Under Pressure: Charitable Giving at the Office

Pressure Gauge, originally uploaded to Flickr by wwarby.

2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on being under pressure for charitable giving at the office, but you may also want to check out all of our posts on holiday business etiquette.

Reader D wonders about charitable giving at the office:

Around this time every year, non-profits make a big fundraising push. Do you (and your readers) think it’s appropriate for employees to solicit donations from other employees for non-profits they support? Relatedly, I have found that in many offices, there is some pressure to donate to causes or nonprofits that the company supports. While the causes may be worthy, compelled charitable giving is a little uncomfortable. Any thoughts on how to gracefully decline donating to the firm’s non-profit(s) of choice?

Yeouch. This should be an interesting thread. For my own $.02, I think the senior people should really do their best to “protect” the office from this kind of compulsion (including employees pressuring employees). Anything beyond a sign-up sheet for Girl Scout cookies posted discreetly in someone’s office or in a communal place — or a single email about how X is running Y race, and won’t you consider donating — is, to my mind, pushy, annoying, and unprofessional. Of course, half the time the pressure is coming from the higher-ups — I have one girlfriend whose boss puts tangible pressure on everyone to give lots of money to the charity for which he sits on the board. Classy! (Pictured: Pressure Gauge, originally uploaded to Flickr by wwarby.)

In terms of deflecting such requests… I think this comes back to “know your own office.” For some offices, the culture there may be where everyone gives to everyone else’s causes, but it’s some nominal amount. Other times (like my poor girlfriend) you may just have to view the charity push from the boss as a “tax” on working there, and keep that in mind when considering other job opportunities. If there is no office culture associated with giving, though, and it’s one person making strident efforts to get you to donate, I would be polite but firm: “Thanks, but I already gave at __.” or even just “Thanks, but I can’t contribute right now.” And change the subject. Don’t ask for more information, don’t challenge the worth of the charity… just don’t let him or her continue the sale tactic.

On the other hand, if this is a colder sell — i.e., the pressure is coming from someone you don’t see regularly or have to work with — an easy way to deflect most requests for charity is to say that you only give to charities after you’ve studied their audited annual returns (and that you prefer to give directly to the charity rather than the local branch).

Readers, how do you deal with charitable giving in the office?


  1. ohmydarlin :

    My last position was at a huge corporation, and the higher-ups really pushed donating to the United Way. I chose not to donate, despite the ‘incentives’ – e.g., you get to wear jeans on Friday if you give $5, departments with the most funds raised got recognized, etc. I just told people I opted to send my donations directly to the organizations of my choice, rather than to the U.W. as a whole, and that it was purely a matter of personal preference. No one could argue against that, so I didn’t get a lot of flack for it :)

  2. If you work for the federal government and encounter this, you might want to bring it to the attention of your ethics office, as it’s against regulations. No need to rat out any particular person, but you could suggest that someone send out a general email, reminding people that it’s prohibited.

    Not getting solicited for donations doesn’t exactly compensate for low pay and endless bureaucracy, but it is one nice thing about working for the government.

    • Except for the CFC solicitations, of course. I’m all for supporting charitable organizations, but the repeated requests get really old, really fast.

      • Yes, of course. And I actually opt out of CFC because I really feel like it’s no one’s business at work when and where and to what extent I make charitable donations. (Partly because a lot of the organizations I support might be considered controversial.)

  3. Consider me a pusher. I sit on two charitable boards and I’m always sending out emails on various events and asking for participation in one way or another. I would feel as if I were not doing my duty to the organization if I didn’t ask.
    On the other hand, I don’t get in anyone’s face if the don’t donate, or really at all. You can’t donate to everything and most everyone realizes that. If you are asking for donations from your co-workers, you had better darn well support others making similar efforts. Even if it is just the $5 donation for jeans day to support someone’s charity.
    My firm has had some office-wide drives. I’ve participated in some, but not all. I’ve never felt pressured either way.

    • Can't wait to quit :

      Be aware that if you are in an upper management or executive position, even though you think you “don’t get in anyone’s face”, folks in positions lower down the ladder may still feel they have to weigh their real interest in giving against your perceived power over them.

  4. karenpadi :

    I usually say something along the lines of “I’ve made my charity budget and donations for the year and I’m going to have to decline. Thanks!”

    I don’t mind the simple email or sign-up sheet in the kitchen. I do get uncomfortable when the charitable organization is political or religious–two thing that should not be discussed in the office. So why would people solicit donations for organizations that expose their religion or political views?

    • Anonymous :

      The trouble is that everything is political to someone.

      • so true. even if the cause (end world hunger!) is not political, the spokesperson or the organization or location or the sponsor might be.

  5. Years ago, a supervisor in my office went from door to door in our office asking if we wanted to buy Girl Scout cookies from his daughter. I declined (received no flak for it) but I remember feeling very resentful that he did this. Someone must have said something to him, or his daughter quit Girl Scouts, because he only did it for one year. No one here has a problem with folks who either put a sign for a fund-raiser on their office door or who put one up in a common area. Once I had a daughter who was in Girl Scouts, I sold cookies this way with no complaint from anyone (I’m not management, so no one felt compelled to buy from me). But I did NOT go door to door and ask for purchases. AND I made sure that I didn’t exceed my charitable welcome by also bringing in materials for school fund-raisers and other causes. Pick the cause that is the most important to you – and isn’t being duplicated by other parents – and just do that one once a year.

