my coworker tried to pressure us into giving away our bonuses

A reader writes:

I work at a community college and recently all staff and faculty received a small bonus for the holidays. Immediately, one of the long-time instructors donated her bonus to a needy student and challenged the entire staff to do the same. Very few did. I didn’t because my bonus came in handy with all the extras of the holiday season. I would rather participate in some type of fundraising effort for needy students and their families.

I just don’t think it was “kosher” for her to challenge everyone to give up their bonuses. What’s correct?

Ugh, yeah. I’m sure her heart was in the right place, but people really, really shouldn’t be telling other people how to spend their money.

If she wanted to do it on her own, that’s great. She even could have sent out a low-key emailing offering it up as a suggestion to others — but challenging others to do it? That crosses over into inappropriate pressure.

People need to stop telling their coworkers how to spend their own money, even when it’s for a good cause.

{ 208 comments… read them below }

  1. Juni*

    Wonder if she’s thinking it’ll be tax deductible? Because nope. Unless it’s going into a general scholarship fund, it’s not. “Donating” to a single student is lovely, but not a tax write-off.

    1. Frances*

      Yeah, OP if you’re around can you clarify what exactly your coworker did? I’m hoping there is a scholarship fund/school run fund for needy students involved, and that she didn’t just hand her check over to a student she deemed appropriately “needy” because that could be problematic for several reasons.

      1. Juni*

        … because dollars to doughnuts, she’s going to be at the door to the Advancement office on 1/2/15 demanding her charitable receipt. ASK ME HOW I KNOW.

        1. Lori C*

          I hope so, then you will get the pleasure of telling her, that’s not the way this works, Betty. Sorry but no.

      2. Celeste*

        I agree with donating to a scholarship fund, but handing over cash to a stranger on somebody else’s recommendation? Soooo not happening.

      3. AW*

        Example: Student is a student athlete (or on some type of financial aid) that requires them not to take additional financial assistance or limits the amount of money they can take from other sources.

        1. Stephanie*

          Yeah, student athletes could lose their scholarship (unsure how many of those are at a community college) if they’re receiving gifts like this.

        2. madge*

          Absolutely. Plus at my workplace, this would also mean possible sanctions against the school. It is an absolute nightmare of a process.

        3. Callie*

          the NCAA has extremely strict rules about student athletes accepting ANYTHING. Money is completely out of the question. Never give a student athlete so much as a cookie; it creates all kinds of hassles for them and could cause the entire team to be suspended for years.

      4. LawBee*

        For the purposes of the OP’s question, it does’t matter, though, does it? I mean, it’s not the OP’s responsibility to audit this professor’s giving practices, and this whole tax deduction discussion is based on a hypothetical.

        It sounds to me like the professor’s heart was in a place where other people’s budgets don’t live.

    2. MK*

      I think this is sufficiently inappropriate on it’s own, without attributing alterior motives to the coworker. Is a tax write-off for a small holiday bonus so sugnificant that they would go to all this trouble? And why would they care about their coworkers doing the same. I am assuming they were simply trying to help someone in need, but they are stil a jerk for trying to guilt other into donating their bonus.

      On the other hand, the way I am reading this, the coworker asked others to donate to needy students in general, not the specific student they themselves gave the bonus to. If that’s not so, it’s a whole level of inappropriate.

      1. Artemesia*

        This is a serious misunderstanding of the meaning of ‘tax writeoff’ anyway — If I give $1000 and get a 300$ tax deduction, I am still out $700. It is still a gift. People often talk as if the tax deduction somehow is more valuable than the money given — it never is.

        1. Kerry (Like The County in Ireland)*

          Only if you hate taxes so much that you use the tax deductions on principle so the government doesn’t get your money.

          I am related to such people.

          1. Stephanie*

            Yeah, I had a roommate like that. I don’t think she had any strong “taxes are evil” philosophies (she definitely was ok paying taxes), she was just against overpaying in taxes because she didn’t want to give the government an interest-free loan. So she would do all these deductions and look up the optimal number of tax allowances that would get her close to no refund or owed tax.

            1. De Minimis*

              A lot of people like to do that….I try to do it with my state tax, just because I can’t stand how my state is ran [or mismanaged] and I try to avoid giving them any more money than is absolutely necessary.

          2. LBK*

            Except most people end up using the standard deduction anyway so itemizing your deductions doesn’t matter. Unless you’re donating thousands to charity or have other high tax-deductible expenses, they won’t even factor into your taxes in the end.

    3. Angora*

      Pain in the rump to deal with someone in this situation. I keep my charities separate from work unless I want to use the Community Service Hours available to us. I was working a part-time contractor position as this time last year. There was a great deal of pressure to donate to the Angel Tree with the salvation army. They were doing big ticket items, etc. My mother goes to the Salvation Army church & told them that Mom and I purchase gifts for the Angel Tree directly & volunteer at their soup kitchen. I just got dirty looks. They have a unwritten goal that they have set at that employer. I was a temp with no guarantee of a position after January and these people made excellent salaries. —- Rule of thumb to employers & co-workers of the holidays. DO NOT ASK TEMPS and Short Term Contractors to participate in your charity drives, etc.

      1. Kathy*

        Totally agree; I was a contractor at a Silicon Valley tech company. During the month of December I received an email from the ‘Community Cares’ group or something to that effect stating they hadn’t received my pledged donation to a local food bank.

        I told them I never made that pledge and even went as far as to show them my bank statement showing that I had actually donated to that very charity (on my own). I then asked how they got my name; they said it was submitted on a list; they refused to tell me who submitted my name. Very tacky.

        It amazes me because they want my money; they have not trouble including me; but when it comes to fun employee activities: ‘no temps or contractors are allowed’ .

  2. hayling*

    This reminds me of working at a nonprofit and being pressured to donate to the organization. Um, I’m already taking a super low pay to keep your overhead low, that’s my donation, thanks.

    1. Sascha*

      And when it comes to my office mailbox as a full color glossy, that’s when I get really annoyed at being asked.

    2. Anon for this*

      Yep. Universities and colleges are notorious for this sort of behavior. It’s so desperate.

      I will donate to the institutions that I attended and causes that I support.

      1. Nodumbunny*

        This is off topic, but my kid’s private spendy liberal arts college has been hitting me up for money. Uh no, i think the $$$ tuition I’m working my butt off to pay IS my contribution.

