Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Leave tenants out of fundraising drive
Years ago, I had a boss who regularly let employees know when one of his daughters was selling Girl Scout cookies. He'd send around the order sheet and we'd indicate how many boxes of Thin Mints, shortbread Trefoils, peanut butter Tagalongs, or other varieties we wanted. The daughter's sales benefited quite a bit from these purchases.
Near as I can tell, no one who didn't buy was ever penalized, say, with a testy performance review or a snide comment from the boss. Still, he was the boss, and distributing these order forms every year seemed to cross a line.
It was telling, perhaps, that no one else at the company ever tried to compete by bringing in his or her own daughter's order sheet. This was clearly the boss's turf. (It didn't help matters that the boss's daughter never took the orders herself or delivered the cookies to the office, which seemed like a dereliction of duty for a Girl Scout.)
By soliciting his direct reports to purchase cookies, employees could have perceived that to stay in the boss's favor, they needed to buy. Thankfully, the daughter eventually outgrew the Girl Scouts and the cookie drives ceased.
Earlier this week, a reader who rents an in-law apartment in her home told me she felt uncomfortable letting her tenants know that her grandson was raising funds for his Eagle Scout project. She was fine asking the tenants if they'd save cans and bottles for the boy so he could use the deposits to help fund his project, but she thought asking them to buy tie-dyed bandanas or attend a car wash would make the tenants feel obligated.
"I'm giving the family a break on the rent," the reader said. "I don't want them to think they're obligated to donate to my grandson's project if they don't really want to." She knew the tenants regularly set their cans and bottles out for recycling, so she figured asking for these wouldn't cost the tenants anything.
"Am I wrong to feel uncomfortable asking them if they want to contribute to my grandson's project?" she asks.
I believe she made a good call by not asking her tenants to contribute.
It's one thing to expect tenants to pull the trash cans to the curb or shovel their steps as part of the reasonable rent offered. These are things they agreed to when they first moved in. But the right thing to do is to stop short of asking the tenants to do anything that might be perceived as expected to maintain a good tenant-renter relationship.
There would be nothing wrong if the reader put a flier up in the neighborhood announcing the car wash, or if she posted information about the project and other fundraising activities to her Facebook page or other social media outlets. If the tenants see the information and decide to contribute, that's a choice they can make without either party perceiving there's a quid pro quo for doing so.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
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