    • I don’t mind when people come door to door, or rather to my cubicle. We’re a fairly large group but all get along. I never feel pressure and just decline if I’m not interested in purchasing something/donating. I may not see something if it’s in a common area while I fly through hallways and aisles with a million things on my mind.

    • Always a NYer :

      Girl Scout cookies are the only thing I look forward to when it comes to solicitations. Not knowing any Girl Scouts to buy Thin Mints from now that my cousin quit, I actually asked around my office until I found a woman who had daughters in Girl Scouts. She told me the ordering gets done in January and I can’t wait. I’m one of those people who will buy twenty boxes and freeze them so I always have them on hand. Sadly my stash for this year ran out months ago =(

      • If you like thin mints, keebler has cookies called grasshoppers that taste almost the same.

        • I recently found a nonfat yogurt that tastes exactly like frozen thin mints. Forever Yogurt in Chicago. Heaven.

        • The Keebler elves have also duplicated the Samoas (aka Caramel Delights), which are my favorite. Which is helpful, since I don’t know any current Girl Scouts either…

          • Seriously?? I did not know they’ve duplicated the Samoas! I probably should not know that, it will be very bad for my budget to have these available year round.

          • No crap – they’re called Coconut Delights. You would not even believe how excited I was when I saw them (on sale, no less) at the grocery story.

          • yep! I’ve had both the thin mint and samoa dupes. Both are awesome. So awesome that I kinda feel bad for the girl scouts.

          • This is awesome! If anyone knows of any imitation Tagalongs do a girl a favor and speak up! Actually, maybe I’m better off not knowing.

      • karenpadi :

        The Girl Scouts in my area usually set up tables at local grocery stores every spring. They even have a site to track the cookies:

        Yes, I buys $20 worth at each table and ends up with a full freezer.

    • Anonymous :

      I have to admit that I hate it when colleagues ask me to buy Girl Scout cookies. My irritation is that my colleagues are not Girl Scouts. How does the parent selling all the cookies for the kid teach the kid anything? Selling with your daughter is one thing, but doing it for her does not really teach her much and is not in the spirit of why the GSs sell cookies. I am happy to buy cookies from Girl Scouts who come to the office to take orders.

      • another anon :

        Totally agreed. When I was a GS, I had to sell everything myself, and thought it was totally unfair that some of the other parents took the forms to the office for the kid. But my parents agreed with you, and my dad refused to take the form to the office. (Despite this, one year I still outsold everyone except one other girl in my troop.)

        • When I was a GS, in addition to taking me around the neighborhood to sell door to door, my mom took the order form into work. No one complained, the (mostly) guys she worked with looked forward to GS Cookie time each year. And I did outsell everyone in my troop, every year.

      • The Girl Scout still has to collect the money, sort the boxes, add up the tally sheet, etc.

        My parents used to take the forms to work when I was a Girl Scout, and I still thought of it as a lot of work.

        • former top cookie seller :

          my parents took order forms to work, but I still did the vast majority of the sales myself, the old-fashioned way, going door to door with a parent or a buddy (which I probably would not let my own child do today). Sold 350 boxes one year. It was a LOT of work to deliver the cookies and collect and count the money.

          • My daughter sold door to door until she was 14 (accompanied by me), and then would only do cookie boothes at supermarkets with the rest of the troop. I felt I had to sell at the office to supplement her door to door because we live in a very rural area and the handful of houses on our street are on 2+ acre lots with woods and a farm at each end. Plus, we couldn’t invade neighboring developments if there was a Girl Scout there because that was her “territory.” Halloween was similarly unproductive until she got old enough to pal around with friends at the denser developments in the township.

  6. Diana Barry :

    My firm does a big push for the United Way every year. I give $50. I figure it’s just part of the job. The firm is small enough so that they send out emails on “only X more people need to donate before we get to 100%!” and I figure it will be looked down on if I don’t give. Meh. I could get mad about it but don’t care that much.

  7. Anonymous :

    Every year I face this, it is official and open here, with employees broken into groups and competitions for which group gets to 100% first (100% of the group having contributed.) Whichever group I’m in will always lose because I don’t give. I always politely say my family has a giving plan, our own contributions and obligations, so please don’t put me in a group, it’s not fair to the others in the group (and, I don’t say, not fair to single me out and put peer pressure to single me out)… have your message and stick to it, and then give where you feel comfortable and important. It’s a kind of low-level dread every year, but not the end of the world. I appreciate people’s good intentions.

  8. I have sent out emails to coworkers about my personal cause (toys for children with cancer) but only to coworkers that are personal friends. I would never send out an office-wide email. That seems wildly inappropriate to me.

    And as a matter of fact, I’ve even stopped sending the email to my friends. At this point they are aware of the charity and can support it if they choose to do so, with no reminder from me.