        1. Annie*

          My public school hit up my parents for money the whole time I was in school. I think there should be a rule that unless the parents are alums of the school, no contact for fundraising while their kid is in school, and afterwards, call the one who graduated.

          1. Elysian*

            My parents laughed those people off the phone and never get a second call. As they told the phone solicitor, if they wouldn’t even pay for my tuition while I was going there (yay loans), why would they donate to a random person calling on the phone? The end for them. My parents and I aren’t close, I’m not even sure how they found their phone number.

          2. Cassie*

            I’ve heard from some of our recent graduates – the only time they hear from the university is when they ask for donations. They don’t like it either (especially since we’re a public university). Maybe it’d be different if we were one of those legacy schools like Harvard or Yale or something.

            1. Stephanie*

              No, it’s almost worse if it’s a Harvard or Yale (or my alma mater that has a smaller, albeit several billion-dollar, endowment). It’s like “You already have a ton of money…you really need my $5? And I’m rolling my eyes at the ‘it helps our USNWR ranking’ plea.” I’d almost rather give my money to a less-richly endowed school.

              1. Elsajeni*

                Oh man, I dropped out of your alma mater (if I recall correctly from previous posts of yours), and they STILL have me on their alumni solicitation list. Not gonna happen, guys. Maybe use some of those billion dollars to hire someone with the sense to use the graduation rolls instead of the matriculation rolls.

                1. Connie-Lynne*

                  Right? My first university hit me up for donations (and, to be fair, invited me on alumni-only trips) starting six months after they had the “we’re not exactly kicking you out, but we think you should take some time off to deal with all your personal stuff” talk with me.

                  Pretty sure they were using the matriculation lists and not weeding.

              2. RG*

                Hey, I think we have the same alma mater! ( because I can only think of two schools with owls as the mascot) But yeah, i was annoyed when my mom got calls about donations. Um, I will donate, when I have my diploma and a decent job. Don’t try to hit up my mother asking for money.

                1. Stephanie*

                  Ok, Alison has what feels a disproportionate share of alumni/students who read and comment here (especially given how small the school is).

        2. Shortie*

          Agreed. When I was a graduate student, my university always sent me donation requests because I was an undergrad alumnus of the same school. Um, no, I think my outrageous tuition bill is enough donation, thanks!

          1. Alicia*

            Right there with you (multiple degrees from the same school), and I’m like “nope, I just graduated a year and a half ago… I’m still broke”

          2. JayDee*

            I used my one free “quit without notice” card on a job with my alma mater’s foundation call center. We were calling people who graduated my freshman year. I had just finished my junior year, so these were people two years out of undergrad. The number of people who said in a vaguely panicked voice that they might consider donating once they got out of grad school/paid off their loans/stopped eating ramen. It felt dirty. I don’t smoke, but I seriously considered starting. I couldn’t understand why we were trying to squeeze money out of people who were still paying off their education – maybe still attending the school.

            1. Recent Grad*

              My school hit me up for money less than three months after I graduated. I thought that was really in bad taste.

                1. Edith*

                  I’m late to the party, but at my undergrad graduation information about donating wasn’t in the program– it was what the university president handed us when we walked. I’m sure they thought it was a clever placeholder since nobody is actually handed their diploma at graduation, but I found it pretty groan-inducing.

            2. Jack*

              I did that job at my university one summer, until I got to calling for Bob to donate and was told Bob had died. I apologized and said I was sorry for their loss, and my supervisor told me my response should have been to ask for a donation in his memory.

          3. Shutterbug*

            My school also hit me up the same month I graduated. I declined, citing my exorbitant student loans. Still, the girl marked me as a promise to pay and I received several letters for months afterward reminding me to send in my promised donation.

            Now when they call, I tell them I will be more than happy to donate after I pay off my student loans and to please call back in 25 years.

        3. Gwen*

          Right? My private spendy liberal arts college is hitting ME up for money, and I’ll still be paying off my loans for another few decades.

          1. De Minimis*

            I got them to quit calling me when I told them I was unemployed….[which I was at the time.]

            I think it might have scared the student a bit to hear that alumni were out of work! [they were soliciting for the graduate business program.]

            1. Intrepid Intern*

              I told them that I was homeless. They sent me a follow up email the next day, also asking for money.

            2. Natalie*

              In a similar vein, saying you don’t own a car or a TV is a great way to shut down sales pitches for insurance or cable. I actually don’t own either, but it would work for anyone.

        4. Adam*

          Public university attendant here, but out of state tuition which at the time was over twice the regular tuition, and for four straight years. I’ll start donating when that college degree I was told would be a worthwhile investment gets me a job where the pay rate between my current office job and my part-time retail job is greater than $6 per hour. Thank you and goodnight.

        5. LawBee*

          Yeah, I don’t donate to my school until I’ve paid off the student loan. So, undergrad is getting a small donation (because I love that school like fire) but law school? Probably not until I’m 70.

      2. AW*

        Oh yeah, they’ll ask people to donate *during the graduation ceremony*. If it takes you longer than 4 years to graduate, they’ll go ahead and start mailing you donation requests anyway.

        They also don’t see a problem with freezing pay (not even cost of living increases) but still asking employees for charitable donations.

        1. Sascha*

          Yep! Went through that a few years! No increases at all, but we still got those glossy brochures. Way to motivate the herd.

        2. AdAgencyChick*

          Mine required all seniors to go through a pre-graduation assembly line. The steps included paying off your library fines, making sure your name would be spelled correctly on your diploma, and picking up cap and gown.

          Oh yeah, and a pressure pitch from alumni giving to pledge. You couldn’t graduate unless you completed every step in the assembly line. You could say no to the giving table, but most people (myself included) caved because we were face to face with a puppy-dog-eyed fundraiser. I pledged a small amount…and never sent a check. I hate social-pressure tactics and always have. #sorrynotsorry

          “If it takes you longer than 4 years to graduate, they’ll go ahead and start mailing you donation requests anyway.”

          This boggles my mind.

        3. Vanishing Girl*

          My partner didn’t get his diploma at his graduation ceremony, as it had already been mailed. Instead, he got a letter in a diploma tube asking for a donation. Classy!

      3. OOF*

        Most public universities’ budgets are far beyond income from tuition. Tuition is but one piece of the pie, so it’s not enough that people just pay their tuition. Other revenue sources are required.

