how to handle pressure to donate money at work

A reader writes:

What is your recommendation when you’re being pressured at work to contribute to a charity drive that you either don’t support or can’t afford? What if your manager is the one doing the pressuring?

I received about five emails in the last two days on the subject, reporting on who has already given and strongly encouraging the rest of us to pitch in. I feel like I’m a big jerk if I don’t donate any money.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 156 comments… read them below }

  1. LawCat

    If there is a form involved, don’t expect people to return the form to you if they’re not going to donate. One year, I had to finally had to tell the herder of the forms that I had thrown the form away and ask why she would need the form if I was not going to donate? Because the boss wanted to get 100% participation in completion of the form (probably because people would feel bad turning in a blank form, but that boss was like that). I noticed the next year that I was not hassled about the form though.

    1. The IT Manager

      The Combined Federal Campaign’s goal is 100% contact which they track by getting negative replies back. At least the goal is not 100% donate so once you say “no” they should stop bothering you because their goal for you is met.

    2. Beautiful Loser

      I got in trouble at my first coporate job for throwing away the United Way form. The next year I just put a big zero on it and turned it in.

      1. BananaPants

        The stupid United Way campaign at work is online now. I log in every year and record a $0 donation and “do not call me” because if I don’t, our admin assistant goes bananas and bugs me about it on a daily basis during the pledge period.

      2. HRChick

        Ugh, for some reason, our office was assigned to do the United Way stuff. I pointed out that I had a problem with UW and was told I still had to solicit donations and meet the donation goal anyways. It was like the freaking wrapping paper crap from grade school all over again.

  2. Jesmlet

    On my first day of orientation at OldJob which was at a non-profit organization, they had us fill out forms to say whether or not we wanted to donate a portion of each paycheck back to the company for their special fund for extra things for the population we served. A lot of the people in my orientation were barely making minimum wage and were clearly uncomfortable with the request, as if their time wasn’t enough. I think it’s a nice idea in theory but this should not be something asked of any employee on their first day.

    1. NJ Anon

      Especially when most nonprofits pay below market rate. My working here at a lower salary is my donation.

      1. Jesmlet

        Exactly. I very comfortably checked off the ‘no thank you’ box and turned it in with no regrets. Don’t hit me up for donations when you don’t pay me enough to afford a 1 bedroom apartment in the city I work in.

      2. she was a fast machine

        This, exactly. Old Job was a non-profit that paid WAY below market rate, and very, very, very heavily pressured all staff(so we could have 100% participation) to donate to United Way since our org got money from them. I caved my second year there and donated the smallest amount possible, but it was really disheartening to see my tiny paycheck with that deduction item. I loved the work, but you can’t live on love.

        1. Jesmlet

          “You can’t live on love.” Feel this so much. If I was a millionaire I’d spend all my time volunteering for charities but I’m not so I had to get a job that would actually allow me to pay my bills and not live with my parents till I was 50. And they wonder why they have such high turnover…

    2. blackcat

      And if a non-profit wants to use employee giving rates to make themselves look good, they should handle it like my last workplace (a private school). Coworkers did the collection and would hassle people a bit, but they’d do things like, “Hey, do you have pocket change you can part with so I can put your name on the list?” and they’d take pocket change right then and there. The amount didn’t matter (so that 20 cents “counted”) they just wanted the giving rate to be 100%. I don’t think I ever gave more than $1, and I just handed over cash to the designated person (you could also email someone in payroll and have an amount deducted). It was pretty painless, both to my sanity and my wallet.

      1. BRR

        I’ve never heard of an organization going for an amount, only participation. I’m sure they exist though and that’s so horrifying.

        1. Scrooge McLawyer

          My organization (a large law firm) goes for both 100% giving and an amount. My suggested amount to give to this year’s United Way campaign, based on my seniority (and I’m still fairly junior — I’ve only been here a handful of years!) via bi-weekly payroll deductions next year, was $800. It’s insane. I make a good salary but the “forced giving” is really obnoxious. Surprisingly, most of my friends here give the expected amount. Historically, I’ve given a bit less than the “suggested” amount but this year I was too annoyed to do that and gave $26 — They can take $1 from me each pay period.

          This campaign is not the only time we’re pressured to give through the firm, either: There are at least 2 or 3 other “active, 100% participation” campaigns with “suggested” amounts based on our seniority over the course of the year. I hate it.

          For what it’s worth, I’m not stingy with my charitable giving. My wife and I give regularly and often in large (to us) amounts (and in amounts that are well over the “suggested” amount above!) — we just like to have some control over when and to whom our money is going and I’m becoming categorically opposed to “forced” corporate giving.

          1. anonny

            There are many things that are annoying about this–but one thing that really bothers me is that maybe people already have their donations set up! I have spent a lot of time considering who I donate my money too, among all the many valuable orgs out there. For your company to pressure you to participate, might mean you cant donate to the charities of your choosing.

            1. Scrooge McLawyer

              Exactly. There are organizations I like to support and plan to support each year. I also like for a portion of our charitable giving budget to be un-assigned so that we can give where we want to over the course of the year without blowing the budget: Maybe something happened locally and we want to direct funds there, or a new program was initiated at an organization we don’t normally give to and we want to support it, or the program we love at an organization was cut, or whatever it is: The more we’re “forced” to give, the less we can give strategically and thoughtfully, and that’s a real shame.

          2. Slippy

            It is really crappy that the company is pressuring you to pay to make them look good. How much do the shareholders/partners donate?

            1. Scrooge McLawyer

              The “Suggested Amount” for the shareholders/partners isn’t published — at least not to us plebes, but I suspect it’s not proportionally higher. I think they’re required to give enough to qualify them for one of the giving societies, which I think start at $1,000.

      2. Rusty Shackelford

        My mother’s employer used to push for 100% participation in United Way, and my mother always refused, telling them “my husband donates for both of us through his work.” One year her manager made a big deal of telling my mom she had donated $5 in her name so they’d get 100% participation, probably hoping to make her feel guilty. My mom just shrugged and said “whatever makes you happy.”