  9. My response is always to thank the person for the information and tell them that I’ll look into it. I also tell them that any donations I make are always done anonymously (because I hate constant solicitations that come with a charity having your name and address, or worse, phone number) and given directly to the organization (because most fund raising efforts have so much overhead that less than 25% of the donation reaches the charity).

    Side note: I got so much junk mail from the Sierra Club for a small donation made 10 years ago that the environmental impact of my donate was a net negative, even though I recycled it all. Oh the irony!

    • I have this same complaint about the Sierra Club! You’d think they’d care about how much paper they’re wasting sending me all their propaganda…I haven’t donated again.

  10. I’ve organized some workplace charitable events (where one campaign is a big deal that takes several months) and have always seen the positive side of things, ie. building camaraderie, seeing your boss do ridiculous things (I had to cover my eyes when a Director was dancing on a table to ‘Thriller’ though), etc. However I have to admit it is only this year that I have realized how difficult it may be for people who do not have the money to spare, there is a lot of pressure but it’s basically government wide so there’s not much to be done.
    And while I don’t completely love the major charity we work with, I give about 1/3 or my donation to them, and the rest to the charities I really do support via the ‘other’ box on the form, it’s still counted in the total.

  11. Just got an iPhone!!! :

    Threadjack – There have been lots of threads on this, not to mention a post, but I still have a question about iPhone apps. Do any of you have one that functions as an address book? I’m still on the fence about whether I’m going to get another paper planner for 2012 or only use the calendar on my phone. However, I would like to digitize my address book. Is there an app for that?

    Also, what other fun/practical apps would you recommend? TIA.

    • What about the built-in “Contacts” app? Or are you looking for something more fancy?

    • The built-in contacts app work just fine for my needs.

      I tend to sync the calendar on my phone with GoogleCalendar, as well as iCal on my Mac.

  12. Anonymous :

    People here constantly send emails about marathons they are running, mustaches they are growing, heads they are shaving or other activities in support of XYZ charity. I give $20-$30 if I want to, and they only ask once, so that doesn’t bother me too much.

    My company does, or did, send out emails requesting employees above a certain pay-grade to contribute to a PAC that supports our industry (to paraphrase). They even provided a suggested contribution amount (based on said pay-grade, I assume). That bothered me a bit, but I never felt pressure to contribute.

    Oddly, I don’t like it when brides & grooms request donations to a charity in lieu of gifts. I get the logic, but I would rather give the money directly to the couple, rather than associate my name and details with a charity I don’t necessarily support. I’ve tried to give anonymously but that doesn’t work for many charities, and either way they manage to send me spam and junk email for the next 4 years. So in those situations I still give the money straight to the couple.

    And my last word on this is – a few weekend threads ago someone posted that they gave $ to a charity using their boss/colleague’s name. I gather the boss/colleague held unpopular views which were contrary to what the charity stood for. Personal beliefs aside, no one should ever be in the position of having their name tied to something they don’t support.

    • It must be the holidays because I immediately started turning your first sentence into lyrics for “A Partridge in a Pear Tree.”

    • OK I have to say, the neverending solicitations for Team in Training marathons bug the bejeezus out of me. Runners are collecting “donations” to send them to run marathons in places like Hawaii. The expense ratio on your donation is sky high. If you want to donate to leukemia research, more power to you, but honestly, it bugs me that colleagues of mine with plenty of disposable income want me to pay for their personal goal to run a marathon in an exotic city.

      I know I’m coming across as all “YOU DAM KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN” but I have not once heard one of these runners talk about their personal committment to leukemia research. It’s all about, “I have always wanted to see if I could accomplish something like this, running a marathon, and really commit to the training schedule,” etc.

      • I think runs are a really silly way to raise money for a cause. If you want to raise funds, do some fundraising. If you want to run a race, run a race. I don’t understand why the two are constantly combined.

        • I don’t mind it when registration fees I pay myself go towards a cause, I hate the -athons and all that, that require donations from others for the miles or whatever you run/bike.

        • Agree! I am so sick of this crap. Also, why must I participate in the walk? Can’t I just donate $30 (the registration fee) and sleep in on Saturday? I’m all for fitness and getting outside, but I can walk my 5k in the afternoon thankyouverymuch. It makes no sense to me to combine the 5k/marathon/etc with the donating.

      • This!

        Thankfully I don’t get solicited from coworkers for that, but I had some friends do them. My one friend ended up having to pay like $1000 or $2000 or her own money, and would get pissy at everyone who wasn’t giving enough, helping her with car washes on the weekend etc. Seriously, just run a local marathon, take a vacation somewhere you want to go, and give your own money to an organization you care for.

      • Mamabear, I TOTALLY agree! In fact, a few years back I decided that I needed a way to divide the world in half — those people’s whose “dream to support leukemia research (i.e. run a marathon/tri/etc)” I would support and those whose dream I would cheer on, but not financially support. I came up with the following, and have applied it effortlessly ever since: if you asked me to pay for a month of your gym membership for no other reason other than the fact that you asked me to do it, would I? For some people (e.g., best friend, brother, etc.), I would. For some, I would not. Simple!

