Friday, May 26, 2006

SOUND OFF: GIVING AGAINST THE GRAIN

Each year many companies sponsor companywide campaigns to raise funds for particular charitable organizations. Often a single manager is designated to spearhead the effort, with the results compared to those of his or her predecessors.

Under these circumstances the pressure on that manager to get full employee participation is great, and that pressure is often passed on to the company's employees, who routinely receive memos on the importance of their participation. Many may fear that not giving to the cause will mark them in the eyes of management as someone who is not a "team player."

Still, many charities that do good work for good causes depend on such company drives to keep them funded.

Do you think that it's right for companies to sponsor such charitable drives in the workplace?

Send your thoughts to rightthing@nytimes.com or post them at
http://jeffreyseglin.blogspot.com. Please include your name, your hometown and the name of the newspaper in which you read this column. Readers'comments may appear in an upcoming column.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," New York Times Syndicate, 609 Greenwich St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10014-3610.

8 comments:

Mike Everett-Lane said...

As a nonprofit manager, I think the best solution is for companies to encourage their employees to give, yet give the employees choice in how funds are spent. Employee matching funds, United Way, and the Combined Federal Campaign take this approach. We have had success at DonorsChoose in encouraging employee giving through corporate-sponsored gift certificates to our site. Since employees get to pick which classroom projects the certificate will fund, they feel more involved in the philanthropic process.

Anonymous said...

My work takes me down several paths about company giving and sponsorships, and some of them are conflicting, so all you can do is deal with these situations one by one.

1. As a volunteer, I do graphics work for an animal welfare group. In this case, the companies who send sponsorship money for the annual fundraiser are a vital component to helping prevent animal cruelty in our community. This is absolutely the best kind of charitable giving. However, it is not usually funded by employees but by the company's marketing budget which is where it should come from.

2. As a small business owner, I now send money every year that would have gone to customer gifts instead to a selected charity. For the past two years it has been to funds that give to our brave fighting people in the armed forces. I notify my customers before Christmas where their gift money has gone. So far, they don't miss the pens, pencils, calendars and cups, and have all been grateful that their names are put on the gift certificate.

3. As an individual donor to only specific funds for animal causes and only a few of those, this is my answer to people soliciting donations from me: "Sorry but I only have so much money to give and I already have my own designated charities. So I wish you luck." If you stick to your guns and really mean this, then they finally go away and stop pestering. If you are inside of a company and they try to coerce you to give, then you can adopt a cause that you do believe in, and you have a reason to make your own decisions without disapproval from your peers or employer.

Robin Brooks
Fullerton, CA

yawningdog said...

As business owner, I am asked to sponser things all the time - rodeos, highschool sports teams, charity auctions. This year I have also gone around asking for charity donations and sponsorships trying to raise money for a new pool. From both sides of the situation, I find is that the businesses and the charities do this asking rather haphazdardly. Charities need to mail out a letter to all the businesses, I am amazed at the number of charities that don't hit me up. Businesses need to have a plan for their money or they hit their maximum early in the year without picking the best project to support.

Anonymous said...

Coercion should never be part of the mix. A county employee,I have never and will never donate to United Way - but I will privately donate to individual causes that I am sympathetic to. Guilt trips don't work on me - and companies have no right to use them against employees just to make themselves look good.

Man Marvin said...

Involvement with charitable activities is commonplace in American business. Unfortunately, so is pressure -- both real and perceived -- to participate as an employee.

The biggest problem with these activities is that far too many charities have opted to take political stands which some if not many find unpopular.

The United Way is an excellent example of this. In Dane County Wisconsin, the United Way decided that the Boy Scouts were no longer worthy of their support due to their disinclination to use gay men as Scoutmasters. This, of course, completely ignored the Boy Scout's right of free association.

This taking of a controversial political position should have excluded the United Way from any business not interested in the appearance of coerciveness in regard to their employees support.

D Pittman said...

Several years ago when I had just taken a new manager position, I was asked to spearhead the United Way campaign for my public library system. Although I had not previously contributed to the charity, preferring to contribute to my own charities, I also felt that I could not say "no" to the request. When the campaign did not go as well as the library administration had expected, this was included as part of my six-month manager's evaluation. I considered this as being unfair and told the administration how I felt. In addition, several of the staff felt that they had been forced to participate. Now that project is seen as part of the responsibility of the Human Resources department. I have since moved to an area where the United Way does not serve--and I am very glad. If I wish to contribute to a charity, I can do so on my own terms, as can any of my employees.

Anonymous said...

Sponsoring good works is admirable. Strong-arming participation is coercion. Period.

If sponsoring is inevitably followed by the "pressure" you described then it is wrong, morally and ethically.

The fact that charities "depend" on this has no bearing whatsoever. Good deeds are not admirable in any way if they are forced, and (if so forced) become in fact one more sad example of the corruption in our corporate culture.




E. Carroll Straus
Collaborative Lawyer

Anonymous said...

I feel it is perfectly fine that companies have drives to fund particular charities. But pressure real or imagined by employees could be alleviated by having the company open a bank account for the charity, and then passing out preaddressed, prestamped envelopes to the employees. The employees can then mail their contribution/donation to the bank, if the employee wants to give.If the employee does not want to give, management would not know, because everything remains confidential.

Todd M. Brklacich
Murray, UT.

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