        1. Christine

          When I was working in banking years ago it was more less made mandatory to do the payroll deduction for United Way. They came back to me when I didn’t feel it out. I went ahead and set it up for $2.00 pre tax to a animal shelter. Our district manager was on their regional board … he was a total pain in our ZXZ about it and we were barely getting above minimum wage.

          I say I have a particular charity that I give to, cannot afford to give elsewhere.

          1. Phoebe

            This is my standard response, too. No one needs to know if the charity I choose to donate to is my own food pantry.

          2. MWKate

            Is this a normal banking thing? Because we have new executive management and they were crazy serious about getting people to participate in the United Way donations. Personally – I decided not to due to the way they were soliciting contributions.

            At one point we were told in an all staff meeting that they wanted us all to contribute because they could use it as a marketing tool. After that, they were trying to get people to give even $1 to get percentages up. Then – the person in charge of organizing it internally sent emails to department heads asking why certain people weren’t involved. It felt icky.

            1. Kate

              It’s a total one-upsmanship exercise in the banks I’ve worked for. The charity gets a CEO on their board which looks great for him and then to keep the spot he has to out perform other companies in the same industry… so the pressure downwards begins…

        2. Jessesgirl72

          I was just going to respond to BRR that United Way always goes for 100% participation, and 3 of 4 companies have strongly pressured me to participate.

          I really hate the United Way.

        3. Lemon Zinger

          My office is big on United Way– at least, one employee is. I’m not sure if it’s her idea, or if she was just tasked with fundraising, but she was very persistent. A few weeks ago, I got a coldly-worded email from her stating that they expected 1oo% participation, and would I please go online to make a donation. I clicked “No donation at this time” and went on my merry way.

          My salary is pitiful, and I don’t even have loan payments like most of my coworkers. None of us can afford to donate. We simply aren’t paid enough for that.

        4. Jersey's Mom

          Yep, the company I work for pushes hard for 100% participation. They now offer prize raffles for first time donors and for those who up their donation. My area had a mandatory pot luck lunch where we were required to listen to a person explaining why UW is so great. Then, as if it couldn’t get any worse, the VP for our section had us all gather round for a brief prayer of thanksgiving before we ate. Happened a couple of weeks ago and I’m still twitching from the whole ickyness of it all.

    3. BRR

      While it’s sadly pretty common I’ve never heard of it at orientation. I always think to myself “haven’t I given enough.” I also find the 100% employee participation so transparent.

    4. rubyrose

      At old job, they also did a request during orientation. But it was extremely well done. Their pitch was done within 2 minutes, at which time they said if we were interested the forms were in the back of the room. We would take them with us and return via interoffice mail.

      1. Jesmlet

        This would’ve been less painful. There was a whole slideshow of happy/sad photos showing what the money would be used for and then they sat there and stared at us for 5 minutes while we filled it out and then slowly collected them after we were all done.

      2. Audiophile

        I had a solo orientation at old job, it was just me and the SR HR person/accountant in the room. She gave me the form but emphasized that it was not mandatory and that I didn’t have to fill out the form. Which was great because I had negotiated for an increase in salary when they made the offer, I would have been super miffed to be expected to essentially forgo that increase by donating it back to them.

    5. SarahTheEntwife

      My employer’s annual charity drive includes contributing to our organization, and while I get that it looks good to have employees “committed” to us by donating, it just seems like it *should* look like bad fiscal planning. This organization is my only source of income. I’m just giving them their own money back. If they were going to need it back, they should have budgeted to pay this position less money. :-b

  3. TMA

    So, so timely.

    My large organization has four charity drives going on during the holiday season. I donated to two of the four. That’s the limit that I can afford. I think people in my org forget that even though we work for a great employer who pays very well especially for our area, some of us still have student loans and are the only source of income for our family (hey, I just described me!). So even though I’m paid well, I have a lot of bills and live on a tight budget. Despite the increasing and incessant emails, I still cannot contribute.

    It is all for a good cause though (and I love that my org gives back so much to the community), so I’m actually not that mad about it. Just slightly annoyed.

    1. MsCHX

      But even if you didn’t have student loans and your spouse made 6 figures…assuming that the 4 charities the org chose will work for everyone or that people don’t already do a ton of volunteering/donating outside of work is just rude.

      1. Michele

        I agree. Where I work pushes the United Way for the county. However, the county is fairly wealthy. I live the next county over, and people there tend to be lower income. I don’t want to give to the rich county, I want to give to the poor one where I live. I also want my money to go to specific charities that I consider worth while, not things like the Boy Scouts.

        1. Rusty Shackelford

          You mean they don’t even give you the option to direct your donation to your home county? That’s extra suckworthy.

          1. Michele

            Nope. It all stays in the county where I work. There are some worthwhile causes here, but there is more need where I live.

            1. Temperance

              You can donate to orgs in your own community through the county UW where your work is based, but I totally understand if you wouldn’t want to do that, since the UW takes a cut for the transfer fee.

              1. Michele

                I donate specifically to the organizations that I choose, and I don’t need a middleman taking a cut.

                1. BananaPants

                  Which is why I will never, ever donate to the United Way – I give to organizations of my choosing and I don’t need or want a middleman taking a cut before it gets to the destination.

                  Also, because their workplace campaigns are annoying as hell.

  4. H.C.

    Generally, I give the “I generally wait until December to do my charity donations, when I have a better idea of my financial and tax situation for the year.” Which is true. Thankfully, I don’t think anyone’s ever followed up with me around that time.

    But of course, that line doesn’t work as well this month.

    1. Marillenbaum

      That’s when I’d go with, “I’ve already sorted out my family’s charitable giving for the year, but thank you!”

  5. Artemesia

    I always just said “We make our donations in December and have a list of organizations we have researched and support, so I will be making my charitable donations on my own and not through the office.” And we do. I did usually give $5 to the United Way which I really dislike to take the heat off on that one.

    1. Jennifer's Socially Responsible Thneed

      I have flat-out told people that I don’t care for the United Way corporation itself and that’s why I don’t donate thru them.