      • karenpadi :

        This. I’ve done a few run-athons but I only send the link to “my page” to people who’ve previously solicited the same types of donations from me. If it’s important to me to run a marathon in Hawaii, I figure I should cover the costs myself.

      • another anon :

        I think you may misunderstand how this sort of thing usually works. The runner pays their own expenses for the registration and any travel/lodging/food costs. With many larger races, on top of that you can commit to raising money for a certain cause. BUT, your donations go to the charity, NOT towards paying the runner’s expenses for running the race. So I really don’t get your statement that “The expense ratio on your donation is sky high.”

        For some races (e.g., the Chicago marathon), sometimes this is a way of getting a registration spot after the regular registration has filled up. i.e., registration is closed, but you can still get in if you pay the registration fee and raise at least $2000 for the XYZ foundation. And you might get a special T-shirt or get access to a charity-specific pre- or post-race event. So there can be some minor perks for a runner who chooses to raise money for a charity. But I have NEVER heard of someone using donations to fund their registration fee/travel/etc.

        • No, one of my close friends went to Hawaii and the charity paid for it. She had to raise a minimum amount to go -I think $3000 – and the amount was higher for more exotic locations, but this was for Team in Training and a huge portion definitely went to her travel.

          • Yes this is definitely how Team in Training works, the amount you must raise depends on your destination, thus you are “donating” to their travel, lodging etc.

        • Here you go, here is the Team in Training website, telling participants they pay for travel and lodging


        • And the wiki, check the “Criticism” section


          • another anon :

            Ok, if it’s true that the LLS is paying for people’s travel, then yes, I would intend to agree with you that this is not such a great way to raise money. But your first link just lists “Travel to a major marathon, half marathon, century, hiking adventure or triathlon in exciting locations” as one of the bullet points under “The Reason.” It doesn’t say that it’s PAID travel. (Granted, I can’t watch the video right now–so maybe that info is in the video).

            And the Wiki page cites back to your first link, so it’s not clear to me that the statement in the criticism portion of that page is accurate, or just a (mis?) interpretation of what’s on the LLS page. Can someone who has done Team in Training chime in here?

            Also, maybe this is something unique to Team in Training? I know that when I looked into charity running as a way to get a registration spot in a marathon where registrations were already closed, it was *very* clear from all of the charity websites that I looked at that you would have to pay your own registration fees/travel expenses etc.

          • mamabear is right, they generally pay for travel and registration to the race the person is participating in (though I believe there is usually an option for a lower fundraising limit and you pay your own way). This is separate from high-demand race registrations, where you’re really just fundraising for the number.

            However, the way our org does it is that they take the amount the set fees will cost and then multiply that by a set amount (I forget if set fees are 1/3 or 1/4) and that is the fundraising amount. That includes all administrative costs as well as the travel expenses and race fees. And I think the fallacy of this criticism is that you assume that the people participating would fundraise otherwise. If you received e-mails from people just saying, “hey! give to this charity” — would you be any more likely to give? (the rest of this thread suggests the answer is no). So by having a hook, “hey, come run a marathon”, you get a bunch of people involved in your organization and actively fundraising for you. Without that hook, they might not be there at all.

            And frankly, if you look at the percentage of administrative costs on a LOT of orgs you donate to, 1/4-1/3 is not all that bad.

      • Well, I feel the need to speak up as a person who has done a charitable race (to raise money for a disease I have). It wasn’t Team in Training, but it was similar.

        First, your divide (fundraise to fundraise, run a race to run a race) is somewhat false. If I asked people to merely donate without some sort of event associated with it, they would likely ignore me. This is why the Girl Scouts sell cookies and other organizations throw galas. Its not easy to get people to just give money to a cause.

        Second, the cost ratio for our race is something between a 1/3 to fixed costs and 2/3 goes directly to the charity. The further you travel, the more you fundraise (and frankly, the higher the limit, the more people typically pay themselves).

        Third, the organization I work with also views their run program as a very good way to raise awareness about the disease and to bring together people who either have the disease or are active in the disease at a big event. It essentially energizes the base. So there is a benefit to doing it beyond just fundraising.

        Now, you can look at all the above and say, well great, I still think its stupid. So don’t give. But I thought I’d at least throw in my two cents.

        • goirishkj :

          TCFKAG–didn’t you previously post about running with Team Challenge for CCFA? I have UC and was in Vegas earlier this month for a program associated with Team Challenge and CCFA. I was at the Team Challenge pasta party the night before the race and it was incredible to see all those people actively raising money and awareness for diseases often kept in the dark. I am so grateful for all the runners and am planning on running with them this summer. Now just need to focus on finally finishing a marathon :)

          • Yeah, I’m with Team Challenge (and clearly a little in love with it). I’ve been involved in some capacity with three seasons, though due to health issues I’ve only run once. Isn’t the pasta party the best thing ever? My brother also did last summer and will be doing this summer as well.

            Will you do VA or Napa? :-)

          • goirishkj :

            I am thinking Napa, but I’ve been saying that for three years now! Life just keeps getting in the way so I just need to make this a priority. Which one are you doing this summer?

