I'm the boss. Can I ask my employees to give to my favorite charity?

Advice on how to make the world better.
Sept. 2 2009 9:37 AM

Donate … or Else

I'm the boss. Can I ask my employees to give to my favorite charity?

Do you have a real-life do-gooding dilemma? Please send it to ask.my.goodness@gmail.com and Sandy will try to answer it.

Dear Sandy,

I'm the boss at a small office with fewer than 20 employees. I'm involved in a few local charities, including my kids' school fundraising projects. Can I solicit contributions from my employees for charitable projects I'm involved in? And how do I best handle requests from my employees to donate or participate in their giving?

Thanks!

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—Cathy

Sandy:

Based on the number of e-mails I've received from employees asking how to tactfully say no to their bosses' donation requests, my advice is: Don't do it!

Whether you are selling Girl Scout cookies for your adorable daughter or asking your employees to sponsor you in the fun run—or, and here's an extreme case, "encouraging" them to donate to Mitt Romney as this executive did—you can't get away from the fact that you'll also be filling out their performance reviews and determining their next raises. So while your charity work is something to be proud of at home and at work, don't risk even the smallest question of impropriety.

If you decide that you want to solicit donations despite my warnings, make sure to do it with the least pressure possible. Send around an e-mail that explains the cause and asks those who want to donate (voluntarily, of course) to give money anonymously. Better yet, post a sign in the office kitchen or break room with information about the charity and its address or Web site. If your office is part of a larger company, it may be a good idea to check the formal rules about fundraising at the office with your human resources department. If you're the head honcho, consider writing your own formal policy; it could help both you and your employees feel more comfortable in the future.

And what should you do when your employees ask you to give? I think there's a simple check. If you feel uncomfortable, don't give. And certainly don't feel that you have to give equally to everyone who approaches you. Be open to learning about new causes and good efforts, but if it doesn't fit your giving plan, just say that you've already pledged your money to Charity X (the reliable "hug and release" technique).

If your employees seem to have a new request each week, think about finding ways to consolidate their good works. Could you hold a brown bag lunch where people share information about their causes? Or could your office choose one cause that you'd like to focus on as a group? This could be anything from a needy family during the holidays to a local school in September. Just make sure that whatever plan you implement ensures that you applaud the work of those who engage in community work without harassing those who don't feel comfortable (or able) to give.

Do you have another question about giving at work? Please send it to ask.my.goodness@gmail.com and Sandy will try to answer it.

Sandy Stonesifer works on issues related to adolescent girls' health at a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

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