        Also, many employees of organizations (including universities) see first-hand the good work that is occurring every day and WANT to be give to it. I’d rather give to an organization I can see using that donation every day. There are enough people who think this way that faculty/staff giving campaigns ARE successful. This is why you see them.

        And finally, the fact that we earn less by working in public universities or other not-for-profits does not equate to not wanting to give. Research shows that those who earn less give a larger % of their income to charity than those who earn more.

        1. Anna*

          Whether or not that’s the case, there’s something a bit tacky and out of touch about asking your employees to donate, especially if you work in a university where you have an inkling of what the president makes. You’re right, tuition is not the only part of the pie, but that piece seems to get bigger and bigger, at least to the students who are attending.

        2. April*

          Okay, this is something I don’t really understand. Isn’t the definition of a public university that it’s funded from public coffers? If a public institution is asking for donations from private parties, does that really make sense? To me it does not. If the amount from government funding + tuition does not = school’s budget, then trim the budget. I am 100% sure there are plenty of costly programs at the school that are peripheral to the main mission of educating minds which could be cut without having to raise tuition or ask private parties to donate to a public institution. At the public university near me they have expensive building projects, recreation programs, and a gourmet cafeteria that’s more like a nice restaurant (among other extravagances). To me, if having those “extras” means you have to have money beyond public funding + tuition, then you plain and simply don’t need those extras. Students learn just as much in simple, sturdy old buildings as they do in fancy, shiny new ones. They are just as well-nourished by a few choices of simple foods as they are by a plethora of choices of extravagantly expensive dishes. For that matter, they’re just as well-educated if you decide that feeding themselves is their own responsibility and it’s not the responsibility of the school to provide a cafeteria program at all, but to focus instead on excellence in the actual classrooms.

          1. Cassie*

            I believe our budget is 25% public funds (state funds) and the rest are actually from private sources – at least, that’s what I have heard.

            Our board just voted to increase tuition for the next 5 years (or something like that), which of course students have protested against. I know one of the problems that we have is that faculty (especially those at the top of their field) can make tons more at top private universities – how do we compete with that? And why would we want to attract the stars? Because they do cutting-edge research and are successful in getting research funding.

            I can’t believe I’m defending our bloated budget :) but as far as the fancy schmacy buildings – many of them are built with donations from alums who designate the funds for those buildings, so they can’t be used for other things. I do have one suggestion of where to cut – administrator costs! Many of the administrators (directors, heads, etc) are so overpaid, it’s ridiculous. And some of them are terrible at their jobs. Get rid of them and that would save you a ton of money right there. Seriously, they provide no value to the organization at all.

          2. Emily*

            Speaking as someone who went to a small (public) liberal arts college, there are plenty of valid reasons why a school might want/need more money than is being given to them by the state. Especially when said funding is being threatened by poorly designed achievement metrics. (Example: The state wants to measure success in the workforce after graduation! But recent graduates aren’t counted as having jobs if they leave the state, even if they’re full-time employed elsewhere.)

            1. April*

              Emily, you’re right that sounds like an incredibly poorly designed achievement metric. Surely the right solution though is to insist the policy be revised. Turning elsewhere for money instead sounds like a recipe for those problems to never be solved. Where’s the urgency to solve them if the needed money is now in hand from another source?

              What it seems to me we end up with (especially given Cassie’s description of a mere 25% of budget being funded publicly) is an odd amalgam of a school that isn’t really private because it’s established by the state and has all sorts of (possibly poorly designed) regulations and policies from the state hemming it in, but isn’t really public either because the funding is mostly coming from private sources, relieving the state of the burden of having to actually take a close look at whether its (the state’s) policies are successful and effective, because hey this infusion of private funds is an awfully convenient workaround.

      4. Armchair Analyst*

        I worked for a Union that wanted us to donate… to the Union’s political action committee.
        Nope, not for me, thanks.
        Then I was fired. (Not related, but indicative of how I didn’t fit into the Culture.)

    3. Allison*

      I interviewed for an unpaid internship at my local chapter of NOW, and they require all of their interns to be paying members of the organization. So not only do they not pay you, or reimburse transportation costs, they make you pay for a membership. Should’ve been relieved when they decided they didn’t want my money and free labor.

      1. Adam*

        That’s the snakiest and most pretentious thing I’ve heard all week. “We’re so great you have to pay for the privilege of interning (i.e. volunteering) with us?”

        No. F***ing. Way.

      2. Juni*

        Not a fan, but I don’t see anything wrong with having “be a member of the org” as a prerequisite to being an intern there. It would be better for them to just select their intern pool from their membership entirely, rather than opening up the intern search for everyone and saying, “Oh, by the way…” but I don’t think it’s necessarily skeevy, and I doubt they use it as an income stream.

        1. Bea W*

          If it is required, then it needs to be stated so in the posting. It costs money to be a member of that particular organization, and that’s a big deal for some students. I also think it’s just crass when you are looking for *unpaid* interns. Exactly where do they think unpaid interns will get money to pay for a membership?

    4. Mirily*

      This happened to me. When I was an AmeriCorps member. So … making less than minimum wage and literally donating 40 hours a week to said nonprofit.

      Then of course the Development Director resorted to texting people and reminding them to donate.

    5. themmases*

      I worked at a non-profit hospital that did this. Tons of people gave, but I never did.

      Aside from the low pay, the way I see it, I spent 40+ hours each week working on this cause. The good causes I don’t have time to work on get my money.

  3. LBK*

    The thing that bugs me about this is it coming around the holiday season, when the spike in spending generally is for other people, not yourself. The implication of trying to do something selfless with the money is really annoying – any extra money I have in November/December is already going towards presents for others. Yeah, they’re my friends and family, but I still consider that pretty selfless.

    1. Dan*

      Any extra money I have is going towards my $82k in student loan debt, and the $17k in cc debt that I amassed after a layoff last year…

  4. Nerd Girl*

    I am a fan of donating my time versus my money. An upside – aside from the fact my money stays in my bank account – is I’ve had the opportunity to connect with my community.

    1. Squirrel!*

      This is something everyone should remember. It’s easy to donate money, but you have to have people to do the actual work. Sometimes the time is more important than the money.

      1. Person*

        I tried to donate my time to a local charitable organization, and it required purchasing a ‘volunteer pack’ which was costlier than I could afford. Nope.