            The pasta party was amazing–so good not to feel alone!

          • Blonde Lawyer :

            I’m a Crohnie! The CCFA walks are also amazing to just be surrounded by other people living w/ your disease.

      • Anon for this reply :

        I know — all I’m saying with this is that there’s an exception to every rule — but I can’t resist putting in a plug for Team in Training. I was diagnosed with leukemia several months ago, and was an avid runner beforehand. Several of my close friends have begun fundraising for LLS through Team in Training, and one who is financially able to do so foots all his travel expenses himself. They don’t all mention me in their outreach letters because of my interest in keeping my condition on the DL… but it’s the foundation of their interest iin fundraising for LLS. LLS’s structure and discounted travel rates allow a lot more of the donations to go toward research than one might think. Anyway, just wanted to give voice to the other side, though your points are certainly very valid.

        • Although I agree with the anti-fundracers, I’ll say this: I have happily donated to team in training for LLS, but only for a friend who actually had lymphoma. LLS and the whole team is a great support system for her and she has been through a lot- hell, she deserved the trip to San Diego for the race. That said, agree that races aren’t great fundraisers. I’d rather you sell me something than have me pay you to do something you’re going to do anyway.

    • Yeah, that was Kanye East. Vile thing to do.

  13. There are no words for the lunacy that just came from one of my clients. No. Words. I am in total shock. Time to charge them a premium.

    • Seeing as I just got off the phone with outside counsel, I sure hope it wasn’t me!!

      • Nope, this is totally on the client themselves. They simply Do.Not.Learn. And I have completely had it.

  14. Texas Attorney :

    What a timely post. I just sent out an email to my co-workers asking if they wanted to participate in a charity project (collecting some items for a shelter). I went and asked our office manager first if it was OK. Then in my email I made it clear that it was not expected, not required and that I know many people have their own projects this time of year. I also made it clear that this was not a firm related charity drive, just something I am personally doing. I just wanted to give people the chance to participate if they wanted to. I agree you have to know your office. We are generally cool about that stuff. What I don’t do is sell junk for my son’s school/sports various fund raisers. I just pay what every his share is.

    • That actually seems like a nice service to your officemates – especially if you’re collecting things like gently used towels, or travel-sized shampoo, etc. (things that shelters often need). I can usually get stuff to Goodwill easily, but other donations are sometimes harder for me to work into my schedule. So bringing items to work would be much easier!

    • I feel the same way. As more and more school budgets are forced to depend on fund-raising for school activities due to budget shortfalls, I see more and more school-related fund-raisers showing up at work. And for certain school releated fund-raisers, they all take place at the same time. Many of these fund-raisers are for things like the marching band trip to Florida or the choir competition in D.C. Because the schools don’t/can’t pay for the trips out of school funds, a lot of kids do fund-raisers as a way of offsetting their personal cost of the trip. It’s easy for me to say because I can afford to pay my child’s cost for the trip, but I would just as soon pay her cost and let someone who really needs the donations have the “floor.”

  15. OK this weekend I outed myself as a mom who lost a child to cancer. Now I’m going to solicit all of Corporette for my pet cause.

    For those of you who would like to do something but aren’t sure what, I recommend you go to the store, buy some toys, and take them to your local hospital that has a children’s wing. You can drop them off at the front desk. The hospital will know what to do with them.

    Zero expense ratio.

    • Great idea – I have a bunch of toys I bought last weekend in preparation for various toy drives, but I’m totally going to bring some to the local children’s hospital.

    • First, I am so sorry for your loss.

      Just a friendly “heads up” on donating to pediatric cancer wards. PLEASE call that hospital’s Volunteer or Pediatric department first. I know from both representing a major cancer center and volunteering in the pediatric department that: 1) the hospital is inundated with toys at Christmas, 2) many of the toys can’t be distributed because the children are immune-suppressed, 3) toys are very short-lived on the in-patient side. The sentiment is lovely, but the reality is that we have literally warehouses FULL of toys we could not use/distribute. It happens every year.

      If you are thinking about a toy donation for ill children, please contact that hospital and inquire about donation guidelines, or better yet, donate to the hospital’s foundation to fund research or an extra healthcare provider’s salary!

      • You’re right – I didn’t want to get into all the details, but I will now.

        I usually give at times other than Christmas. I focus on Halloween. I don’t give stuffed toys, but rather toys that can be cleaned with alcohol wipes. And of course the toys should be new.

        I tend to give to the hospital, and let them decide whether they want to keep the toys in the communal playrooms or to distribute to individual kids.

        By the time I give at Halloween, they say their cupboards are bare, so it’s definitely not true of every hospital that they have “warehouses FULL of toys.

    • I am so sorry to hear about your child also. How awful. I have 2 and even on their worst days I appreciate their presence in my life.
      On giving to a hospital, when my now-22 year-old son was in 7th grade, he had to have major surgery done at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia that required him to be there for a week. Between myself and my husband, we were able to stay with him the entire time (thanks to fold-out couches in each room). What I saw that made me sad was that so many of the kids, especially those who were there for long durations, had no adult (parent or other relative) there for them except for an hour a day, if that. What these kids needed was company. I know it’s hard to manage when there are so many demands on our time. But it’s something to consider if you’re looking for a way to have a meaningful impact on sick children. If you have older children looking to do something nice, or a way of accumulating service hours for Scouts or National Honor Society or other service requirement, this is something they can do.