      (It was a lot better at OldJob when they let us know that we could “write in” any organization that we had the code for, but still. Happily(?) I’ve been a contractor for years so this hasn’t been a direct issue for me, although I’ve been around a lot of people talking about it.)

    2. Marisol

      What’s the scoop on United Way? I have no opinion of them and to be honest, recognize the name but that’s it. Do you dislike them specifically or is it the way your office collects for them that you dislike?

      1. Ally A

        It’s much better to donate directly to the organizations instead of going through United Way. United Way takes around 16% of your donation for admin purposes. Any nonprofit organization needs to take some of their donations for administrative and fundraising purposes, so that means a donation to Organization A through United Way gets 16% taken for United Way + a percentage for Organization A admin, meaning even less goes to direct services. Plus, United Way’s CEO makes over a million dollars. And they’re so pushy with their corporate campaigns.

      2. Dmr

        I think every UW is different. I hated the one in the major metropolitan area I used to work in because we had to spend a huge amount of time fitting our programs and results (which they assured us that they supported) into their changing metrics and priorities. Their reporting was awful – there were ongoing debates as to if continuing to pray was worthwhile. And while the language about 100% participation seemed to be toned down over the years, the pressure did not.

        The United Way in the area I live actually does stuff like operate a food pantry. I don’t hate them.

        1. Anonymous grinch

          Yeah, every UW is different. The county where I live has a small UW with a staff of maybe 6-8 people. I think it can be really useful to have a centralized point of fundraising for small non-profits that likely don’t have enough staff and volunteers to do significant fundraising for their organizations.

          The UW in the nearby major city is definitely a “100% participation, changing metrics that don’t really fit the work done by programs we support, 6 figure salaries for key staff” organization. That said, they are my employer’s landlord as well as a major funder. So I volunteer with them and donate to them and bitch about them behind their backs (as an entity, not as individuals – many of the people who work there are really lovely people).

      3. Intern Wrangler

        I do think different United Ways are different. I give to mine because it is able to leverage other funding, it offers me a way to invest in programs to end poverty, so my donation goes further, and because I know that they thoroughly vet every nonprofit funded. If you are funded by United Way n my area, you know they do good work. I do exclude some funded nonprofits so my funding doesn’t go to them, if I disagree with their approach or values.

  6. WorkerBee 23

    Maybe it’s just me but I’d have a really, REALLY difficult time donating even $5 to a cause I did not support, even if the company was being pushy about it to make it all just “go away.” I’ve been fortunate to never have had to deal with this but… yeesh.

    1. Government Worker

      Well, there’s a big difference between “cause I wouldn’t have picked out as my top choice” and “cause whose mission I disagree with”. I might chip in $5 to earn me good will in the office if it were going to a cancer research charity or a local arts group even if I’d decided that for my annual charitable giving the food bank was a higher priority. I wouldn’t give money to organizations known to be homophobic or to an anti-choice “pregnancy crisis center” in the same circumstances because I disagree with those values.

      1. KellyK

        Same here. And if not donating to orgs you disagree with hurts your standing with the company, it’s definitely time to look for a new job.

      2. WorkerBee 23

        Yes, I should have clarified – I meant charities whose missions I disagree with. Personally mine would be the same as yours. I do recall one year a family member mentioning donating money to a pregnancy crisis center instead of exchanging gifts & I was all, “You do you, I’ll be giving my $ to Planned Parenthood if that’s what we’re doing. Kthxbye.”

        1. Lissa

          Yeah, I’d do the same thing! I would think workplaces should be super careful about where they ask their workers to contribute — if a workplace wanted donations to a pregnancy crisis centre I’d be horrified! (and honestly even though I support PP they probably shouldn’t be donating there either for similar reasons). I mean, unless the workplace is connected to whatever the mission is already.

    2. Lemon Zinger

      I feel the same way and I categorically refuse to donate to charities whose causes/tactics/whatever I don’t agree with.

  7. Goober

    Thankfully, I don’t work for people who do (or tolerate) this sort of nonsense. They’re quite willing to view employees promoting our annual fundraiser to customers (we’re a retail store chain) for the local children’s hospital (where we have donated so much we have a brick on the wall of their new building) as being entirely enough.

    But were I faced with such a situation, I believe I’d start with a little research into the charity in question. The sort of charities that end up being pushed like this in the workplace are usually the big meta-charities, and they always have a *terrible* track record of how the money is spent, with as much as 90% going to “administrative costs.” One cannot help but wonder what personal benefit the bosses get from pushing so hard to pay someone’s six figure salary at a “charity.”

    Pointing this out is a very passive/aggressive response, and is probably best done anonymously. Maybe leave a printout from one of the many web sites that offer scorecards for charities on the printer, unclaimed.

    But if it’s a good charity, then Allison’s advice is good. If they expect you to feel guilty that you didn’t contribute, that says far more about them than it does about you. And if the pressure continues, there’s always HR.

    1. Rusty Shackelford

      Thankfully, I don’t work for people who do (or tolerate) this sort of nonsense. They’re quite willing to view employees promoting our annual fundraiser to customers (we’re a retail store chain) for the local children’s hospital (where we have donated so much we have a brick on the wall of their new building) as being entirely enough.

      You know what? I hate this. If Big Store wants to donate to a charity, Big Store should pony up their own funds and donate it to the charity, instead of gathering the money from their customers and then turning it in and getting the credit and the tax deduction and the brick. Or did I misunderstand what you were saying?

      1. Goober

        No, you got it correctly, and plenty of people agree with you. I certainly don’t like it when other stores hit me up (but I have the perfect excuse of “we do this where I work,” so it doesn’t impact me much).

        We do make a point of not pushing it very hard, and nowadays, most of the money comes from the “donate your change” feature in our credit card pads – it rounds up to the next neatest dollar amount.

        To a small extent, they do contribute, in that 100% of the fund go to the charity, meaning we eat the processing costs on credit cards, and employee time handling it. Not what you’re talking about, no, but they’re doing this out of genuine charitable impulse, not as a cynical marketing ploy.

        In the end, though, most people either give a polite “no thanks” or get that moment of feeling good about being charitable, and do not mind.