  5. Episkey*

    And how does this instructor know that some of the staff/faculty that received this bonus haven’t hit some hard times themselves and really could use the money for their own family? So annoying.

    1. Koko*

      Bet she’s one of those people who makes a large salary and has forgotten what it’s like to live paycheck-to-paycheck.

      We had an issue a while back with a contract worker’s paycheck being delayed, and there was a lot of back-and-forth with a senior director who was helping us push finance to get the check out. When the dust was settled he made an off-handed remark about how, “In the end, it was only a 3-week delay which isn’t bad.” Our contract worker was in her 20s and this being a non-profit, my guess would be that like most 20-something nonprofit workers, 2-3 weeks of expenses was probably her entire savings account.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        “Bet she’s one of those people who makes a large salary and has forgotten what it’s like to live paycheck-to-paycheck.”

        At a community college, I HIGHLY doubt that.

        Her heart is probably in the right place but it’s inappropriate to pressure others to do the same. I am already sick to death of our own Combined Federal Campaign season (our consolidated charity- giving drive) and we’re only halfway through. I loathe it.

        1. De Minimis*

          I am so glad our workplace just ignores the whole CFC thing. I asked about it when I first started here and was told that there just has never been any interest in it among the management or staff, and I guess those above us don’t care if we are involved in it.

          We are doing a canned food drive here, not sure where the food is going to end up, but I assume it’s a local [or at least close by] food bank. There’s always a lot of participation in that here, just because they’ve tied it to the football rivalry between the two major universities. I’ve seen people donate whole cases of food just to insure the other side doesn’t win.

          1. jordanjay29*

            Yeah, IF you can get a full-time position at a Community College. Or any college. From the way things are going, colleges and universities seem to want to employ part time instructors over full-time, and especially over tenured professors. Breaking into tenure in academia is getting harder and harder.

          2. Connie-Lynne*

            Where I live (San Francisco), $72K a year wouldn’t go terribly far –

            -$21,600 (taxes)
            -$36,000 (rent or mortgage)

            Leaves about $1,200 a month for food, clothes, utilities, medical, paying off student loans, transit or car ownership, saving for retirement. … Doable for a single person but not really for a family.

      2. Michele*

        If she even had anything in her savings account to live on. I had an issue with a paycheck my first job out of college and I didn’t really have anything to fall back on. It was awful.

        1. MK*

          I agree the coworker is probably not making a huge salary, but it’s not unlikely that she could afford to give the bonus away without depriving themselves of anything (other sources of income, well-off spouse, no debt, no family obligations).

          But I also think this doesn’t unltimately matter. Maybe the coworker is also struggling and gave up what would have been a holiday treat for her and maybe her coworkers are ok financially and she knows this; it’s not her place to “challenge” people to give to charity.

    2. HAnon*

      Agreed. Because even if someone makes a high salary, you don’t know what kind of non-negotiable personal expenses they may have, like paying down debt incurred from years of hardship (me) that keeps me living below my income braket, or someone who might be paying medical expenses for multiple family members because she has a “good job” so “she can afford it” (friend of mine, non-begrudgingly I might add). You never know, so don’t make assumptions.

      Also, just for the record — if she wants to spend it all on a designer handbag and make no charitable contribution at all, that’s still her choice because it’s her money.

    3. Chinook*

      Also, how do they know everyone on staff got a bonus?

      Personally, I am huge fan of giving silently. All I can think is that this person wanted everyone to look at how good and generous she is.

    4. April*

      “how does this instructor know that some of the staff/faculty that received this bonus haven’t hit some hard times themselves and really could use the money for their own family?”
      Great point!

  6. Jen S. 2.0*

    “Hmmmm, that’s an interesting idea. I’ll think about it.” Repeat as necessary, and do what YOU want with your money.

    Just because someone suggests it doesn’t mean you have to do it. Also, just because it’s right for them doesn’t mean it has to be right for you.

    1. Colette*

      Or just “Sorry, not this year”.

      I don’t necessarily find the challenge out of line, if it’s simply an emailed “I’m doing X and challenge you all to do the same” – but if there’s follow-up, then it would be too much IMO. However, there’s nothing wrong with just declining – there’s no need to justify why it’s not for you.

      1. OhNo*

        For some reason, wording it as a challenge is the part that throws me off. If they had just suggested or encouraged others to do the same, that’s one thing. But a challenge strikes a different tone that I wouldn’t be entirely comfortable with.

        1. Colette*

          I think of it like I would if someone challenged me to a burpee contest – “OK, you win.”

          However, that’s partly personality based – I am competitive when it comes to things I care about, and don’t worry about stuff I don’t care about. I could see how it would be more annoying to someone who cares more about competition in general.

        2. Clerica*

          See, either way I’d be put off, because I would feel like she was only bringing it up so everyone could pat her on the back for being so generous. But yeah, making it an actual challenge is just the frosting on this failcupcake. It’s not just saying “I’m awesome,” it’s adding “Are you?”

          1. Adam*

            Yeah, I have a real hard time not seeing this as a “Look at me!” sort of action even if her heart is in the right place and some person in need really did benefit from it. And “challenging” others to do the same so publicly makes it feel like she’s center stage rather than said worthy cause.

            1. OhNo*

              Exactly. When you challenge someone to do something that you’ve already done, you are holding yourself up as the example by which all others will be measured.

              And of course there’s the implication that no one will never be as good, because they didn’t participate until they were challenged, but she thought of it first and did it out of the goodness of her heart, not some petty competitive instinct.

              1. jag*

                Challenge giving is quite common and effective in philanthropy as a way to get other people to give.

                You can judge it based on what you speculate her motivations are – but please recognize that it works.

            2. Cindi*

              Yup, you guys said exactly what I was thinking. It feels like a show off thing, a “aren’t I great” type of move.

          2. Colette*

            That might be her motivation – or she might think “well, the bonus is extra money so it’s an easy way to help others”. That doesn’t obligate anyone else to do anything, though.

        3. JMegan*

          Mmhm. I felt that way about the ice bucket challenge this summer. Of course it was for a great cause, and good for you* if you want to donate, but how do you know I’m not already donating to another great cause? It’s like, I should feel pressured to donate because you called me out on YouTube. No, thanks.

