it more like just a lot of emails and phone calls to “remind” people to fill out the donation form? I’m not trying to minimize how annoying and inappropriate that kind of thing is; I’m trying to figure out what is involved exactly. (BTW, I’m totally on the OP’s side in not wanting to do this, and I wouldn’t do it, either.)

        1. Claire*

          It depends on the office/organizer. At past employers, during campaigns you could purchase “jeans stickers” to be allowed to wear jeans on Fridays (and anyone who was usually able to wear jeans wasn’t supposed to if they hadn’t bought stickers), there was a bake sale, raffles for the best spots in the parking lot, and a silent auction. Plus VERY INSISTENT forms encouraging you to set up paycheck deductions for United Way, a big thermometer showing what percentage of employees had participated, etc. etc.

        2. LBK*

          From my experience working for a company that does UW every year, it’s mostly just badgering people to fill out their forms/donate and coming up with more “fun” and “creative” ways to do it. I don’t believe there are events/meetings involved.

        3. OP*

          Hi Andrea. Where we are there are typically a few events that are put on during the campaign. Usually there is an office kick off event, a larger community event, and a closeout/thank you event. Sometimes there are also things like chili cook offs. For the office events, it’s doing things like decorating, organizing food and beverages, doing speeches and organizing with the UW for a guest speakers. For the community event, its tracking down a team people to actually attend. It even involves coming up with a team cheer.

      2. Observer*

        I hear that a lot, but it’s not always as bad as it sounds.

        You see, collecting relatively small donations has some real costs – and organizations often get dinged for “wasting” money on those expenses. With a donation from UW, the cost can be MUCH less, especially if it’s not a directed donation. So, worst case, the recipient doesn’t actually lose that much, and best case, their financials also look better.

      3. Jessa*

        Yeh and the fill out the not donating form bugs me hugely, because that still gives information about me to UW and I don’t want them to have it.

    6. HM in Atlanta*

      I posted my story below, about how a co-worker was treated by a United Way office after his house burned down. It was as much how they treated him as what they said to him.

    7. Mike C.*

      The “forced” contribution drives at work, along with the “rewards” that serve as nothing more than social stigma to those who don’t participate.

      1. JMegan*

        Yes, and the jeans day is a good example.

        For me, it’s getting emails from my manager “strongly encouraging” me to participate, even though participation is theoretically voluntary. Coming from a peer, it’s nothing more than annoying – but it’s a lot harder to say no when your manager forwards an email from the director to the entire team to “encourage” them.

    8. Xay*

      The forced contribution drives are my problem with them. 100% participation is expected and the associated events can become extremely time consuming for the coordinators. In my old workplace, I found it especially distasteful that they pushed for 10% or higher recurring paycheck donations even from staff whose salary was close to minimum wage.

      In addition, UW takes a portion of the donations for administrative fees and in the case of a couple of local charities that I worked with, took a long time to disburse donations to their partner charities. I worked with community based organizations for a long time – I know the ones I want to support without going though the United Way.

        1. Xay*

          Yes. It happened one year and people pitched such a fit that they never did it again. When I saw the form and brochure, I thought it was a typo.

      1. Dan*

        Holy hay-soos.

        If you’re talking gross pay, that’s like um, $750/mo for me. EEFFFF no.

        1. JustKatie*

          Not sure if I read your comment correctly, but 10% off the top is MUGH rougher for somebody making minimum wage than it is for somebody making $7500 a month (not that a 10% expected contribution isn’t crazy no matter what)

    9. majigail*

      Right off, I’m pro- MY United Way, but I know why a lot of people aren’t. If you don’t want to read all of this, the bottom line is that there are some local United Ways doing some terrible, stupid things that makes everyone else look bad.

      You hear horror stories about financial mismanagement. UW executives get in trouble from time to time for this. First, there’s a big difference between the United Way of America/Worldwide and your local United Way. There’s a big difference between MY United Way and the one in your town. Unfortunetly, this can happen at ANY nonprofit ANYWHERE. But UW’s handle a lot of money and everyone knows them so when it happens there, it’s not a few sentences on page 8, it’s front page news for a few days. That leaves a bad taste in anyone’s mouth.