        But it’s perfectly OK to not like it. You’re not alone.

      2. Jesmlet

        Yeah, I hate this too. It is tax deductible right? That’s the part I find icky. I’ll just donate myself to charities I choose and I don’t like having to feel like random retail employees are being forced to guilt me into donating, even if it’s such a small amount.

      3. Retail HR Guy

        I’m no accountant, but I don’t believe businesses can claim the tax deduction for things like this when the money comes from customer donations.

        1. Goober

          So far as I know, the only tax deduction is the amount of the donation, and 100% of that goes to the charity in our case (we don’t take *any* cut for “administrative costs”). Certainly, we don’t benefit from it financially.

        2. Jesmlet

          I might be totally wrong and they just do it for the optics/kindness of their heart but I still find it way too pushy. If they want something to pop up on the thing where you slide your card, that’s one thing, but don’t make your employees ask and your customers answer every time they shop in your store.

          1. Rusty Shackelford

            To me, even the optics are bad. Because the optics say “rather than dipping into our profits, we’re going to ask you, the customer, to make a donation on our behalf.”

      4. Liane

        Famed Retailer I used to work had the amount called out as donation on the receipt so the customer could get the deduction.
        But it is fine to decline politely–and not blame the cashier for asking, like some customers do. The cashiers and customer service folks are told to ask when the register prompt comes up.

        1. Dr. KMnO4

          +1 for your second paragraph. I’ve worked in jobs where I was required to ask about donations and similar things. If I was caught not asking I would have been in trouble. I always felt awkward asking and it only got worse when customers would get mad at me. I wish more people would cut the cashiers some slack, I can almost guarantee that this initiative was NOT their idea.

          1. Lissa

            Yup, same. I rarely had to ask. But one of the places I worked pushed a charity for a certain disease really hard since one of the owners had a family member with it and would push guilt on everybody, from trying to get us to donate our meager tips to asking customers etc. It was awful.

            If a cashier asks for a donation I just smile and say “not today.” I doubt the cashier is going to give me a personal guilt trip, they’re just doing it because they were made to.

  8. Michaela

    I generally go with a look of death and “I’m not discussing my philanthropic efforts with coworkers.”

    I really hate when the office tries to get a 100% participation rate with a reward of an early close or a catered lunch or something, because then you’re ruining it for everyone if you don’t kick in five bucks.

    1. OhNo

      Oh wow, I hadn’t even thought of that. Somehow that’s even more irritating than being pressured by your manager to contribute, because then there’s implied pressure from every single person to join in or nobody gets the “treat”.

      Gross. I’m really glad my workplace doesn’t do this.

  9. Rebecca

    My new job supports the United Way. I just found out today. I plan to lose the form, and hope for the best. I donate to charity but this is not one of them.

    1. Lovemyjob...truly!

      My company supports the United Way as well (as did my last company). At Old Job they invited all of the local organizations that the UW helps into the office and if we were interested we could find out what they did in the community and earmark our donations to be used toward that organization. It was kind of cool because there were local pet shelters, the Girl Scouts, an organization that helped seniors stay in their homes with visiting care, etc. I didn’t want the weekly withdrawal but I did donate directly to several of the organizations I learned about that day. At both Old Job and current job, fundraising efforts aren’t only about the contributions from the paycheck (though that’s a big focus!). There are several raffles that are completely voluntary for prizes that are kind of fun (tickets to local sporting events, themed baskets, etc). I have no issue buying a ticket or two for those events, but I hate the push for the pay withdrawals.

    2. Retail HR Guy

      With United Way you can earmark the money to any charity you want. So if it makes your employer happy you can just take the $100 you were going to send to the Save the Wombats Fund anyway and give it to United Way instead… with the caveat that it all be sent to the Save the Wombats Fund.

      1. PlainJane

        I think the United Way takes some off the top for administrative costs when you do this, but I’m not certain. I’ve always been told that if you want all your money to go to a specific charity, you should donate it directly to that charity. Does anyone know for sure?

        1. Retail HR Guy

          I can’t say that I know for sure what happens, but based on the UW materials we get each year they say that they will pass on 100% to your charity when you tell them that’s what you want.

    3. Bow Ties Are Cool

      The United Way does lots of good work (full disclosure: I support smaller, more targeted charities with my limited budget). They’re pretty highly rated by Charity Navigator and HRC, and have no discriminatory policies that I’ve ever heard of. Now, the Salvation Army, THEY’RE straight up evil…

      1. Dr. KMnO4

        I totally agree with you about the Salvation Army. My workplace wanted volunteers to ring bells for them and while I wish I could stand up and say, “Do you know their views? No way!”, that would not bode well for the continuation of my employment. I just ignored the emails and internally said, “Nope nope NOPE”.

        1. Rusty Shackelford

          A few years ago there was a printable making its way around on the internet… it looked similar to a bill on one side (IIRC, there were different denominations) and on the other side it said something along the lines of this is how much I would have put in the bucket if it weren’t for the SA’s discriminatory polices… You were supposed to print it on green paper, fold it up, and stick it in the bucket.

    4. pandascout

      Can you share why you don’t support them? My company is hugely supportive and requires one member per department to volunteer each year plus donations. I’ve only today recieved my first donation form and the experience has been pushy.

      1. Permanent project manager

        I can’t speak for the OP, but I’ll tell you why I don’t donate. In my mind, UW is entirely administrative overhead. A number of charities I support are also on the UW charity list. Why wouldn’t I donate *directly* to the organizations I care about, and cut out the middle man? I also despise how UW seems to infiltrate every big employer in my community. Sometimes, I don’t think they even care about the charitable aspect — it’s all about getting participation numbers, even if you write $0 on the donation form. It is pushy and the motives are pretty transparent.

        1. HYDR

          +1,000000% THIS!

          I love that my favorite local charity receives money from the UW, simply because they are benefiting from it and using their money to do more good in the community. I donate directly to the charity, as I know the impact of my dollars there (they have a stellar graphic that outlines what your donation can do).