          That said, I expect OP’s coworker’s heart was in the right place. She probably was thinking of the ice bucket challenge and how successful it was, and wanted to start something of her own on a smaller scale. I don’t fault her for that. And like with any other solicitation (or challenge or whatever you want to call it), I still reserve the right to quietly not participate. :)

          *Not you, OhNo, in particular; but you, ice bucket challengers in general.

  7. OriginalYup*

    Some people like to present their charity or philanthropy this way because they find the language/approach motivating, like a sports pep talk. (“Let’s get out there and crush this thing!”) They don’t always realize how it sounds to others, especially the uncompetitive among us. I’d file it under “meant well, came across overly aggressive” and do whatever you want with your bonus. If this person gets pushy with you personally, say something like, “It sounds like you did a really generous thing” and then don’t say anything more. And don’t feel like you have to defend yourself or discuss your own plans — it’s none of their business.

    1. Swarley*

      I like your comment and your phrasing of how to react if asked directly. I like something like this, too: “My budget for charitable donations are already committed elsewhere. Thanks!”

      1. Natalie*

        That’s my go-to when canvassers stop me. At least around here, they usually are working for good organizations, but I don’t give to street canvassers for a couple of reasons and I feel bad listening to their spiel if I know I’m not going to give them money.

  8. Swarley*

    Definitely annoying, but it sounds like she has good intentions. My employer does a charitable campaign every year and thankfully they don’t pressure at all. On the off chance a coworker is doing a separate fundraiser and/or selling things for the kid’s school they’ll leave the info in the conference room with a note. Call me crazy, but I’m much more willing to buy popcorn from your kid when you don’t come to my desk and ask.

  9. Night Cheese*

    Maybe you could suggest something less intrusive that would benefit a larger amount of people, such as donating cans to a food bank?

    I wonder if she asked everyone to support this one student or if she wanted to share the wealth with other needy students. Whatever the case may be, she is misguided in “challenging” her colleagues to do the same thing with their money.

      1. JayDee*

        For those that don’t click the link, I definitely want to encourage toiletries and feminine products (although I never thought of spices and totally want to go by a ton of spices and donate them). Food stamps don’t cover things like toilet paper, shampoo, diapers and wipes, dish soap, or feminine products. So a lot of people really have few ways to get those other than food pantries.

        1. Natalie*

          Homeless shelters also need a lot of those things, particularly tampons and pads. And socks. Homeless people need a lot of socks.

  10. Joey*

    I love it how people forget to look at their own employees for a “needy family.” You can bet there are plenty of staff struggling.

    1. Clerica*

      I can’t believe I’m actually seeing this comment, but THANK YOU FOR IT.

      Also, try to suffer through an aggressive canned food drive at a school where 92% of the kids are receiving free lunch. Where the food is going to be donated to…United Way. Sure, kids, clean out your pantries–or those of you living in a shelter, go buy cans of food–to feed families you’ve never met so that the school (and more importantly, the two teachers in charge of the drive) can look good. To United Way.

      1. Ted Mosby*

        That is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.

        My mother teachers for an inner city school and the teachers write down the names of kids who come in coat less/hatless, go buy coats in their sizes, then hold a rigged raffle. No one is embarrassed. The kids are little so they think it’s a coincidence. I think it’s the sweetest idea.

        1. Stephanie*

          Nothing to see here, just allergies. Yeah, allergies…

          The rigged raffle is brilliant. I’m glad your mom and her coworkers figured out a way to keep the gifts from being patronizing.

          1. Stephanie*

            *feeling patronizing, I mean. I’m sure the kids appreciate the coat, but I could understand how it might feel embarrassing to get a free coat in front of your classmates.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          YES THIS

          We have a local organization that does the same thing. It’s a fund you can donate to that directly helps kids who need coats, clothing, personal care items, etc. School personnel can identify kids in need and they can get what they need directly without going through any kind of big charity application process. They need it; they get it. A prominent person in the community saw the need and rallied other community leaders around it. He’s pretty awesome (has a famous relative who is also big on giving back).

          This is the kind of thing people in the workplace can be made aware of, and then they can choose to donate or not. My company is really big on giving so they do drives for stuff like this all the time. Nobody is obligated to do it, but it’s highly encouraged.

      2. Anon Accountant*

        I’ve never understood why schools do this. If almost every sudent receives free lunch why pressure the kids to donate food?! When their families would benefit from receiving the canned goods.

    2. Nerd Girl*

      Years ago my husband and I were in the worst place financially. We were literally $17 above the poverty line and didn’t qualify for any government assistance. We had two small kids and struggled to put food on the table even with two full time jobs. Our gas was shut off that winter, we cancelled our cable and phone, and really worked hard to find better jobs with better pay and benefits. During this time my new office held it’s United Way campaign and the VP of my department would routinely come to each person to “check in” on their donation card. I ended up caving to her pressure (new job and all that!) and donated $11 per pay period. It was one of those stupid things I would never do again. That was $286 that went to needy families that weren’t my needy family. The following year I volunteered my time for the company’s United Way day of volunteering but that was where I drew the line. My VP asked me why I wasn’t donating the second year and I explained that I hadn’t wanted to donate the first year and had done so because of her pressure tactics. In her defense, she did feel guilty and made a point of letting people know that they shouldn’t donate if it meant that there would be financial repercussions at home because of it. And she backed off on the “check in” visits.

      1. OriginalYup*

        It’s really important that people speak up like you did, which can be so difficult in boss/employee relationships. I had to come down hard as a committee leader on a few members who wanted to institute a bunch of pay-to-play and 100%-participation-or-nothing charity events in the middle of the recession, for exactly the reasons you cite. They kept pushing it and pushing it until I brought the hammer down. I could see they were genuinely shocked when I laid out (anonymously) just a few of the circumstances of which I was aware — the coworker who had 5 extended family members living with her and she’s the only wage earner, another one whose house was in foreclosure. They were all saying, “I had no idea!” and I pointed out, “Why would you? It’s none of your business. So get your hand out of their pockets. Here endeth the lesson.”

        1. Nerd Girl*

          Not going to lie. Telling my boss that I was struggling financially and I was refusing her pressure was not an easy conversation but it was a hell of a lot easier than sitting down at the dinner table, trying to explain to my 4 and 5 year old why Momma and Daddy weren’t eating dinner. It was a hellish time in my life and I made the decision that no matter what, I’d rather say no to others than to my kids for these type of things.