      Then there’s the personal side, you can have a terrible experience like the one HM in Atlanta talks about below and have some the same problem but a really excellent experience in a different city. But when that bad thing happens to you or someone you love, it can turn you off for life.

      Anyone can criticize the way that just about any nonprofit spends their money and UW is not immune. All United Ways pay big buck to the national United Way to call themselves United Ways. All local versions of national organizations do this. I think those fees are exorbitant, but it’s very difficult to fundraise at the national level like that when you have chapters under you, so they have to come up with it some how. The brand awareness is worth it. There’s a local agency that envelopes non-UW organizations and tries to do the same thing with very little success.

      Many United Ways developed out of several agencies coming together to fundraise together instead of everyone heading out to BIG COMPANY and individually hitting them and their employees up. The idea was is that there would be one time to give to everyone. A lot of United Ways have forgotten this and forgotten that the agencies are as much their partners as their grantees. Many United Ways give to the flavor of the week cause… autism today, vet issues tomorrow, but never anything consistently. A lot of people don’t like that because they might really care about women’s issues and services for the deaf. People who work for agencies that get dumped because they’re not the flavor of the day don’t tend to feel warm and fuzzy about it.

      Finally, this 100% crap. This often comes from over zealous execs in competition with their friends (who are all on the board of the United Way together!) Some people just don’t get that that actually hurts morale. Again, SOME United Ways might actually push this, but it’s not cool and should stop. As people have mentioned, you can designate a charity, but there is an admin fee often even if you designate one of their charities.

      I tend to see the good things, the number of charities supported, the fact that for my agency, it’s a constant and faithful funding stream we can count on. We would have gone out of business during the recession with out them.

      1. hildi*

        I appreciate your post because I live in a very small community and I know the local UW is active and healthy and well-received around here. It supports a lot of stuff that this small town would otherwise have to do without. I totally agree with all of the unsavory aspects of 100% participation, etc. I wonder if the feelings about the UW drive vary from small towns to large towns. From seeing the local benefit to a large, corporate feeling entity.

      2. MK*

        Thank you – the most accurate post I’ve read on the thread, hopefully others are reading this and coming away with “not all UWs are the same”!!!

      3. BRR*

        I’m glad you brought all of these points up. UW (and all branches of national charities) can vary wildly. I also agree that the 100% is usually pushed by the employer. I would say UW cares far more about the amount raised than the participation. The problem is it leaves a bad taste in people’s mouth regarding UW.

      4. kristinyc*

        +1 I used to work for an extremely well-run United Way branch (GO UWCI!!!).

        1. I agree with all of this – the 100% participation goals are suggested by UW branches for obvious reasons, but it’s the companies that decide to do them.

        2. Every single nonprofit has some overhead costs, so even if you’re donating directly to the nonprofit, they’re likely still spending some money for administration. With United Way (at least, the branch I worked for), the bulk of that money is going toward accrediting the agencies. The agencies have to go through a pretty rigorous evaluation to prove that they’re actually spending donor dollars how they say they will, and that they’re running efficiently. United Way runs those evaluations, so that when you’re giving to an agency through UW, you know that they’re going to use that money in the best way possible.

        3. A lot of United Ways will let you select to donate to the general fund, a specific program run by that United Way (such as Success by 6, Readup, and many others), an individual agency, or a combination of the above.

        4. I’m personally against 100% participation, because I believe that giving is a very personal thing, and people have different ways they want to contribute. That’s kind of how the whole “Live United” campaign came to be. It’s based on three ideas – Give. Advocate. Volunteer. Not everyone will be able to do all three, and that’s okay. The point is to find one that meets your personal values and how you’d like to do good. Corporate fundraising campaigns are the easiest way for UW to get a steady stream of donations, and that’s why they’re pushed so hard, but there are a ton of other ways to contribute, whether it’s money, time, or voice.

        1. Jessa*

          As you know I hate them, but they’d go a long way to making that up to me if they did a huge campaign that says “forced 100% is bullying, and we don’t want your money that way.” And really, really, had their reps at the company fundraisers saying that, every time a boss said to someone “we’d like 100%,” they should say loud enough for everyone in the room to hear “that is not UW policy, we do not support that kind of bullying.” But they won’t because in every office I’ve been in that had such a fundraiser the UW rep was the top voice bullying people into 100%. I don’t mean the company coordinator but the person from UW local who would come to do the talks about all the supposed wonderful things they do.