      • Blonde Lawyer :

        When I was four years old I was hospitalized for pneumonia. The little girl in the room next to me had apparently been there a long time and hardly ever had visitors. My mom was a stay at home mom and stayed at the hospital with me the whole time I was there. I vividly remember her spending part of each day with the other little girl. There was a window between our rooms so I could still sort of see my mom. I remember being sad that my mom wasn’t with me but even as a four year old understanding that my mom was doing something very nice for someone who needed her more than I did. Isn’t it weird what memories we keep from when we were tiny? That is one of the only things I remember from being in the hospital but I remember it like it was yesterday.

        • healthcare anon :

          What a good mother, and a good memory for you.

          • Anonymous :

            There are also mentally ill and mentally retarded adults living in adult living facilities who have next to nothing. After the facility takes their check, they might have 50 bucks a month for candy, magazines, tobacco, toiletries, etc. Fuzzy socks, magazines, lotions, etc. are all much appreciated by places like that!

        • Thank you for posting this – brought me to tears. I just figured out what I will do to volunteer my time next year.

          • Be prepared, visting Children’s Hospitals is actually a very popular volunteer project. There is a lot of paperwork and sometimes they just don’t have any more capacity.

            The problem is that a lot of kids who are there for a long duration are very immune compromised so just can’t have random visitors. So while its a very good thought, its not always feasible.

    • Child’s Play is a charity that organizes this sort of donation on a fairly large scale – hospitals have wish lists you can buy from (so you know its toys that are both acceptable and wanted), or you can donate money (which gets used to do the same thing based on priorities).


      As a childhood cancer survivor (more years ago than I care to admit), I’ll say that this program would have made a huge difference in my hospital stays.

  16. We have a “Marketplace” email list at our firm that we can subscribe to. This is where we send out our donation requests, events we’re involved in or if we want sell something. This way, those interested get the information and can donate to whatever cause they want to without being pressured by others in the office.
    It works well in our firm.

  17. I budget an amount for this every year that covers things like the MDA lockup, children’s sales, runs, walks, etc. I make smallish donations when asked directly. When the money is used up, I politely decline.

    Of course, if I give, I have no problem asking that person to give to my charity in the future, and if I ask, I expect to get asked.

  18. My own pet peeve on charities are the solicitations. When a friend’s father died, I made a donation to a charity her family solicited donations for in lieu of flowers. It is a local charity across the country from where I live. I told them that I was giving in honor of the deceased and they sent a card to the deceased family letting them know. Now, I am on their mailing list.

    • Ugh, I hate that. The exact same thing happened to me after I made a donation in the name of a friend’s sibling who died at a young age. It took me three phone calls to get the very aggressive charity to back off. I actually care deeply about their cause myself but will never donate to them again. It also happens whenever you donate to an organization like MSF to help victims of a disaster. In these types of situations, they really should offer a clear option to only make it a one-time donation and not get any mailing beyond an acknowledgment that you donated (for tax purposes).

  19. Great article, but a small request from your gay and bi friends. It’s pretty annoying when straight women use the term “girlfriend” to refer to their female friends (with whom they don’t have a romantic relationship). If you use that term, what’s left for the ladies that have real girlfriends? Please don’t make us clarify with “my lesbian lover”. Thanks!

    • My sympathies – but its kind of hard to patent something that’s already in the public domain.

      • Nonsense – language is evolving and changes all the time. The most common example is phasing out words that we as a society find offensive. Two examples of current campaigns are asking people to refrain from using “retarded” or “gay” as a negative adjective (e.g., that shirt sucks, it’s so gay).

    • Seattleite :

      Meredith, what would you want us to say instead? I’ve heard my daughter differentiate Girlfriend (lover) v. girlfriend (friend) by this method: GIRL(slightpause)friend for the first, girlfriend (no accent, no pause) for the latter. I’m not entirely certain she knows she does it.

      It is a problem, of course. But until it’s socially acceptable to say “that person I’m schtupping” I think we have to rely on context rather than specific words.

      • Alanna of Trebond :

        Can’t you just say “friend” for the non-romantic girlfriend?

        • I wonder if it has something to do with age. A few of my 40+ coworkers use the term, but I’ve NEVER heard anyone in their 20s refer to a platonic female friend as a “girlfriend.”

    • As a woman who occasionally refers to my female friends as “girlfriends,” but also has many friends in the LBGQT community, I can understand where you’re coming from. However, I think it’s typically pretty clear from context, intonation, or whatever else, how the term is being used.

      For example, I recently ran into the ex-romantic-partner of a male friend of mine. She introduced me to the woman she was with as “My girlfriend X.” Zero doubt how it was being used. None. It’s not as if she had I LIKE THE LADIES tattooed on her forehead, either. It was just abundantly clear, from the way that she said “girlfriend,” and from their body language, that they were together.