      2. AcademicAnon*

        How I hate my uni’s United Way drive, over the last 10+ years it has received over a BILLION $ in donations, and that’s not even considering their other revenue streams.

        1. AcademicAnon*

          Also currently employees are forbidden from running their own charity drives at work for charities they support. For my department that meant a low-key flier in everyone’s mailbox, explaining what people were doing, what was needed and where to drop stuff off. The 2 charities supported? Woman’s shelter and local Humane society pet shelter.

    3. Mike C.*

      Seriously, this is a great comment. When you see examples like Walmart employees organizing a food drive for their own coworkers, there’s a problem here.

      1. Anon For Once*

        Walmart doesn’t need to have a drive like that either. They have a lovely company-wide & funded program where they provide grants to employees in need because of unexpected burdensome expenses (think long-term illness, spouse out of work) if the employee applies, which is simple, just a letter. It is something employees can donate to via payroll deduction–but if there’s any sort of push, however gentle, to donate, it is aimed at store management & higher level people.

  11. Purple Stapler*

    I work at a non-profit and they just threw a big Thanksgiving buffet lunch for all staff (about 200 – 300 people). The president got up and talked about how thankful he was to everybody for their hard work and that he knows we’re heading into our busiest season so he hopes we’ll all keep up our spirits yada, yada, yada. Then some of the fundraising staff showed a slick video presentation all about the current staff who elect to donate a portion of every paycheck back to the organization and how all employees should feel compelled to give in that way.

    I’m sorry, no.

    It made what was a nice employee appreciation event feel really mercantile (I’ll give you a turkey leg if you give me 5%). To be perfectly honest, my job is just a job — I’m not particularly passionate about the work my organization does. Way to go putting a bad taste in your employees mouths regarding the organization’s ethics right before the busiest season of the year!

    1. tt*

      I object in principle to donating to my employer. It’s my salary and I’m not inclined to give it back, thank you.

    2. Jill-be-Nimble*

      Yeah, the “big draw” at temp job’s Christmas party this year is…a staff silent auction for the company’s charity. So, we get to eat appetizers, make awkward small talk, and give our money back to the company? Whatever happened to door prizes?

  12. Jax*

    An office mate recently found out her son has cancer. The office started a collection for her (I gave $100) but it didn’t stop there. One group in the office started a Go-Fund Me page, a spaghetti dinner, a blood drive. My breaking point was when people started bullying each other into donating vacation days.

    I’m really squirming over this, because I’m tapped out and becoming resentful. I don’t want to have my arm twisted into helping, or get the stink eye because I chose to stay home with my family instead of going to the spaghetti dinner. With the holidays coming up, I’m positive there will be a push to donate our bonuses and I have no idea how to say no without sounding like a jerk.

    1. Dan*

      Frankly, I think it’s ok to sound like a jerk. Anybody who directly asks me for something I’ve earned has to accept that they could get the door slammed in their face. I’d be a bit more tactful towards the person struggling (who shouldn’t be asking in the first place), but to the office thug, they get what they get.

      The thing is, these days I work in a very large organization. I feel like I barely know 20 people in my 60-person department on a first name basis.

      1. Elysian*

        This is not entirely analogous, but I live in a big city and there are a lot of homeless individuals. I donate when I can where I feel comfortable, but clearly one person can’t do enough to . That said, there’s one person that is well known for being extremely rude – when we walk past his corner he’ll ask for money and we’ll say sorry, and he’ll scream at us for the whole block about how we’re bad people and curse at us. It always rubbed me particularly wrong, because he’s screaming at me for not giving him something I earned just because he asked.

        I plan my giving every year, and give to organizations that I vet and that I think will do good work. I give an above-average percentage of my income. I hate being asked for money outside of that – people need to learn to take “no” more gracefully.

    2. Nerd Girl*

      It’s okay to say no. “I’m sorry. I’ve given all I can give but I wish you luck in your fundraising.” If people think that’s being a jerk, then that’s on them. There’s nothing wrong with saying no.

    3. soitgoes*

      Those things always leave a bad taste in my mouth because there are a lot of people who endure hard times quietly, but then the one person who talks about their troubles all of a sudden gets a lot of help and money.

      I don’t begrudge help to anyone with a sick child, but we all have our own struggles. It really hurts to see someone else get help when you thought it would be rude if you asked.

      1. jordanjay29*

        “It really hurts to see someone else get help when you thought it would be rude if you asked.”

        I know this pain all too well. Sometimes I hate being brought up in the Midwest, where we don’t talk too much about ourselves. There’s a wealth of problems that goes with that attitude.

        1. Bea W*

          I was brought up in the Northeast with the same attitude, and we don’t talk about the $$ we donate either. It’s braggy. Anytime I hear someone flaunting their own charity, it’s akin to nails on a chalkboard to me. (Not saying that’s right, just that this attitude exists and in some cases is a cultural phenomenon).

      2. Q*

        Wow, that’s a really harmful attitude. It reminds me of the people who talk about how others don’t deserve welfare, food stamps, health care, etc. because they managed to pull through without asking for help. Sorry, enduring silently is NOT a virtue.

        1. Nerd Girl*

          I hope that’s not what Soitgoes was trying to say. Quiet or not, we all have moments in life where we struggle. And I don’t think that she was implying that to endure silently is a virtue or that she begrudges the help a person with a sick child would get. I think it’s human nature to feel hurt when your struggles go unnoticed by others but those with a visible need get the acknowledgement. Sometimes it’s not easy to ask for help for yourself.

          1. Bea W*

            I think it’s human nature to feel hurt when your struggles go unnoticed by others but those with a visible need get the acknowledgement. Sometimes it’s not easy to ask for help for yourself.

            This sums up how I have felt perfectly. The hurt is due to being unnoticed.

        2. Anon For Once*

          The Southern version I learned & still live is: You don’t make a big deal about your own problems, but everyone helps everyone else, because everyone needs help sometimes.
          A very dear friend put it best when I commented on his generosity, “I have found that if I don’t give when I have the money, I don’t have that money very long.”

  13. TotesMaGoats*

    I’d like to know the tone of the “challenge” before I decide if it was sweetly misguided or a bullying guilt trip.

    It’s possible, knowing at this point in my life hundreds of faculty members, that it probably came from a thoughtful place but was thoughtless in execution.

  14. Clerica*

    Okay. Wow.