    10. Ann O'Nemity*

      Pushy fundraising practices, an allocation process that lacks transparency, and a history of funneling donations to discriminatory charities.

      1. Tinker*

        Pretty much this, plus that I observe from discussions like these that it seems to be associated with a type of corporate culture and a mode of engagement with corporate culture that I don’t much care for.

    11. Us, Too*

      Check out my post above. It’s not really “voluntary” at many organizations that commit to the UW. I have NEVER experienced the kind of sales pressure that I experienced from the company I worked for at the time. Used car salesmen, timeshares, you name it – all pale in comparison to what I received when I tried NOT to give to the UW at work. It was made very obvious to me that by NOT giving to the UW, my career was going to be over at the company. I managed to make it four more months before I was terminated. Prior to termination my reviews all “met expectations”.

      I think that there would be more confessions at Gitmo if the CIA hired ex UW campaigners to do “interrogations”. I wasn’t beaten with a sack of oranges, but still feel traumatized.

    12. any mouse*

      SEveral places I worked at had United Way donations/drives that were “voluntary” but didn’t feel voluntary. Even people who were contract temps or those making minimum wage were strongly strongly strongly encouraged to donate and while no one’s name was given out if it came up that you didn’t give there was an element of …gossipy shame (by other employees that management didn’t squash). Plus it was endless things that you had to do – penny drives, chili cook off contests, jeans days, etc.

      I think that some things have changed and you can direct your money to go to specific charities that the United Way supports rather than just the general United Way fund, but there was an extreme amount of pressure to contribute financially and also with your time.

      We got weekly updates and the “kick off” focused on how the year before was in participation so they wanted to increase participation by 20% (or something). I know that there were people who were using services that the United Way supported and also feeling pressured to donate money.

    13. Anon 1*

      As a former UW employee I have to speak up. First, UWs are all separate (franchises if you will) so if your UW did something bad I’m sorry to hear that but my UW does loads of good. Second, not all UWs take a portion of your donation. My UW raises separate funds for operating expenses. This means that 100% of your donation goes to the charity of your choices. Third, not all non-profits are effective non-profits, so even if you donate to a non-profit directly make sure you do your homework before you get out your check book.

      My UW spends a lot of time and staff resources on research and evaluation, consensus building, and community outreach to determine community problems and solutions. Not all non-profits have the ability to do such extensive analysis and community assessments. My UW gives a lot of technical assistance and money to other non-profits so that everyone can do a better job for the community.

      1. Jessa*

        I’m really glad that you had a very positive experience working for them. I’ve not been so lucky being bullied into supporting them. I suppose your UW actively explained to companies why that was a bad way to fundraise and how it was against UW policy to do that? If not, I’m sorry, your UW might do wonderful things, but I still wouldn’t support them or let them handle my money.

        UW has the power to stop companies from doing this. All they have to do is make it clear they don’t want to be associated with that kind of hard sell bully tactics. I have yet to hear ANY rep of UW say they told a corporate contributor to actively stop doing that and that if they did it they wouldn’t send help. They want the money too badly. They’ve had the better part of my entire life to push for changes in how companies donate. And every UW rep I’ve met during a campaign has made it clear that their job goal is 100% of the company donating.

        Also, UW has this party line that people can’t donate intelligently without their oversight. And that really grates.

    14. Elizabeth*

      I’ve mentioned this before, but my objections to our local UW have to do with how they handle interactions between donors and charities. My employer, now that the most fanatical supporter of the UW has retired from the HR department, takes a relatively laidback approach to the UW campaign.

      Over a decade ago, a new charity appeared on the list, a support group for the caretakers of senior citizens with Alzheimer’s. My grandfather & mother-in-law both died from it, so this is a cause near & dear to my heart. I called up the group coordinator to find out what their financial needs were and found out that they needed about $50/month to cover the costs of a meeting space and a coffee/tea/doughnuts setup. I talked with colleagues, and three of us together designated our money to them so that their expenses were covered for the next year.

