You're sitting at your desk when what's-her-name from accounting descends on you with a request to buy chocolate nut clusters to support...
You’re sitting at your desk when what’s-her-name from accounting descends on you with a request to buy chocolate nut clusters to support her son’s baseball team. Or maybe she wants you to sponsor her in a walkathon. Better yet, your boss posts his daughter’s Girl Scout cookie sheet above the office coffee pot.
It’s a scene that replays time and again in offices everywhere — and that many of us absolutely dread.
After all, those who say no run the risk of being perceived as spiritually or financially stingy, even if we’ve got nothing against Thin Mints or charitable donations. Some of us really don’t have $10 to spare and don’t need any cute decorative tins. Or maybe we just hate being hit up at work — especially by someone who only acknowledges us when fundraising.
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A bad place to beg
Turns out, there are more than a few good reasons to keep personal fundraising out of the office.
Leah Ingram, author of “The Everything Etiquette Book: A Modern-Day Guide to Good Manners,” says taking your daughter’s cookie sheet or your marathon pledge sheet to work is a good way to annoy and alienate your colleagues.
Tips for dealing with being hit up at the office:
Know your company policy, but keep the issue in perspective. If it’s just $5 a couple of times a year, it may be easier to just contribute and rant about it privately to your friends.
Do unto others as you would have done to yourself. Don’t ask colleagues to participate in your campaigns if you’re not prepared to reciprocate.
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It also may violate company policy.
“I think that it’s important for people to check with HR to not assume that going cube-to-cube is like going door-to-door in your neighborhood. A lot of companies do not allow this,” she said. “It’s one thing to ask the neighbor you hang out with to buy your daughter’s Girl Scout cookies, but another thing to ask someone you work with, especially if they’re in a subordinate position.”
Indeed, one of the primary reasons that companies outlaw fundraising at work involves managers and bosses.
“If I’m a boss and I’m selling my daughter’s cookies, of course my employees are going to buy from me. I’m their boss,” Ingram said. “I give employee reviews, and they’re going to do whatever they can to influence me.”
A similar situation can occur when managers are put in charge of collecting money for a colleague’s going-away gift or baby shower. Then what should at best be a voluntary gift can become an obligation — with employees feeling like they have little choice but to contribute and kiss-up, or risk being viewed negatively by management.
When it’s OK
So what to do if you feel pressured? Ingram advises keeping the issue in perspective, but not being afraid to speak up if necessary.
There’s nothing wrong with a colleague who you have lunch with regularly approaching you for a donation or asking you to help support a child’s fundraiser. Office fundraising can also be tolerable under other circumstances.
“If it’s not every week, if this happens twice a year, that should be fine. Also, if it’s a peer collecting and whether you elect to give and how much is up to you, rather than a manager sending out an e-mail saying we’re collecting $25 per person to give someone a present, that’s OK too,” Ingram said. “If the office is giving a gift and not everyone contributed, everyone should be able to sign the card.”
When it’s not
If you decide you don’t want to participate, keep your reason simple and not personal.
“If you say you’re having financial difficulties, it’s hard for someone to question your motives,” Ingram advises. “You can also always just do the, ‘I’ll get back to you,’ and let the problem take care of itself.”
If requests at your company are too frequent or too burdensome, or if a manager is regularly hitting you up, then you may want to complain to HR — or at least educate yourself about what company policy is.
“If there is a policy and people are ignoring it, you should ask HR to please send out a broadcast e-mail to remind folks about it,” Ingram suggests. “You shouldn’t have to be a whistleblower.”