    First, obnoxious. Effing obnoxious to assume that anyone there can afford to give up their bonus or (even if they can technically afford to) doesn’t deserve to keep it for themselves. Has anyone in the history of everwas thought to include a short disclaimer to the tune of “I know not all of us are in a financial position to spare even a dollar, but if you’re one of the few fortunate enough to have a little left over, etc etc…” If you feel like you have to solicit, it would go so far toward not, idk, alienating a shitton of people.

    Second, if I were going to college there and found out that a staff member donated their bonus to some random “needy” student, I would be so pissed off. I mean, how the person spends their money is their business, but to make it into a challenge makes it an official school thing. (Now I’m actually at the age where I’m thinking more how I’d feel if it happened at a school my child was attending. I’d still be pissed off). Either way, I’d wonder who this person was who was making determinations about who there was “needy” enough for them. With tuition as high as it is right now, and the economy still shitty, who the hell isn’t needy?

    This obviously isn’t universally true and YMMV, but does anyone else feel like whenever one person is singled out, either to be praised for an awesome job or held up as someone who needs help, it’s never the really hard worker or the person in really desperate circumstances? The criteria for who gets noticed is so freaking random sometimes that it’s like they just pull causes out of a hat, which would explain the recent fawning over a coworker of mine who broke her arm and the absolute dead silence toward a different coworker who lost her husband, father, one brother, and house in the space of about four months and now found out she has breast cancer. Meanwhile the emails keep coming about poor Broken Arm (and the incessant Reply All replies), but the one email our team sent out about God’s Scapegoat fell flat and she was so embarrassed she won’t let us try again.

    God, I am so tired of being told (or have it implied) how greedy I am for expecting to keep my own salary. All <25K of it that I earn by working 7 days a week.

    I'm going to end my circuitous ramble with my favorite quote: "The charity that hastens to proclaim its good deeds, ceases to be charity, and is only pride and ostentation." Only in my mind I tend to replace the last part with "jerking off."

      1. Adonday Veeah*

        I meant to give you a standing ovation for this, but clearly I screwed it up. So let me just say…

        YAY ON YOU!!!!!!

          1. Jeanne*


            Your post was right on point. We do the same thing with those who get support from news articles. Why was that little child with cancer profiled in the newspaper? Why was the family whose house burned down ignored?

    1. AW*

      “which would explain the recent fawning over a coworker of mine who broke her arm and the absolute dead silence toward a different coworker who lost her husband, father, one brother, and house in the space of about four months and now found out she has breast cancer.”


      I know hugs from the Internet won’t help but she’s getting them from me.

      But I am equally baffled by the fact that people in your office seem willing to give to help co-workers but only want to with Broken Arm and not Lost-Spouse-Family-House-And-Has-Cancer.

      1. Clerica*

        Idgi either. But I’ve seen it at just about every job. It’s like how random stories on the internet go viral and other stories (which you would think are more important) don’t. Broken Arm is our very own Alex from Target right now, I guess.

      2. MK*

        Well, I don’t think most people would consider helping a coworker as “charity” exactly, so there will be other factors weighing in other than who deserves it more. If the person with the broken arm is the kind of person who remembers everyone’s names and birthdays and is always the first to help when her coworkers are in similar situations, it makes sense that she would receive more support than is perhaps waranted by her accident. And the person could be unpopular (perhaps deservedly, perhaps not), though I must say that I would try and help someone in such a dire situation, even if I didn’t much like them.

        1. misspiggy*

          Think it may be more a case that it’s easier to provide help that gets you success and thus warm fuzzies for a broken arm, than it is to try and help completely rebuild someone’s life…

    2. Liane*

      There’s a story in the Bible, which can be appreciated with or without the requisite religious belief, about Jesus telling his followers to pray and donate quietly, secretly, and if they fasted to be cheerful and not look miserable. That those who made a big public spectacle out of praying, charity &/or fasting already had their reward; if you did them in secret, you were rewarded richly, in secret.

  15. just passing through*

    I’m probably being very cynical, but that “challenge email” sounds like a “look at me” thing.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      I had a similar thought being charitable is an awesome thing to do but you don’t need to broadcast the fact to the whole office, and you certainly don’t try and force others to give to the same cause.

  16. Allison*

    I wonder if part of her is doubting her decision to donate, in light of how costly the holidays can be, and maybe she’s starting to think of how she could’ve spent it. Or she’s thinking about her coworkers going on trips and buying nice things for their homes with their bonuses, and worried she’ll start to hear about it and feel envious as well as regretful. Maybe her spouse got mad at her for giving it away, when there were so many things they could’ve done with it. Either way, maybe now she’s trying to get others to do the same so she’ll feel better knowing she’s not the only one who gave away her bonus.

  17. Jake*

    I’m donating to jake wants a new tv, and there isn’t a single person that is going to guilt me out of it with a silly challenge. For every cause you challenge me to donate to, I’ll rattle of 5 that are just as deserving.

    1. Clerica*

      I like this. I’m donating my whole salary to Toys for Clerica. That’s after Habitat for Clerica and Feeding Clerica and Clerica’s Clean (or Any) Fuel Fund and UNI(ted)C(lerica)E(mergency)F(und) get their due percentages.

      1. Clerica*

        Also Operation (Clerica) Smile so I can fix the congenital gap in my teeth and not have constant jaw pain. But I’ll use $350 of that fund to fix dinner for 40 people. While they eat they will be entertained by my performance of The Clerica Monologues.

    2. Evan Þ.*

      Some of my friends in high school sent out an email advertising T-shirts with some design I can’t remember. At the end, they added that “All profits will go to feed the hungry (teenagers).”

  18. Purple Jello*

    Yeah, I’ve been collecting for the Purple Jello children college fund. Haven’t received any money yet…

    1. Connie-Lynne*

      You pay your kids allowance, right? Following the model of some of the companies mentioned above, clearly you should be shaking them down to donate 30% of their allowance back into the PJC College Fund.

  19. Senor Poncho*

    This may have already been covered in this thread, and doesn’t perfectly match up with the actual OP, but this came to mind. Mini-rant incoming:


    Ahhh, felt good.

  20. ThursdaysGeek*

    “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.”

    Even if I decided she had a good idea, and I decided to donate my bonus to a needy college student too, I wouldn’t tell her or anyone else that I had done so. What I give is no-one else’s business. And what others give or don’t give, is also none of my business.