      The following year, they weren’t on the list of charities. So, I called again. She told me they had been dropped from the list. It turned out that the local UW considered letting me know what their actual needs were so that we could cover them through the UW campaign to be outside fundraising, something forbidden by the agreement the charity signs when they up to receive funding through the UW.

      I won’t even turn my form back in saying that I’m not donating now.

    15. Anne*

      This was years ago and in rural UT so please take this with a huge grain of salt. The local UW tried to force the local YWCA to put men in leadership positions. They felt that the all female leadership team wouldn’t be effective because they couldn’t be taken seriously.

      The UW wasn’t just dispersing funds, it was using the threat of withheld funds to control the smaller charities. I don’t give money to UW unless I have to because I have no way of knowing what kind of changes they’re going to impose on the small organizations.

      Then my employer forced me to give to UW (of course everyone had to pretend it was optional but we all knew we had to). The UW pretends it has no involvement in the way employers run thesevcampaigns, but I just don’t believe that.

  18. sophiabrooks*

    a) My university used to have a coordinator per department, even if you department was 5 people. So, as the secretary I was volunteered, but I never gave myself! When I left that department, they apparantly never took my name off the list, because I won a prize!

    b) After I figured out how to select a charity of my choice, I gave $25.00 to Planned Parenthood every year. Then they did a contest in my school (weirdly at this school, there is just one coordinator) between faculty and staff to see who had the greatest percent of participation. Then I saw that our participation rate was only 40%, so I stopped giving. I think the contest backfired.

  19. AdminAnon*

    OP, I am in a similar situation but it looks like I won’t be able to get out of it. Personally, I give generously to plenty of other organizations (including the one I work for, but don’t get me started on that–100% participation pushes are the worst) and I am not a huge United Way fan anyway. Luckily, my boss isn’t either, so my approach will be to attend the meeting (yay for free lunch), hand out the forms, and make it clear that I honestly could not care any less if I tried about the amount of their donation and that my contribution will be exactly $0 + the time involved in running the campaign for our office. Personally, I think the whole thing is silly, but it falls under “other duties as assigned,” so I’m just going to suck it up and put in the minimum amount of effort required.

  20. 2horseygirls*

    Ugh. The college I work for pushes this very hard, relentlessly.

    Whenever I get a request, I consider it carefully. If I say no, then I do explain that as a family we choose which organizations get our support, and we’ve already made our donations for the year.

    The telemarketers usually just hang up when I ask what percentage of the funds raised goes directly to the organization ;)

    1. majigail*

      Telemarketers are the WORST. For the companies that do this for charities, such a small percent actually goes to the charity. I heard one charity actually say that was OK because it was money they wouldn’t have had otherwise.
      When my organization did a telephone solicitation drive, we used all volunteers. It was awful. Never again. (which is probably why telemarketing companies get paid so much!!)

    2. Jessa*

      Yeh, I look at the charity review websites before I give anyway, and won’t give on the phone. I will only give in response to a written solicitation or a call made by me.

      The answering service I worked for was part of a line overflow group for the Red Cross during one Florida hurricane season. The boss passed around cards and if we wanted to give, he’d aggregate it and send it in, and take it out of our cheques a bit at a time, so we could help if we wanted to and not go broke on it. Most of us donated an hour’s pay or something belike. The company donated our time and the phone lines. It was a cool way to donate. Boss brought in pizza and we worked lines in shifts.

  21. HM in Atlanta*

    Is there anything stopping you from forming your own “campaign operations” team? You can probably find out if there are employees that are particularly supportive of United Way and enlist them. They do all the rah-rah campaigning, and you get the credit for doing the campaign.

    I ask because I am anti-United Way (they were happy to collect payroll deductions from an employee, but told him he lived outside the United Way service area when his house burned down – they told him to ask around to his friends and neighbors to help). My employer still wanted the campaigns, I got stuck with them, and used this approach. Eventually, I was able to convince my employer to drop it in favor of drives for stuff (food, coats, blankets, school supplies, etc.). These had much better participation than cash commitments.

  22. Employment Lawyer*

    I donate to my local food bank. Not only is it my favorite charity but its is conveniently an “unimpeachable” charity:

    When I get calls from other places I (e.g. for “sports scholarships for kids”) I explain I give all my money to the food bank.