          I decline my work’s UW payroll deduction form (I work at a non-profit and we fundraise for our OWN scholarships, annual funds, endowed things!). I do payroll deduction to my OWN organization and to the scholarships that I KNOW benefit the students directly. I so want to reply back and say “so what do you want….payroll deduction to the UW, or to you?” Chances are, they want my money ;)

        2. Retail HR Guy

          There’s a huge efficiency, though, in having UW do the fundraising for dozens or hundreds of small local charities (depending on the size of the community). That frees up the staff and funds of the charities to focus on their task at hand. This efficiency more than outweighs the administrative overhead you referenced.

          1. Dmr

            Having worked for a non-profit recipient of UW funds, I can assure they can add a significant administrative burden to grantees.

      2. Clever Name

        I can’t speak for others, but the Salvation Army is focused on what they see as “saving” people in the Christian meaning of the word. Saving gay people and “unwed mothers” who choose to end the pregnancy (the unwed fathers get of scott-free, of course!) from eternal damnation. I do not follow this worldview, so I don’t give money to organizations that do.

      3. Salamander

        I’ve worked for several places in local and state government that pretty much require 100% participation. In my city, the United Way is housed in a pretty ordinary building, but it’s pretty darn posh inside. I don’t like the pressure, and I don’t like what they take out for administrative fees. It always struck me as a thing the higher-ups did for social status on the backs of ordinary workers. So, I’m not a fan.

      4. Rebecca

        I don’t like the pressure, and I dealt with this years ago at my first job. I was barely able to keep my head above water, yet I was pressured to give to the United Way. I read our brochure, and there are options to send money to specific charities in my county, like our library, SPCA, women’s center, etc. but I’d rather give money or supplies directly to them without my money going toward administrative and fundraising expenses. I realize it might not be a lot, maybe 9 or 10%. I think the real reason is the pressure for 100% participation. I don’t like it. If I feel pressured, I’ll sign up for $1 week or a nominal amount.

    5. Newish Reader

      I was on my company’s UW committee this year and did everything I could to keep it no pressure to the employees. It should definitely be each employee’s choice without any obligation to have to give.

    6. SimontheGreyWarden

      Yeah, every fall semester the packet shows up on my desk for UW. Every fall semester i toss mine in the recycle after peeling my name off the front of the envelope. Never had a call about it. I’m an adjunct for chrissakes. I don’t have any money to spare.

  10. shep

    We do many charity drives at my office. Most of them are headed by people who send out frequent mass reminders that are slightly pressure-driven (but easy to slough off). One was headed by a woman who went DOOR TO DOOR to people who hadn’t signed up. I was very new the first time she did this and wanted to make a good impression, so I said I’d bring a food item.

    I forgot.

    Didn’t bother me overly much and I hope it served as a kind of SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU MAKE ME BRING SOMETHING lesson for her. I am more comfortable contributing money, but even then, if I do, it’s ALL my choice and not something I’ve been pressured into.

    1. shep

      (Also I think several people complained about this tactic, so she was less aggressive the next time and simply sent a mass email exclaiming that they still DESPERATELY needed volunteers and for anyone who hadn’t signed up to consider doing so.)

      1. Leatherwings

        Ugh. If your optional work event is desperate for volunteers, you shouldn’t be having the event.

        1. shep

          The thing is, they aren’t! There are at least 20 people who regularly volunteer for a bunch of different things. We have a really active charity event organization within our office. I think that’s the main reason why people pushed back; this woman wanted to go REALLY big or go home.

  11. NW Mossy

    My company does an annual giving campaign, a feature of which is that a certain annual donation amount to one of a selected 4-6 organizations (usually similar charities in different regions where we have a big presence) gets you the right to wear jeans on Thursdays and Fridays. Beyond that, you can donate through the program to take advantage of employer matching funds on your contributions to a charity of your choosing.

    I tell my employees about the program and encourage them to participate if they are inclined to do so. I might learn in passing if they did donate, but I have no certain knowledge if they did or didn’t and I absolutely can’t see how much they gave if they did. I like the program myself because it allows me to stretch my giving dollars farther, but I would never think less of someone if they declined or inquire as to why.

    1. Leatherwings

      Couldn’t you tell by the fact that they didn’t wear jeans? Or is that part not really enforced?

      1. NW Mossy

        I don’t enforce it – technically they get a sticker to put on their badge if they paid, but I don’t audit that. The wearing of jeans tends to be hit or miss as it’s a personal style thing. I pay but don’t always wear jeans because I’m more of a dress person generally, and I know others are the same. I wouldn’t necessarily infer anything based on how they dress. Also, it’s perfectly possible that someone gave to the campaign but not the jeans day part of it.

    2. Elizabeth West

      NewExjob did this with shorts and flip flops in summer. You paid a certain amount for a sticker that went on your badge, and you got to wear shorts and your flappy shoes in July and August. A lot of people did it–I never did because I was always the one with a blanket on in the office AC.

  12. Kai

    This is tangential, but for anyone in charge of these kinds of charity drives, I’d bet you’ll get better response rates if your donation program involves a matching gift from the employer. Obviously this doesn’t make a difference if employees don’t agree with the charity in question, or can’t afford to contribute–but I know I’m always more inclined to give if my organization is giving as well. It feels more like a shared effort (well, it IS a shared effort) and less like the employer is just trying to take advantage of its staff in order to make itself look good.

    You still shouldn’t pressure anyone, though!

    1. Christine

      I have two charity functions, different employers that I gave to willing and was happy with the result. One employer we had a coworker that was dying for cancer and no longer at work. She was out on FMLA and wasn’t expected to return. She died in January if I recall correctly. People were taking dinner to the family on a rotation basis, I sent a salad one time with them. We collected money and a few of our co-workers did the Christmas shopping for their kids that year.

      When in Florida we would be given a family from Total Action Against Poverty with a shopping list, children’s names & ages, etc.; and would do a fund raiser, and a couple of individuals would do their Christmas shopping, including buying groceries for X-mas dinner. We ended up doing two families a year after the first time around. But it wasn’t forced on us. You were told who was collecting the money, and some basic information about the family.