      This is completely different from me saying “Oh, I just got a couple of drinks with my good girlfriend.”

      • I’m glad that the straight women feel that they never have any confusion with this, but most women who’ve had a girlfriend (can you tell the meaning this this context :) ) have faced confusion from others. Put yourself in the shoes of your gay / bi sisters. And, honestly, is it that big of a deal for you to refrain from using the term and just stick to “friend”?

    • What’s wrong with the term “partner”, or does that refer to a serious, long-term (like married) relationship only? I actually really like that term because it’s not hetero-normative, nor is it exclusively gay/lesbian.

      • Partner definitely indicates way more of a relationship than some girl I’ve been dating a few months and maybe have not even yet changed my facebook status for!

        I do remember being a bit startled when an older married coworker said something about going shopping with her girlfriend, one Monday, before I realized what she meant. I do always find it a little weird–you need to specify the friend was a girl? Even then I tend to say “a girl friend of mine” and not “a girlfriend of mine”

      • another anon :

        “Partner” is ambiguous as to whether you mean life partner or business partner. Which can be especially problematic for people in the legal field. But I don’t like “girlfriend”/”boyfriend” for adults either–the terms seem kind of juvenile to me.

  20. “I’m sorry, but no. I have a preferred charity, I send them a cheque every year.” Fin.

  21. My office has had an ongoing push for the past few months. The first month, they were pushing you to donate to one of the 4,000 charities they worked with – including two of my Ultimate choices. But the minimum of $60 total, I found out which I just couldn’t afford. So when the office was going to go out and volunteer at a local soup kitchen, I put my name in the drawing to go. Now, around the holidays, they’re raising donations (physical and financial) for another 5 charities. The pressure is on, but no one is pressuring you individually and they provide alternatives.. I guess I’m in a good place! (But I knew that already…)

    • Something I left out… that first month, they were matching .50 cents on the dollar for every dollar donated. I really wish I could have donated!

  22. Soapbox alert! And it’s the end of the day so I’m sure lots of folks probably won’t even see this…but here’s my 2 cents:

    I spent two years in the corporate world before leaving to become a nonprofit fundraiser, so this topic is very close to my heart. I like to think that I have an understanding of corporate (corporette?) etiquette, but of course I also love the idea of people giving money to charities.

    I think it’s important to make a distinction between pure philanthropy (i.e., an outright charitable gift, fully tax-deductible) vs. event-driven fundraising (I’d categorize racing and Team in Training here) vs. purchasing a charitable product (Girl Scout cookies, various pink things that “support” breast cancer research). I don’t know if there are any CPAs in the house, but I don’t think you can deduct your purchase of thin mints.

    That being said, I hate the idea of people feeling pressured to give. That takes the fun out of it. Real, true philanthropy is NOT transactional; rather, it serves to build a relationship between the donor and the institution. You should feel something when you contribute. I know that sounds kind of pie-in-the-sky, but believe me when I say that I’ve seen supporters at the $25 and $25,000 level feel equally connected to an organizational mission. As a fundraiser, my job is to enable donors to make their dreams come true (I know! Sounds so cheesy but please indulge me), and a transaction doesn’t allow that to happen. Philanthropy should be experiential, relative, interesting, engaging.

    On the flip side, people often get involved in a charity because a friend or someone they otherwise respect or trust says, “Hey, why don’t you do this [give] with me?” I agree that everyone should have a word/phrase/byline that allows them “out” of these types of situations, but as long as the solicitor isn’t overbearing maybe we can cut them a little slack for trying to do humanity a good turn.

    Oh, and if a nonprofit is disrespecting you in any way — oversoliciting, sending you “ask” letters when you simply wanted to make a one-time gift — let them know! There’s no way they can get better unless you tell them.

    /steps off soapbox/

    • Brava! Well said. The only “reward” I want in exchange for my donated dollar or hour is a cocktail party with free drinks every now and then.

  23. A good answer can be thanks, but I or we do my giving privately.

    I’m surprised more haven’t mentioned what I have at current and last two employers at a large company and local governments. Huge charitable giving campaigns where you are encouraged to sign up for payroll deductions for groups you choose from their list. I never do it though get almost daily emails and in one job, there were team tallies and in person pressure. First of all govt payroll is public info! Second where and if i want to donate is my business only. I likely give less than most. I feel like until I make a dent in my student loans and mortgage I need to focus on that. I’m not in the generation with pensions etc. While there are many, many people worse off, this is just how I feel right now after years of over volunteering on stuff and finding myself broke and in debt. Once when in was on a board of directors I felt pressured to make a large donation and did it, right before the stock market crashed, and regretted caving into the pressure. As to the employer drives, i guess i don’t care if they exist so long as they dont pressure me too much, and it is a good thing if others like to give that way and it is easier for them. But generally, don’t we give enough to our workplaces…. Yes they are funneling it elsewhere but with their own credit and preferences built in. I hate to be against the power of combining resources but it has always turned me off as a practice.

    Agree on the marthons, but it was good to read the other perspectives shared hewre on those. Seems silly to me but if it works for those will illness well good.