    When they ask for “just another $20” I invite them to tell me why I should give them $20 instead of giving $20 more to the food bank.

    Nobody has taken me up on that challenge yet.

  23. Not So NewReader*

    There are volunteer things I would take on at work. Raising funds for the UW is not one. And that is for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the huge amount of time involved.

    For the OP: Take a look at your company. Did your coworker earn prestige, make connections etc with people? If no, then I can’t see where you would make out better. And ethically speaking, a person should not be doing charity work to elevate their own image. A person should only give time/money to causes that reasonate on a personal level. If you want to wow upper management you can find many ways to do that- you do not HAVE to do it this way.

    I agree with the above poster that said they felt that when you meet with the director you will get a hard sell. Gear up for that. Drink lots of coffee, whatever you have to do. But stick to your NO. Remember this is a variation of mom saying, “Wait until your father gets home!” You said no to one person, so now you have to say no to another person. That is all you are doing. They might ask you 27 different ways to do this campaign, so decide that you are going to say NO 27 times.
    I would not try to match their rebuttals to your concerns. I would simply say, “I understand what you just said, but my answer remains NO.”

    Lastly, your own boss was the chair and did next to nothing? Hmm. That speaks volumns right there. Your own boss is not invested in this. Not something you want to say out loud, of course, but his inaction speaks louder than words. Maybe this is wrong of me, but I tend to think “follow the boss” on stuff like this. If the boss is not heavily involved, that would help me to worry a lot less about the whole question.

    1. iseeshiny*

      Yeah, the whole prestige thing made me think of a quote I just read over at Captain Awkward: “Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.” – Paul Graham.

  24. James M*

    I do not advise using the following phrases:
    * “I disagree with the United Way’s fundraising practices.”
    * “I’m not comfortable badgering people to donate their own funds, even for an allegedly good cause.”
    * “I have strong feelings about what charities I do and don’t contribute to, and United Way just doesn’t cut the mustard.”
    * “I have strong moral objections with the way United Way fundraising campaigns are often run.”

    (disclaimer: I have no opinion about United Way itself or the culture surrounding it. This post should be read for entertainment value only)

    1. LBK*

      Why not? When it comes to charity, I think that’s one of the few times you’re allowed to use your own personal ethics as the main reason you don’t want to do something.

      1. James M*

        It would be overly confrontational, which is a less-than-ideal tactic in the workplace. Some may find it therapeutic to imagine dropping a choice phrase in a workplace situation.

        Also, I’ve heard Bad Things when an employee mentions ‘ethics’ and ‘morals’ to their “”superiors””.

        1. LBK*

          I think this is a different case than being asked to do something related directly to your job function. Being confrontational in terms of picking up addition business responsibilities is usually a misstep, but charity is (ostensibly) a free use of your time with the idea of doing something good that you believe in purely for its own merit.

          Forcing someone to “volunteer” for a charity they don’t believe in is equally, if not more confrontational than any of those responses.

          Finally, I think there are icky feelings around basing a discussion on ethics and morals with superiors because often, that’s not warranted. The task at hand is often not actually unethical or immoral, the employee just doesn’t want to do it (and maybe justifiably so if the task is stupid or pointless, but that doesn’t make it immoral). This is one case where forcing this task on someone is not ethical and not necessarily moral. Those adjectives are warranted.

        2. LBK*

          Also, you don’t have to say these things in an angry or defiant way. You can say “I actually take issue with some of the practices United Way uses for its fundraising, so I don’t believe I’m a good person to do this” in a pleasant, neutral tone, the way you would discuss aspects of how a project should be handled in a team meeting.

            1. Jessa*

              That’d work wonderfully, if they’re the kind of bosses that back off at a polite “not a good idea.”

      2. Not So NewReader*

        To LBK’s “why not?”
        For one thing it will prolong the agony of the discussion as the director feels the need to provide a rebutal to the statement(s).
        There is probably very little that we have written here that the director will not have a rebutal for.

        I really think that if a person says no that should be respected.

        If the company really cared about UW, OPs coworker would not have been drowning in campaign work. She would have had numerous helpers and it would have been a much different story. There’s not a lot of buy-in going on here within OPs company.