      We collect too much money the first year, the balance left after the shopping was donated to the organization.

    2. LSP

      Fortunately, my company keeps this kind of thing to a minimum, and often focuses only on causes close to our employees/partners, and they ALWAYS match. A former employee and friend of the firm lost his teenage son last year in a terrible accident, and his organs were donated. There were two email sent out about this (an initial ask, and a follow-up near the deadline), and that was it. No one brought it up again, and my company matched every employee dollar donated. I happen to be a big advocate of organ donation, but I never felt pressured at all to give.

    3. AndersonDarling

      I worked at a company that would match charitable donations but only to certain charities. PBS- nope. Animal Rescue- Nope. The CEO’s Alma Mater- certainly!

    4. Michele

      When I started working for the company that I am at, it was a lot smaller, and it did matching donations for everything. For example, I remember shortly after I started a coworker died, so they set up a trust with matching donations to pay for her children’s college. It had this whole thing about community responsibility. They would give people time off work to volunteer. Now we have gone global, and they only do matching funds for flashy charities that will put their name on big banners. It sucks.

  13. Andrew

    The retail job I was working at in high school and part of college wanted people to donate part of their pay check, tough to do when you are a student and working 10-20 hrs a week…

    But I am fine with just giving one 20 dollar bill to just get it over with…

  14. BadPlanning

    When I first started working at my present company, I was pretty happy about our charitable campaign. It is a big company and your donation can be to an assortment of (people serving) organizations. And you can request charities be added. They used to heavily stress getting responses (which was either yes I’m contributing/no I’m not) and that only peers could canvas/present to their peers. As a canvasser, you were there to encourage people to respond (but not push them to donate — and you didn’t know anyone’s response). I used to be willing to be the dept canvasser every couple of years.

    Then about 5 years ago, the “no manager” part seemed to disappear. I got notes from higher up managers that my area hadn’t fully responded. I was covering for 2 departments and the peer manager came to talk to me and wanted the names of who hadn’t replied and frankly, pressured me to get them to do so. While this was to essentially click yes/no on an email, it totally turned me off. Had I not already renewed my pledge, I would have cancelled it and sent my monies directly.

    Since then, I think it has improved somewhat — although this year they seemed pushier on the participation rate (not just response rate). But I won’t be a canvasser again anytime soon.

  15. Lovemyjob...truly!

    I hate the pushy fundraising. At Old Job I was the department coordinator for the annual giving event and was tasked with collecting the donation cards. The VP wanted our department to have 100% participation and 100% staff donations. I didn’t donate. She got mad and said something along the line of “but think of the children you could be helping!”

    It made me mad because I am a Girl Scout leader. I already was helping children and if you’ve done any kind of volunteer work like that I’m sure you’re aware that there’s only so much cookie money / dues will cover so there is a bit of money coming out of my pocket already. I didn’t donate. I held firm, but I did pass in my “I decline” card.

  16. EddieSherbert

    At OldJob, we had an annual spring charity event (think like a “fun run”) that is “voluntary-not-voluntary.”

    There’s a big board in the break room that has EVERYONE’S NAME ON IT (like 100+ people) and a mark showing if you are participating (you ave to fund-raise at least $100), volunteering, or donating to it (and they suggest matching the participation fee). And as the event gets closer, if you haven’t signed up for any of the above, you get more and more urgent sounding emails from HR where they CC your manager.

    Needless to say, my first year there I was thoroughly freaked out and ended up forking over far more money than I could afford at the time (because I already had plans that weekend and couldn’t volunteer).

    That left such a bad taste in my mouth that, the following years, I just let them send me emails and mark my name on the board. Oh well. (It was a really good cause too – was just so upset at how they handled it!)

  17. rubyrose

    My current company does it right.
    I’ve received two requests. One was from the company, asking for donations to a fund to provide poor children their own books. Company will match donations. One email and nothing else.
    Also received an email from a coworker who got the original information from someone else, who somehow found out about the problems of another coworker. He started a gofundme because of the serious ongoing medical problems of his wife. They have an appointment at Mayo and needed transportation and hotel funding. They met their goal in three days.

  18. AnonEMoose

    My company is decent about it. There are two main charities, or you can set up a donation to any 501(c)3 that you like, and there’s some employer matching. There’s pushing to at least return the form, but no one has ever said anything about me declining to donate.

    Still, this was the first year I’ve actually set up a donation. Normally, I consider my charitable donations to be none of my employer’s business. However, this year, things being as they are, those matching funds, etc., were just a bit too attractive to pass up.

  19. seejay

    My company does a charity thing where they get volunteers to sign up and do physical labour for needy families at some sort of family house or something (I’m not sure what, I don’t participate in it). Whoever heads it usually runs around with sign up forms to each person’s cubicle area to get people to sign up.

    I have charities I donate to regularly and it’s clear what I donate to: I have stickers, magnets and a calendar in my desk area for the Humane Society, the ASPCA and Alley Cat Allies. All I do is say that I already have charities I donate to, and they move on. It seems to work!

  20. Retail HR Guy

    When I was first promoted into HR, the HR Director came by during the yearly United Way drive and explained that he expected the salaried members of his team to “lead the way” on giving… to the tune of at least $500. At first I thought he was joking. He wasn’t joking.

    I felt that it would be professionally harmful to turn him down (and all the donation forms went through him so he would know exactly what I donated) so I ponied up the cash. Ultimately the money went to a good place but it definitely made me think less of him and turned my wife against him for the remainder of the time he worked there. Luckily we now have a new, better HR director.

    The joke was on him, though, because he was a Christian conservative and I had earmarked the money for Planned Parenthood. I didn’t do it on purpose, and only later realized that he might have regretted pressuring me once he saw my form.

  21. Kristine

    The nonprofit I work for has an annual mystery wine sale to raise money for our scholarship fund. Employees who can afford a bottle of wine at $20+ bring in a bottle to donate. Then the wine is wrapped and employees buy a mystery bottle for $20. So the people who can afford to donate more do so by providing the wine, and the people who can donate less do so by purchasing the wine (which is always worth at least what they pay for it).