    • totally agree with you on the importance of focusing on being charitable to yourself first. if you’re in debt up to your ears, don’t have an emergency fund, and aren’t where you need to be with retirement savings, then i don’t think you have any business donating – and you shouldn’t be made to feel guilty over it.

  24. Does anyone know if most mid-size firms generally will pay an associate about 25% of their billing rate? This is not NYC its Midwest, firm of about 30 attorneys in an affluent county. If they bill me at around $200 hr should I be making about $50/hr?

    • Your billing rate is never equal to your take-home pay. I’m not a lawyer, but a consultant in a technical field, and my hourly wage (I’m part-time hourly, so it’s probably would be different if I were salaried) is $28. My company charges clients approximately $89 an hour for my time.

    • I’m also in the midwest, at a similarly sized firm. Based on my projected hours for this year I am at about $66/hr (before bonus) and my billing rate is $200. I’ve heard that 1/3rd is pretty standard, with the breakdown being that 1/3 of your billable rate goes to overhead, 1/3 to profit, and 1/3 to your salary.

  25. Overall, I’m a bit surprised at the “scrooge” mentality here. My understanding is that we’re all professionals…we can actually can afford to give to charity. We often can deduct this from our taxes. And there are a lot of people much worse off than we are right now. I regularly volunteer whenever I get in a place where I feel like I have it bad, because it is nothing compared to what many people are experiencing…My husband has had some major health issues, but at least we have insurance, at least we have a place to live, at least we have meals, etc.

    Generally I give to my friends and co-workers causes based on whether they truly have a personal connection to the cause (such as, they or someone they love is battling a certain disease) and are meaningfully contributing to the organization themselves with their time, with less emphasis on whether it’s a cause I would choose for myself.

    • It’s not necessarily a scrooge thing- many of us likely give to the world in other ways through hours spent volunteering, or privately to things of our choosing- some of us just do not like feeling pressured to fork over hard earned wages by others, or having it be publicly known what you contribute to. It doesn’t necessarily mean the person isn’t doing equal or more in their own way. I think an expectation that you should *have* to hand over money whenever you are asked is wrong.

  26. I have been an HR professional for over 25 years. I will be the HR Grinch by responding to this concern. I have and do actively serve on several non-profit boards and as a volunteer for others. I profoundly believe in communities, including corporations, helping the underserved; however, these decisions (especially now during a slow economy) should be left to each individual. If a company has an overall charity which supports its mission, then employees may donate monies or volunteer specifically for it voluntarily. Some large corporations also provide employees corporate matching programs – employees can contribute to whatever 501(c)(3) they want with the company matching up to a certain amount; both employees and companies benefit with tax incentives. I strongly dissuade companies from fostering the request of donations for a specific charities for two main reasons: 1) such practice erodes non-solicitation policies (to prevent union drives) and, 2) such practice breeds favoritism and conflicts of interest which, in turn, lead to various types of discrimination complaints.

  27. I have an off-topic work quandry that I could use some advice on. The co-worker in the office next me is often very vocal about her discontent in the office and with the other associates we work with. She has made it very clear (and has blatantly told me) that she is smarter than everyone else there, she is better educated, and she should be getting better assignments. She has consistently trash talked other co-workers and our firm in general. She clearly feels like the job is beneath her. She has also frequently said off the wall, awkward, and sometimes concerning things–she is very paranoid that other people in the office are “out to get her” even though our office could not be any less competitive.

    A lot of the other associates talk about her when she’s not around. Her comments have been picked up on by other people. However she’s recently zeroed in on me as being the “source” since my office is next to hers, and she just accused me of listening in on all of her conversations and telling everyone everything she says and does. I tried tellling her that I don’t listen to her conversations, but she accused me of being obsessed with her.

    I’m not quite sure how to handle things from here. I don’t want to make an even bigger deal out of things than she already has, but within the course of a week she accused me of staring at her, listening in on all of her conversations, and being obsessed with her. I’m concerned about her targeting me and the types of comments she has been making. Any suggestions?

  28. When I am asked for a donation loudly – – as a method of social pressure by a grocery chain such that they will then be able to market how much “they” contributed, – – I state loudly with the intent of others behind me hearing, “no thanks I do my giving privately”. I highly emphasize the word “privately”

    I believe it turns the tables on who is embarrassed as several times, the clerk has then apologized for asking and says “we have to ask”. I say “I know, but it’s not a public matter for most people and it’s intended to try to shame me into giving by asking me in public”. I then turn down the line of people behind me and usually more than one person is smiling at me or taking interested note. I then suggest the clerk shares my views with their manager.

    I take as much time with this conversation as is needed to come across as polite and thoughtful about it, because if you are going to offensively try to shame me in public, especially while I am a paying customer, I am going to take my bleepin’ time to make sure everyone in the vicinity understands just who should be ashamed.

    What if, after a nice dinner at a restaurant, the waiter came up and asked for a donation to a cause? What’s the difference? I am a customer in both settings so what changed such that this abhorrent activity seemingly became ok to do? Nothing, in my opinion, except people allowing themselves to be bullied.

    It’s not okay, and we should be pushing back.