        1. LBK*

          I think it depends on the person, but assuming OP is an otherwise good employee whose opinion is respected, it’s not impossible that her request would be taken at face value and they’d move on once she issues a firm statement. I’ve had my boss ask me to take things on outside of my main job that I wasn’t comfortable doing/didn’t think I was the right person for (for example, supervising an intern who had nothing to do with my job function), and I pushed back without causing problems. You just have to do it in a dispassionate, matter-of-fact way with a reason given.

  25. Janet*

    Oh Lord, I could have written this letter but replace United Way with AHA heart walk. Every year my boss would voluntell me for it. It was only 1% of my job (according to my review) but took up a month and a half of my life every year. I hated it. HATED IT. And to me there was some implied sexism with my role in it. Being one of the younger women in the office it was just assumed I had nothing better to do. Coordinating bake sales and lunch & learns on heart health while begging people to sign up as walkers was a huge time suck. Everyone else is making sales goals and I’m ordering t-shirts with the company’s logo inside of a heart. Yes, it got me in front of senior staff but in a largely administrative capacity. They weren’t exactly inviting me to sit at their table for the Heart Ball or inviting me to the charity golf tournament.

    1. Us, Too*

      Ha! When I worked for Big 5 and was voluntold to give to UW and volunteer for Habitat for Humanity… I also had to volunteer to do AHA Heart Walk. I, along with a gazillion other of my colleagues, had to fundraise and walk. I was not enthusiastic but since I didn’t give to UW, I hoped to make up for it with Habitat and Heart Walk.

      Imagine my shock to learn that I was the biggest fundraiser in our company! I raised….


      Guess who donated that money? Me.

      So, basically, everyone felt pressured to do it, but didn’t actually do the work required – simply doing the walk got you the exec visibility required that was the “minimum”. Unbelievable.

      1. De Minimis*

        At PWC we had UW and a Leukemia Walk. There was probably something else too that I missed….

  26. Anonathon*

    (Speaking as someone in the fundraising world) If you are going to chair a campaign, it’s generally considered important to make a leadership gift, or at least to make a donation so that you can ask others to “join you.” So you could say that you’re not financially able to contribute at this time, or that your philanthropic dollars are all used up, and you simple wouldn’t feel comfortable encouraging others to donate when it’s not possible for you to do so first. Just another option.

    1. BRR*

      Well that’s more for a public campaign. Usually for these drives, it’s less public and that’s if donation amounts are even public at all. Since companies usually favor participation over amount, there’s no need for a lead gift.

  27. Fabulously Anonymous*

    “I’m sorry, but I have strong moral opposition to this, and it’s not something I’m comfortable taking on”
    I like this, and would follow it up with, “but I am willing to do XYZ” (assuming there is an XYZ and you have the time to do it)

  28. Mena*

    Ugh – I’m sorry that you are being pushed into driving donations for such a questionable organization. (I recall a previous employer’s United Way Campaigns, being forced to sit through presentations, and refusing to donate to an organization with a history of oh-so generously pays its senior management).

    I echo AAM’s recomndations: I wouldn’t be good at this (and I wouldn’t!)

    1. BRR*

      Well I don’t think senior pay is the only benchmark to consider for a charity. If they are running the organization well they deserve a proportionate salary. If they only pay $25k you’re not going to get a quality candidate.

      1. CA Anon*

        I’m sorry, but that’s a false dichotomy. You can have a more reasonable pay scale for senior management that’s way above $25k. In fact, most nonprofits in my area pay their admin staff more than that. A senior executive with a nonprofit can make about $100-200k per year (depending on location) without raising eyebrows. It’s when they’re making $400k or $1m per year that people start to question whether it’s worth it.

  29. Kat*

    I’m so glad my employer doesn’t “do” charity like this. We are for-profit, but charity regularly happens in two ways:
    1) totally optional fundraisers are listed on our intranet/sent via email (nobody cares/checks who donates); and
    2) if it’s important to the company, THE COMPANY finds the money. About 50% of our shareholders are employees, and we are happy to donate some profits to worthy causes.