    1. Rusty Shackelford

      I’m confused about the math here…

      Fergus buys a $30 bottle of wine and donates it to the sale. Jane buys that bottle of wine for $20, and her $20 goes to the scholarship fund. Am I getting this right? If so, wouldn’t it be better if Fergus just donated his $30 to the scholarship fund?

      1. Kristine

        Very rarely does anyone contribute a bottle that costs more than $20. And while yes, having Fergus contribute $30 to the scholarship fund is more directly beneficial, the wine sale is done to make giving more fun and make it so people who can’t contribute directly to the fund still get to participate.

        I bought a bottle of wine this year and took it to a holiday party as a gift for the host. I was going to have to buy a bottle of wine anyway, but I enjoyed buying it from the wine sale. Even though I know my donation was subsidized by whomever bought the wine.

    2. N.J.

      This seems problematic for the reasons mentioned by other commenters, but also for the many employees who wouldn’t or can’t supply or bid on wine due to religious, moral or health related objections to alcohol. It seems like the suction idea might work better if it included a variety of items, not just alcohol. The general idea is great!

    3. Michele

      That seems like fun. It sounds like a charity auction that I went to once. Several people baked cakes and people bid on them. Sometimes they would bid on each other’s cakes just for sportsmanship. I think a few of the cakes went for over $200.

      1. Marisol

        I would get the biggest ego boost if I brought in a plate of my awesome chocolate chip cookies and it sold for $200. Unfortunately I don’t think this kind of thing would work at my extremely corporate company, but I’m going to suggest it anyway…

  22. longtime lurker

    Our office has an angel tree currently. We used to have food drives and giving campaigns ($$) all year.
    Our CEO, who is based the office local to me, became tired of the collection bins and all the emails a few years back.
    He decided we would instead have volunteer events instead. A few times a year, we go as a group and volunteer at local charities. Habitat for humanty, local nature areas, food banks, schools, etc. These are paid outings and completely voluntary.
    Afterwards, we meet back at the office for a company sponsored luncheon for all employees, even those who opted out by choice or necessity. These are fun events and we all love them. It’s fun seeing the C level folks in their work clothes getting dirty and having fun with the rest of us. “Hey CEO! Wanna give me a hand moving this heavy, dirty thing?” LOL
    The company wants us to give, and in order to make it happen, they make it very easy to give.
    They also understand that we don’t always have money to give, so they let us give time, a more valuable gift in many cases.
    OP- I don’t know if you can talk to the organizers about these efforts, but ask if there is a way for you and the organization to help besides forking over cash.

    1. Kyrielle

      Yes! We have an angel tree in the lobby. They send out periodic emails so people remember to check, but no one monitors who does or doesn’t. There’s a person to whom you can donate money – that’s mentioned in passing as a footnote to the information about the angel tree, and goes for gift cards to the sponsored families. There’s a food donation box near the angel tree.

      And they’ll match donations to charitable organizations (your choice of!), and they’ll give money to certain types of organizations if you have logged and confirmed X volunteer hours with them (and file that information with the company).

      NONE of which they push. They inform us, and then they wander off and let us do what we will with the info. It’s awesome.

  23. Pebbles

    My husband’s work donates to United Way each year. His office tries to promote participation by giving rewards to people like a parking spot by the front door to whomever donated the most. He goes for the lowest participation level (IIRC $10) which allows him to wear jeans for a month, which he considers worth it.

    1. MWKate

      When they started doing United Way at my current job, you had to donate $10 each paycheck – to wear jeans every Friday through the end of the year. The campaign started in like, October. So like $240 to wear jeans 8 times.

        1. MWKate

          I think 2 people in my department of 17 did it.

          Of course then an email was sent to the department head asking why involvement was so low. Which was forwarded to the entire department letting us know they were counting our participation.

    2. BananaPants

      Our United Way jeans campaign is like $150 for a year and it allows you to wear jeans on Fridays. I’ve considered doing it but then I’d be giving money to the United Way.

  24. Anon 2

    Where I work we are pushed to raise money for a local food charity. Our CEO matches any donations made by the staff. Its voluntary, but not really voluntary. However, this year, I’ve upped my contributions to several other national organizations, and so I won’t be giving even a token amount. We will see how that gets received.

  25. pandascout

    Great timing – I arrived to work this morning with a donation form on my desk. I filed it away in my cabinet only to check my email and see mail from a co-worker that said “Please fill out your donation form and return to me by the end of the week.” with a note about wanting 100% participation. I *almost* donated a few bucks but this approach has made me hesitant. I’m feeling more pressured to donate instead of donating from my heart.

  26. finderskeepers

    carrot works well . a fortune 500 company I worked for gave friday afternoons (half day) off in the summer if they got 100% united way participation , no minimum donation required. They got 100% participation at least three years in a row.

    1. Goober

      That’s not a carrot. That’s a stick. “Donate, or all your coworkers will know you are the reason they don’t get the half day off.” It’s nothing short of bullying.

      1. The Expendable Redshirt

        How is that a stick? There is no minimum donation required. A coworker could just submit a $0 sheet. Or a grapefruit.

  27. PK

    My last company was very aggressive about United Way donations including the ‘turn in blank forms even if you aren’t donating’ tactic. I was there almost 10 years and never donated through the campaign and it was almost completely as a result of their aggressiveness about it. I made charity donations outside of work directly to the charities that I support and left it at that. Nothing was ever said to me about it but it was a source of annoyance every year.

  28. Jane D'oh!

    At an old job there was a lot of pressure to give to a cause whose practices I do not support (a cancer fund whose policies do not take a stand against animal testing). Because a large part of my charitable contributions go to medical research in memory of family, my response was that my yearly giving is budgeted towards funding research for the disease that killed my mother. People really don’t know how to contradict that, so I was left in peace.

  29. Kristin

    I used to work for a public library. I remember receiving a Christmas card from the library’s board of trustees. Inside was a handwritten request for a donation to the library’s annual appeal.

  30. Jennifer's Socially Aware Thneed

    > if more people felt comfortable saying “no, thank you” and more people were willing to accept “no, thank you” the world would be a much improved place

    This, this, this, this.

