For years, such a situation hadn't really affected me one way or the other — I'd either just write a check and hand it over to Human Resources (if the charity was one I could support), or disregard the request altogether.
Now, however, when the periodic company handouts reach me, I get a bit peeved. Such handouts suggest that we employees help The Company reach its latest charity goal ("Let's Raise $10k by April 18!") by signing up for monthly payroll deduction. Such deductions can happen over the course of three months, or as a one-time event.
"Just think," the handouts say in closing. "If every employee donated $5 over five pay periods, then [Our Organization] would raise $16,250!!!"
It's all in the presentation, I guess. But the more coworkers I speak to, the more this all makes me uncomfortable.
Point 1: What's the Charity?
I have no problem with the particular cause being supported here. What I do have a problem with is the charitable organization that's getting the funds.
When their CEO earns over $870k per year, I'm immediately skeptical. Then when roughly 25 percent of the charity's revenue goes toward administrative and fundraising expenses, I'm turned smooth off. (FWIW, I gravitate toward charities whose efficiency runs at 85 percent or higher.)
If I want to support this general cause, I'll look for other entities who support it — but who do so more efficiently.
Sorry, but padding a CEO's $870k salary — and one who lives in low-cost-of-living Middle America, not California or New York City — isn't one of my financial priorities.
Point 2: Tell Before You Ask
Here's a thought, courtesy of my wife: If you're an employer, and you want your employees to support your pet charities, why not start by telling them how much you're giving personally?
Oh, it'll never happen, of course. But I've talked money with quite a few of my coworkers, and many of them really don't have money to give — not yet. They're young, and they're in debt up to their eyeballs. For them, Emergency Funds are a dream. They wouldn't know what a Freedom Account was if Ed McMahon showed up at their doorstep with a funding check in hand. They contribute zilch to their 401(k)s. They have Other Financial Responsibilities out the wazoo.
Charity XYZ is national in scale. They get lots of TV and camera and ad time. They have legions of fundraisers and promoters to go out and dredge up cash, day and night, if necessary.
None of these resources, of course, are available to Your Average Paycheck-to-Paycheck Employee when a financial crunch arises.
Yes, There is Power in Giving
I really do believe in giving. But I believe in doing so intelligently, and conscientiously.
I've also come to believe that employer-encouraged giving — where specific charities are named and favored — walks a pretty thin line. When employees are made to feel uncomfortable if they do not or cannot contribute — and coworker discussions tell me I'm not alone in this — then policies need to change.
In this case, the criteria I look for in a worthy charity apparently don't match up with what my employer looks for. In this instance, if I donate, I will have misgivings.
One thing seems reasonable: Those of us who don't tell our employers where to give would sure appreciate the favor being returned.