Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Employers and Charity

Question for the readers: How do you feel about employers who regularly "encourage" workers to donate to their (employer's) favored charities?

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!!!"

Okay. Fine.

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.


— Posted by Michael @ 8:48 AM


What always gets me is when I am supposed to write checks TO MY COMPANY with the promise that they'll be passed on to the large charities. Then, of course, the company claims the tax deduction. Umm, no thanks. But saying no means my office doesn't win the competition to see who can raise more money for "charity", and causes peer pressure. Here's an idea, HR: MATCH OUR CONTRIBUTIONS TO A GROUP OF OUR CHOICE!!! Ok, sorry, rant over.

Anonymous Anonymous
, at 9:59 AM, January 29, 2008  

It bothers me when anyone (employer, friend, or family member) suggests a charity that isn't efficient with its money, mostly because I think that few people, when asked to give, actually check out the organization before handing over money.

That said, it doesn't bother me when employers ask for money, provided they do it right. And provided there's no awkward pressure or hurt feelings when I refuse. I would expect the same of a friend who asked me to help support his charity.


I'm currently supposed to be helping the alumni association from my college raise money. They way they're running it, it's more about number of people than amount donated...which helps with the urging. I personally donated only $10, but that adds to the number of people involved. (At a certain number, the money gets matched a certain amount). One common commment I hear is that they'll donate money when they dont have student loans anymore. I guess I agree with that (I'm still paying those suckers down) but I figure it's only $10. Granted if I had saved that $10 every year, compound interest, blah blah blah, it would be a different story...
At any rate, I like the way our school does this, in that you can donate to any fund you want at the school...your old research group or choir or dorm or whatever.


I worked at a law firm where they tried to get 100% participation. I had participated in past but that year, I didn't turn in my form and THE senior partner called me in his office asking why I didn't donate. He told me that I was the only one who didn't! Unbelieveable. I just told him I supported another charity with my money and time and I promised myself I wouldn't donate to that charity ever again.


I definitely prefer not to be encouraged to donate to certain places. I already donate to charities on my own without encouragement, and I have my favored organizations. Why should I pick ones just because my company favors them? That has potential for getting awkward if someone doesn't want to donate. It's my money, I'll do what I want with it.


We do the United Way thing where I work, but there's not a huge pressure to do it. I work for a large nonprofit and we are on the list, so I sign up and put most of the money back into our organization. I also donate a little to other organizations that are close to my heart, but I do that directly.

Oh, we also had a brick campaign going for a new building we built -- you know, buy a brick and have something carved into it. It doesn't cost me much and, again, is going back into the organization.

It works well for me, as I believe in our mission and it also adds just a *tiny* more job security.


Giving to charity is a personal choice. If it's a charity that you personally believe in, that's fine, but no one should be forced into giving.

Explain that you have already chosen a charity that you are donating to, and would simply prefer that your "extra" money go to them.

A great way to leave a lump sum to your favorite charity is to take out a life insurance policy with them named as the beneficiary. They can either assume the premiums, or you can pay the premiums and use those payments as a tax deduction.

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