  31. Clever Name

    Ugh. United Way. I got voluntold in my first job to head up the UW giving drive. It suuuuucked.

  32. specialist

    I will donate a corporate service or product to almost any local charity hosting a fund raising auction.

    My office staff once hosted a food drive. We didn’t get much food. We have done local charities–providing Christmas for a family that was not well off–for several years. My staff would have fun picking out things for the kids and wrapping them up. I would give them each some money and they’d each take a part of the list, or a child, and go shopping. The staff never spent their own money (that I know of). I would give them maybe $500 as a group to get everything. Last year we didn’t do it. The year before we had provided a very nice Christmas to a person we knew–one employee’s child’s coworker who was in a rough spot. The person receiving the largess kept saying how she was going to write a thank you note, but she never did. Apparently there were episodes of poor spending habits as well. The employee’s child was embarrassed by her coworker’s behavior and my staff just weren’t interested in doing it anymore. I have suggested that we consider picking up some things for foster kids. As I understand it, many of those kids go between homes really frequently with their belongings in plastic trash bags. Maybe I read something about that on this site, I don’t remember for sure. We do go down and read to kids at one inner city school. The teacher is a friend and we are happy to help. The teacher has to pick a book for me to read because I’m not good at that type of thing. I give her some money to make a little store for the kiddos. They can earn money to spend by getting good grades.

    1. Temperance

      We tried to do a food drive at my work, but the issue is that it’s nearly impossible to get people to donate because lugging heavy canned goods on public transportation is difficult.

      I do charitable work for a living, and I always, always, always rail against giving cash to a person known to you (or a Go Fund Me, HATE THOSE) and instead suggest charities. I can always find a charity for a person to donate to or volunteer through.

  33. Temperance

    As someone who was “volunteered” to run my org’s United Way campaign, I can confirm that the pushiness, forcing to fill out forms, etc. often comes directly from the UW. (Our rep tried to convince me to run three separate campaigns based on bonus delivery time. Seriously. I declined.)

    The org does a lot of good for a lot of people, but I totally understand why people aren’t fans, especially of their pay-to-play volunteer programs. Let me know if you ahve any questions.

  34. BananaPants

    A few years ago my manager let a couple of us know that when you reach management and executive levels in our company, “it is understood” that you’ll contribute a certain amount to the United Way corporate campaign. Apparently the VP sits you down and explains that once you’re in a leadership role you need to lead by example, and strongly suggests making a substantial contribution. He said that the push was for the 1% of salary donation (managers earn well into the 6 figure range) but that the amount is left up to the newly-minted manager. A manager who doesn’t give anything or only a very token amount will hear from their bosses about how “important” the campaign is for the company’s image.

    In addition to the campaign, we also have an auction, a “jeans on Fridays” program, and several charitable sporting events – all for the United Way. I’m pretty sure that our corporate overlords have never heard of a charity OTHER than the freaking United Way!

  35. Hrovitnir

    I really liked this answer. I appreciate explicitly saying it is OK for people to give a little to get them off your back – too often advice to questions like this puts another kind of pressure to respond just right regardless of situation; and “if more people felt comfortable saying “no, thank you” and more people were willing to accept “no, thank you” the world would be a much improved place” is so on point.

  36. DuckDuckMøøse

    I was soured on the high-pressure tactics at a young age. I was 22, fresh out of college, on the job less than 5 months, when the CFC canvasser came around to shame me for not contributing. She was a 19 year old secretary, and said “If I can donate, with my small salary, than you can!” Umm, no. I’m 700+ miles away from my family, 5 months out of school, have student loans that I have to start paying back next month, rent, car insurance, food, and am driving a 7+ year old car. You live at home, and your daddy just bought you a new car. Go away.

    I can’t figure out why she didn’t like me ;)

  37. anon for this one

    I’ve been told that when you designate your UW donation to go to a particular charity, that does happen, but money they would have received from the general fund is redirected. If you want your $50 donation to go to Meals on Wheels, for example, it does. But then Meals on Wheels receives $50 less from the pool of undesignated funds that they would have normally received, so they don’t end up getting any more money in the long run. I don’t know if this is true or not… does anyone here have knowledge of this?

    1. Intern Wrangler

      This is not true at my local United Way. Any designated funds are directed to the organization directly, not as part of their grant. I know this is true of many United Ways because there are so many online giving platforms used by companies.

  38. SMT

    At OldJob, there is an annual drive to donate to OldJob’s Charity Funds (you can give to a specific subfund, like education, or the arts, or you can give to the General Fund). Every year my division was always big on getting a lot of participation, and then this past year they added an incentive of a party for the team that had the highest particpation rate. Since I was in a supervisory position, I was expected to ‘spot talk’ this to the rest of the team, so I did donate a dollar so I could feel like less than a hypocrite.

    At least they did have some incentives (passes to their park) for employees who chose to give a substantial enough amount, but it was super annoying when I had a manager who asked me everyday he saw me if I had donated yet. I’ve never had a lot of ‘extra’ income, so a lot of my giving is in small amounts to organizations when politicians annoy me, or in shopping for my wardrobe and household goods at Goodwill.

    My employer asking me to give to a charity with my employer’s name on it just doesn’t feel OK to me.

  39. Sci-fi_worker_girl

    My just jobs have pressured the 100% participation to 2 things: the UW and to their own charity. I work in medicine so usually there is a charity drive for the hospital or the like. After the pressure got too much, I changed my ‘quiet’ tune to being a polite non participant. I now respond in the right situations (email, form, etc):
    1. My charitable contributions are private and already accounted for outside my organization.
    2. (And if I feel pressured) My family’s policy is that we do not contribute to any organization that touts 100% participation for employees or staff, as stastically 100 % anything implies something more than optional which does not match with my family’s values.
    If anyone has a better / classic way to say it I would appreciate it. (I’m originally from Germany – the first time I was asked to donate to charity at work I freaked – it was so strange in the work world to be asked by bosses @ what to do with my private $. In some advice books about working in the US, they warn about this practice, that it is common and “normal”.)

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