  30. Joey*

    It’s all fine and dandy to say you aren’t the ideal person to do this just realize that it comes with consequences, namely someone who can’t or won’t do something well he doesn’t agree with. I don’t think getting into whether it should is productive since it won’t do a thing to change the outcome. And to boot its likely a project that is important to important folks in the company. A lost opportunity

    1. neverjaunty*

      It’s apparently not so important that Boss is actually willing to do anything other than punting all the work to the employee co-chair.

  31. Scott M*

    I have worked for 2 companies who have done Untied Way campaigns, and I recognize there is a right way and a wrong way.

    100% participation is the wrong way to go about it. At Old Company, management got awards based upon participation. These were serious awards to the higher-ups. We’re talking about paid cruises and vacations. So of course there was HUGE pressure on the employees to contribute, even if it was just $1.

    At New Company, United Way is a big deal too. But no one ever pushes you to contribute. People are reminded to turn in their donation forms, but in groups, not individually. As far as I know, there are no rewards for managers who get %100 participation. And the company gets tons of donations for United Way anyway.

    So there IS a good way to run the campaign. Having said that, I think Allison’s advice is great.

  32. misspiggy*

    It looks like the OP should clarify that this is not a volunteer role and that she is essentially being asked to add it to her job duties. Then she should do exactly the hours she has agreed on UW stuff, and no more.

    She could say something like, ‘I’m unable to do this task on a voluntary basis, because I have many other time commitments and some personal objections to (charity fundraising at work/UW itself). But I’d be very happy to incorporate it into my work duties, and have it be monitored as part of my performance review as a priority project to deliver for the company. How many hours per week should I be spending on this? What would you like to happen to x and y tasks, which I will no longer be able to deliver on time?’

  33. Gem*

    Not in the US, have no idea about United Way apart from the above but:

    If it’s a 100% participation thing and participation includes filling in a form saying no I’d be tempted to figure out a way (some sort of macro maybe?) to compete a form for everyone saying no.

    Email round. Folks to ensure 100% participation I’ve taken the liberty of saying no for you all. If you do want to donate here’s how.

  34. Hugo*

    This goes along the lines of the recent big box / big pharmacy trend of asking you to donate $1, $5, $10 etc. at the checkout line. NO. My answer is “WallyMart makes enough money to donate themselves.” What a joke…these companies take all this money from their customers, say THEY did it and receive the tax benefits for doing so. How about concentrate on giving your own employees decent pay and benefits first.

    1. Jess*

      Agreed. Also, if a person’s heart isn’t really into their work, they’re not likely to be the cream of the crop or constantly improving their craft. And I hate to say it but

  35. Anon1234*

    I don’t support United Way because they support Planned Parenthood- google how they lied about providing mammograms.

    Once as a manager, I was supposed to force my staff to sign up; I left the forms on a table and was done with it.

    Makes no sense to hp through them unless you like adding overhead expenses to your charitable giving.

    1. Editor*

      Some UW groups support Planned Parenthood, some don’t. In my experience, Planned Parenthood didn’t claim to do mammograms but did provide the services I needed as a customer. Snopes dot com has a post clarifying the business about mammograms on its site.

  36. Illini1959*

    Hi, I’ve been reading for a while, and this is my first comment.

    I work at a university (admin), previously worked for a county government office for 20 years . In no way did I ever feel that anything relating to a charity was part of my job description.

    What I do with my money is my business and I don’t think your job has any place “requiring” any sort of participation. I could be wrong about this, but feel strongly about it. Unless your job is connected directly to said charity, I don’t think they should be able to force participation on any level. I guess though it would depend on how far up the ladder one wants to go, and if this would reflect poorly and hinder that process. I never cared about that.

  37. MG*

    Oh my god, I read this entire thread in complete horror. I work in software development, and I’ve never been asked to donate to a charity (let alone shamed into it).


    Is this mandatory charity BS something you know about when you take the job? If my company tried to force me to donate to a charity of its choice, I don’t think I could quit that job fast enough.

  38. Carly*

    Donating is a very personal choice, however many companies have corporate community goals and like to see that there employees are invested to part of the positive change; United Way really helps transform lives for the greater good, and those that they help become contributing citizens; Maybe it would be helpful to learn about the impact united makes and find passion in the work.

Comments are closed.