Sunday, August 14, 2016

Is it OK to turn a generous offer into a money maker?

Is it OK to offer something to neighbors and then try to get paid for what you offer?

That's what H.F. wants to know. He's not saying he's going to do it, mind you, but he's curious about whether it would be wrong to try.

H.F. belongs to a neighborhood association that's made up of a couple of dozen homeowners in the neighborhood. Every year they meet to pay nominal dues that are used for small communal garden and other shared expenses. Most years, the neighbors meet in the communal garden. Everyone brings a folding share and any drinks or appetizers they want for themselves or to share.

This year, H.F. and his family happen to be hosting a family reunion in their backyard the day before the reunion. For the reunion, H.F. has rented a large tent for his backyard. He has also ordered mounds of food and drink to feed his relatives.

When the announcement went out about this year's neighborhood association meeting, H.F. suggested to the president of the association that they consider meeting in his backyard since he'd already have a tent up. (The sun typically beats down hard on the communal garden where they typically meet.) The president thought that was a terrific idea and the meeting was moved to H.F.'s backyard.

Now, H.F. wants to know if he has food left over whether he should offer it to his neighbors when they meet. And if he does, would it be wrong to ask the association to defray the costs of some of that food. He also wonders whether he might run by the association president the idea of sharing some of the cost of the tent rental -- maybe not for a full day, but for something.

I'll tackle the easiest of these questions first. Of course, it would be OK for H.F to offer any leftover food to his neighbors. It would be gracious and generous to do so, and if the food would just go bad anyway, it would also be wise. He's under no obligation to offer leftover food, but there's nothing wrong with doing so. I'm sure his neighbors would appreciate the gesture.

But no, it would not be OK to ask the association to offset the cost of the food nor the tent. H.F. made the suggestion of using his backyard and tent since he'd already have the tent up. If he expected to be compensated for that gesture in anyway, he should have discussed it with the association president before the fact. In that case, the president would have had the opportunity to say thanks, but no thanks, and choose to have the meeting in the communal garden as they have in previous years.

The right thing when you make a generous offer is to stick to the offer you made without expecting to be rewarded or paid for your generosity. H.F. is right to think twice about whether to ask about money for food or the tent. He should stick to his original offer and remain the thoughtful neighbor. If he serves food, his neighbors should be doubly appreciative. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read this story and all at once at the end, I had a hard time not thinking "this man has just offered the crassest thing I've heard in a long time"!

Can I skim some books from my friend's donation?

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