    1. Chinook*

      I was thinking of the same quote. It just goes to show that the more people change (even over 2,000) years, the more we stay the same. I was raised to give silently not only not to draw attention to myself but also to allow the receiver to retain their dignity.

        1. Leah*

          In Jewish texts, there’s a list of preferred “levels” of giving charity, and it’s mostly based on levels of anonymity. So the highest level is when the donor doesn’t know exactly who they’re giving to, and the recipient doesn’t know exactly where it came from.
          This woman’s email – giving to a student, then announcing it – made me think of this list, and I’m pretty sure her way would be considered the lowest level of charity.

  21. OOF*

    I’m sorry to see the recounting of one coworkers’ misguided attempt lead to such an outpouring against attempts at fundraising. I’ve seen coworkers issue such a challenge – and in those cases, it was pure-of-heart (though poorly executed). I’ve seen employees (across all incomes) give to their organizations of their own recognizance and feel proud to be able to make a difference at a place where they can see the impact first-hand. Research shows us that the act of giving makes us happier, healthier and more connected. And, research shows us that seeing those we respect give encourages us to be more charitable.

    So – yes, heavy-handed workplace techniques are wrong. But thoughtful, tasteful and expectation-free attempts to spread the word about the power of giving to large groups (with no personal asking of colleagues)? Not the worst thing ever. Probably a good thing. And for those of us who work at nonprofits? We should be very glad that some people say “yes.”

    1. fposte*

      I work at a nonprofit and am happy to give to its charitable campaign, but I don’t feel pureness of heart excuses coercion or that we can correctly assume such efforts are more uplifting than depressing to employees overall.

    2. MK*

      The people who are doing the ” heavy-handed workplace techniques” are almost certainly under the illusion that their efforts are “thoughtful, tasteful and expectation-free attempts to spread the word “.

      1. Diet Coke Addict*


        Intent is not magic. You may have the purest intentions in the world and work only for good, but if you use crappy, heavy-handed tactics to strong-arm your coworkers into giving….it’s still a negative impression. If your coercion is received as tacky, exploitative, and too-strong, the best intentions in the world won’t make it any better.

  22. Wisco HR Manager*

    I remember many years ago when I started at my current place of employment. It had its own charitable foundation–matched employee payroll deducted donations 100%. Management would go around and seek out everyone that hadn’t donated and pressure them to do so. I had my own financial crisis and now my employer was pressuring me to give up part of my already meager salary. I recall thinking how how out of touch management must be. How much did they thinking they were paying us? I was new so I don’t know if this was an institutional procedure or a rogue manager. I do know, however, that the company does not do this now.

  23. Lori C*

    How would an instructor know the “neediness” of any given student at any given time? I would imagine ALL students could be considered “needy”. They are paying major bucks for classes, books, supplies, plus food and living expenses. How would she know how any student is paying these expenses? Grants? Loans? Working? Savings? Parents? I also could imagine many of the college employees could also be considered “needy”. Sounds like someone looking for some attention and praise? Oooo look at me, giving Jack my bonus to help him because I’m better than you…Ugh.

    1. Stephanie*

      Yeah, I was wondering that as well. I feel like for this to work, the staff would need to have a good enough rapport with a particular student to know that they’re in need and would be ok receiving charity (just from personal experience, receiving charity doesn’t always feel good and can sometimes feel more like it’s for the benefit of the giver). I could imagine in if OP’s like the department coordinator or teaches a bunch of sections, she might come into contact with a bunch of students and not have a great rapport.

      Seems like a better idea would be a general scholarship fund administered through the financial aid office or the department.

    2. Kelly L.*

      At a college where I worked in the past, one of the things our department did was give an annual scholarship to a student who had both a lot of merit/promise in the field and financial need. The financial aid office would provide us, confidentially, with a list of which students in our department had need. There wasn’t any additional info on there, like exactly what balance of grants/loans/work/whatever they had or how many kids their parents had or anything, or even any actual dollar amounts–just “these people have need” by the standards of the financial aid office. So we would choose someone from that list.

      But not everyone would have this info, obviously. My guess is the instructor knows about one specific case in her own department and mistakenly thinks everybody has that kind of info.

    3. Lizzie*

      It could also be that the instructor was aware of personal circumstances that the student was facing that led to a sudden increase in the student’s financial need – perhaps the student (or a family member) recently lost a job, had their home damaged by a fire or flood, etc. I work at a high-needs elementary school (over 90% free and reduced price lunch), so most of the time you could pretty much point to any one of my kids and say that he or she has unmet needs that are about on par with any other students’. But there are also events that suddenly propel an individual family to a higher level of need (basement apartment flooded, had to leave home due to domestic violence, sole family breadwinner severely injured in a car crash), and when that happens staff will often try to help out. (Discreetly and without pressuring others, that’s the key.) But if other staff members don’t have a relationship with those students, we wouldn’t necessarily know that Mrs. Whatsit gave Wakeen those grocery store gift certificates and new winter coats because his family’s apartment building burned down over the weekend and they’re living in a motel.

      I’m certainly not defending the showiness of the OP’s colleague “challenging” the rest of the staff to give. That’s tacky and presumptive. I’m just saying that it is indeed possible that she might have had reason to consider the recipient of the money “needier” than others and reason to choose to give her money to that student as opposed to others. (I’d love to supply every kid in my school with winter gloves and hats, but unless the district starts paying me a lot more, I’ll be starting with just the kids in my class whose families can’t afford such essentials.)

  24. C3PO*

    It sounds like they were trying to raise awareness about something which everyone knows, but most people spend very little time thinking about; that these students and their loans are a primary source of the school’s livelihood.

    According to LinkedIn, the largest employer of grads from my university is Starbucks, for instance. How often do school administrators waiting in line for their latte at Starbucks think about the fact that the person making their drink borrowed thousands of dollars to go to their school and support the administrator’s salary from a few years ago, and are now paying back those loans one latte at a time? That that is also a likely future for the students whose loans are currently supporting their salary, unless the school takes steps to ensure that they are able to get a professional job after graduating?

  25. Snork Maiden*

    One company I worked at, we got $50 bonuses at Christmas which the district manager immediately “encouraged” us to donate to a charity. He collected all the money and we didn’t get a tax receipt.

    To give you an idea of how dysfunctional this place was, this event didn’t even register when I decided to quit.

Comments are closed.